Three Cultures

In this section, we talk about the differences and similarities between the cultures and people of the United States, Great Britain, and Canada.

I have the rare privilege of holding triple citizenship, and having resided for over ten years in each of those countries. For those clients who are interested in leveraging cross-cultural understanding to facilitate international business, I can provide a valuable perspective.

And, at times, a whimsical one.

The difference between these countries runs far deeper than the superficial differences in vocabulary. Many entries in the blog have the "Multiculture" tag to denote observations relevant to this section. Watch this page for some illuminating articles.

People from the USA tend think that they are fundamentally identical to people in Britain, and--to the extent that they think about Canadians at all--completely identical to Canadians. They are quite wrong. This is one of many generalizations I will make in this section, and being generalizations, they are not universally true; there will always be exceptions that prove the rule. My intention here is not to make blanket racist statements but instead to point up important cultural differences.

Aside from differences in vocabulary and pronunciation, Americans think that British and Canadians are just like them. The British and Canadians are less likely to make the inverse mistake. Let's look at the British first. What Americans don't see is how the British are raised. If they could be a fly on the wall of a British family home or school they would likely not understand what they were seeing. The behaviors and attitudes that adults use to shape the personalities of evolving British children are wildly different from those common in American culture. "Don't speak unless you're spoken to," "Children should be seen and not heard," "Don't get a big head," and so forth are messages piled on British children from all sides in what is a deluge compared to any American equivalent.

Every force has a counter reaction, and the counter reaction to those messages in British society is the way that privileged upper class children grow up, under the surrounding assumption that they will become figures of authority. When I was at Cambridge there was a pervasive atmosphere of dominance: You (students) are the future movers and shakers of Britain and the world. Mind you, they were right, but how much of it was a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Believe it or not, these two forces can be exerted simultaneously on the same person, so you have someone like Prince Charles who grew up knowing that he was destined to lead a country yet also crushed by the authoritarian dominance of his boarding school (another British tradition that has implications far deeper than Americans take away from the Harry Potter novels).