The American Way

“Are you against the American Way?”

A friend of mine asked me this as I sat down for breakfast in our college’s dining hall. He’s something of a jokester; what he tried to refer to was the fact that I didn’t have bacon and eggs, but some cream cheese on English muffins and fruit. It turned into an interesting conversation, though, involving everyone at the table.

What is “the American Way”? My American friends tried to point out how central a tenet freedom is in this country – and opportunity as well.

“You work, and you make something of yourself,” someone said, “And you can get anything you want.”

I disagreed with that last phrase. There’s no doubt that this is a land of plenty. But I’ve been to many parts of the world, and there are things that are just not available in America.

“Like what?”

Well, we Armenians have a special kind of bread…

“I bet there’s a bakery in New York… ,” my friend began. I cut him off. Actually, there’s more than one, probably more so in the Los Angeles area where there is a large Armenian community, but I’m willing to bet in New York too. I admitted that.

“Besides which,” the barrage continued, “you could overnight ANYTHING…”

This is actually not true. I know you simply can’t overnight anything and everything. It is physically impossible, and logistically highly improbable. From Armenia, anyway. “Sure, it’ll cost a bunch of money… ,” someone else chimed in. That argument can apply to any country, though, not just America. Anywhere, with a bunch of money, you can end up buying or arranging to buy pretty much anything.

But all this was a technical digression from our discussion of “the American Way.” What started out as an amusing chat turned into an interesting insight for me.

“Even if there are things you can’t buy in America,” it finally came out, “the fact that we Americans believe that we can go out and get it, THAT’s the American Way.”

Okay, so maybe the quotes up there aren’t exactly word-for-word. Regardless, the lesson I took away from breakfast that morning was that, indeed, there is a “go get ’em” attitude prevalent among many in this country. Now, there is immense diversity too, as I have noticed in my three years here, so I would be hard-pressed to pinpoint a distinct, specific “American way” of life, or even what it means to be American. That’s a long conversation, and I have found myself discussing issues of identity with Americans more than once.

What we were talking about, however, was something indeed widespread. And significant. The political, social and certainly the economic system espouse the spirit of individuality and, yes, entrepreneurship, in many in this country.

There are many aspects of life in the United States which I have trouble appreciating, but there is plenty of good stuff as well. The attitude of taking on and surmounting challenges is definitely something worthy of inculcation.