How Americans View Friendship

Relationships are a funny thing when you’re crossing cultures and learning to live in another country, let alone make new friends.The key to friendships in the U.S. is being aware of how three American cultural values affect the relationship.

Americans tend to value individualism and self-reliance.
Many other cultures find their value in being like others in their community. It’s a shared identity. Americans value being set apart from other individuals. For example, in the workplace, an American’s personal success is very important. Most would say that their job and family are the two most important things. Because of these values, they may not prioritize other relationships.

Americans like their privacy.
When you ask someone “how are you doing?” a typical response is “well”, “good”, or “I’m fine.” “How are you?” is a greeting more than an honest question. That person may be going through a difficult time within their nuclear family, or extended family. They may actually be sick or struggling at work or in school. But most of the time, you need to have a deep relationship with a person to get to significant matters of life and family. These won’t come to the surface with initial questions.

Americans categorize their relationships.
Relationships and friendships are often sequestered into groups or compartmentalized. Such as, “family friends”, “work friends”, “football buddies”, “church friends”, “acquaintances” or “neighbors”. Getting coffee with a person doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a friend, as you could still be in the “acquaintance” category. It takes time to be a friend. As with any relationship, be patient as you build a friendship.

A Caution
However, I don’t want to make a “blanket statement” about how every American views relationships. A blanket statement is when someone says something that is assumed to be true of all circumstances. For example, Americans are actually very diverse culturally, ethnically, and linguistically. Northerners in the U.S. act different than Southerners. Those from the north are often perceived as gruff, brief and direct in their communication. While those in the south are typically labeled as more friendly, open and indirect.

If you’re studying in the U.S. you may be thinking, “What do I do? How do I navigate friendships here?” A couple of tips may help:

  1. Seek to understand, instead of being understood. Being a foreigner in a new culture means there are many things we don’t understand. It’s easy to feel unintelligent and exhausted by all there is to learn. Push through the difficulty and you will make friends in the process.
  2. Pursue humility. It’s vital when learning. Everyone prefers their own culture and often feels theirs is superior. There’s a verse in the Bible that says “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.” Even if you don’t believe in the Bible, these are helpful words for learning and making friends.

As the American movie character Woody sings: “When the road looks rough ahead;
And you’re miles and miles from your nice warm bed. You just remember what your old pal said: Yeah, you’ve got a friend in me”. We hope that Bridges can be a friend to you during your time here.


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