Today I did an exercise with a group of students that I’ve done a lot over the last few years. I ask my (mainly) Austrian groups what they know or think they know about U.S American culture. I’ve gotten very used to answers like “friendly but superficial” but today someone mentioned something for the first time. He said, “Ethnocentric.” This is not a word I associate with one culture only. In fact, there is a fair amount of research that shows we all start out ethnocentric. We seem to be hardwired that way.
Anyway, I then asked my standard follow-up question, “What behavior do you see that makes you think ‘ethnocentric’?” and found that I was waiting with completely natural curiosity for his answer. I didn’t have to remind myself to be curious. I simply was.
And here is what he said: They benchmark everything against what is happening in America; they don’t know much about the rest of the world; and they have a “we’re #1” mentality even when they aren’t. The first point even fits the technical definition of “ethnocentric”. My curiosity was satisfied.