Consumerism is a key part of the American culture. It drives the mindset of many in the U.S., leading them to buy and own more than what is required for them to survive. Buying new items is sometimes associated with instant gratification and can bring the buyer a fleeting happiness. Additionally, having many “nice” or “expensive” items can be a status symbol.
I fall victim to the consumerist mindset, but I wish it was easier to reject. The influence on the planet, from things such as toxic chemicals used in fast fashion to an influx of waste, make me increasingly uninterested in consumerism. There needs to be a cultural shift away from this obsession with stuff to promoting things that are more important, like the planet. Consumerism also plays a huge role in the “convenience culture” we have here, leading to the unfortunate issue of single-use plastic. (Can you tell I am an Environmental Studies major??) However, I must confess I totally understand the gratification of buying something new: it’s a little rush and it is SO exciting! BUT, then you become used to the item and it is just another thing you own… but what to do with it then? Some items break so easily and are useless after a relatively short period of time. Planned obsolescence, utilized by many manufacturers, is the term that relates to what I just previously described (although it is usually thought of with technologies: think how Apple changed their chargers as their models advanced).
To some cultures, I imagine consumerism is quite prevalent. This leads me to believe the consumerism mindset in America is nothing strange to many nations abroad, especially for many European countries and other nations heavily influenced by Western culture. On the other end of the spectrum, I imagine some would view our obsession with acquiring more stuff as unnecessary and wasteful. I think other aspects of U.S. culture, such as the emphasis on individualism, might be more shocking than consumerism to those overseas with stronger senses of community.
Before my departure, it has been very valuable for me to reflect on key American values such as independence and individuality. Although I chose to focus on consumerism, the exercise forced me to crtically evaluate my own culture before I will be immersed into a new one. I imagine Portugal will be different from the U.S. in many ways, but I am excited to see the ways in which we are similar. I have been thinking a lot about this lately with everything going on in the Middle East: this sense of “otherness” that makes us all seem so different. Perhaps it would do us some good to focus on the similarities we all share in our human experience, but I digress. In my reflection for this exercise, I googled American values for inspiration. One link I came across was for people coming to study abroad in the U.S. and the things they should anticipate to encounter here. It was so eye-opening to see what might surprise others about our culture.
My classes start online this Monday, and then come Sunday the 12th I am on my way! Write to ya next from Lisbon 🙂