Lack of intellectual curiosity. I chalk this up to six decades of television, four decades of undermining public education in the name of “taxpayers’ revolts” and “balanced budgets”, and socially sanctioned xenophobia and lack of interest in how the rest of the world does things. The standard of public intellectuals/sages in the US has declined. Nobody has taken the place of Will Rogers, say, or Leonard Bernstein, or if they have, they exist in a world of fragmentation where people “like” what they already agree with.
Tolerance of excessive stratification. A few generations ago, the Depression and World War II forged commonalities across class lines – Ivy League or Okie, a lot of people knew what it was like to be economically ruined and/or shot at by the Axis. The problems of Vietnam were compounded by the student deferment, and later wars were fought by volunteer professionals who tend to come from the lower ranks of society.
The “techno libertarian”. One increasing trend I’ve noticed is the so-what attitude towards social stratification among our elites. Bookstores and libraries are closing? Not my problem. Those poor people should just buy e-readers and join the global economy. Why do they need books other than technical manuals and textbooks anyways?
The abandonment of ballots for bullets. The cracks in our republican system have been apparent for a while. Voter turnout is low, and our two party system should really be replaced by a parliamentary system where you can vote for non-pandering, non-code talking parties that actually represent your views. Your party may not get many votes or seats, presumably, but coalitions will have to be built in order to form governments. Now we have a stalemate where the two major parties represent the military industrial complex and super-rich campaign donors and the electorate is polarized, with each side increasingly convinced that the other side is leading us towards a police state. The Obama gun-grabber paranoia has made this readily apparent. We can’t simultaneously tout our country as the greatest in the world and have no faith in its institutions.
A far more minor issue than those already mentioned, as well as being of mixed opinion (akin to marmite, some love it and some hate it), one American social value that I (a British person) find disconcerting and even occasionally offensive is the seeming superficiality that many Americans adopt as part of their culture.
Notably, for an example, I volunteered in a cafe at one stage upon which the band Wheatus visited on the way to doing a gig elsewhere. They were amazing people, by all means, but I couldn’t stand the Americanized sort-of hospitality that they brought with them – “You’re doing a perfect job!”, “This is the best cafe we’ve ever been to!”, “You are all amazing people!”.
Here in the UK, we don’t use superlatives very often. For me, myself, the excessive use of superlatives is both overwhelming, and comes across as incredibly fake – albeit, as I say, this is a mixed issue: Some people adore the excessive amounts of praise being lavished upon them for being undeniably average or substandard – but I am not one of those people.
It’s almost like a reverse customer service thing – I know I’m not great, and I know I’m not the best. Heck, in many ways, you’re lucky that I didn’t trip and spill the coffee over you – I’m a very clumsy person. Yet, you speak to me as if I was a king, and try to make me feel more valued than I should be. I should be flattered, but I’m not – because I can tell you’ll say the same to the next cafe you visit, and the following, and so on.
Here in the UK, the greatest compliment we normally give is “Yeah, it was alright.”