When you come to America you immediately feel that you have come to a different world; the lifestyle is easy, the people are very friendly and business is conducted in a more relaxed atmosphere. You can’t help but wonder what it is that makes it different from other parts of the world. How have they managed to create an environment that puts people at ease, and what makes Americans who are people of different cultures and different backgrounds so unique? They have managed to live together without imposing their own convictions on one another and without compromising their own beliefs. Americans of Arab, Pakistani, Chinese, Irish, German or any other origin, acquire a different character from the folks that live in their native countries. Why?
When I spoke to many Saudi students who have come to the US on King Abdullah’s scholarship program, they were all happy, appreciative and comfortable with their surroundings although they were a long way from home and came from a very different cultural background. They did not feel intimidated or alienated because of their color, race or status. I also noticed that their own behavior had changed during their stay in the U.S. Why?
It is really very disappointing to see many Saudis revert to their old character and behave differently as soon as they get home. Here in the U.S. they learn to be more courteous, are more humble and regard women with more respect. They follow rules and take their studies or work more seriously. And above all they learn time management and work ethics. If they take these values with them when they go home, maybe one day we can create our own Saudi Dream.
Applying the dream
Americans are always talking about the American Dream. They refer to it in all their books and the concept has become a symbol of American culture. This is what made me want to read more about it. Can we apply its principles in Saudi Arabia and how can we achieve a better way of life?
In the 19th century, many well-educated Europeans fled their troubled lands and came to America seeking political freedom in the New World, and escaping from the hierarchical or aristocratic society that limited individual aspirations.
It is the concept of the American Dream that attracted millions from all nations to the United States in the past century. They came to pursue the dream of an opportunity to develop without the barriers that exist in other civilizations, and to prosper without the limitations of social orders that have been imposed for the benefit of classes rather than for ordinary human beings of any race or class.
Arab Americans too have come to the U.S. to pursue happiness and a life of dignity. They were welcomed and they have been provided with an opportunity to excel. Some of the best surgeons and scientists in America are Arabs whose talents and capabilities were not recognized in their own countries.
Americans generally believe in the opportunity to achieve success through hard work. For most Americans, the American Dream includes the opportunity to receive a good education and pursue a career without any barriers and the right to make individual choices without the prior restrictions of class, caste, religion, race, or ethnicity.
Although many Americans today have grown skeptical of the American Dream and many academics and writers have written about the flaws in American institutions, the majority remains determined to address the challenges and to preserve the American Dream.
According to several public opinion polls, many Americans have since the 1980s predicted that realizing the American Dream will become more difficult for future generations. They are not optimistic about the opportunity for the working class to grow and develop; however, they are increasingly optimistic about the opportunities available to poor people and to new immigrants.
Many Americans are more positive and believe that for their family, the American Dream is more about spiritual happiness than material goods. The majority of the American people believe that working hard is the most important element for getting ahead. However, there is a considerable minority that is convinced that hard work and determination do not guarantee success.
The concept of the American Dream has helped to create a cohesive American experience, but it has also been blamed for inflated expectations. Some commentators have stated that although the egalitarian American Dream is deep rooted within the American culture, the modern American wealth structure still perpetuates racial and class inequalities between generations.
Since the 1920s, several authors, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, have ridiculed the chase for the American Dream. In his book "The Great Gatsby", Fitzgerald, reflects upon the American Dream’s demise, and the pessimism of contemporary Americans.
Many Americans today believe that business interests control all matters and that the wealthy make all the important decisions. Many books have been written to address this negative phenomenon and many critics have criticized policies that help foster the influence of the rich and the powerful. However, the secret of American success is the willingness of its people to admit their faults and to acknowledge any shortcomings. They are not afraid to protest and they always strive to find innovative solutions to their problems. Hollywood movies portray the American character as brave and determined even in the most adverse situations.
Business is business
The business community has also played a role in creating the American Dream. Professor Ted Ownby, in his innovative study of consumer goods and shopping, describes four American Dreams that have influenced the new consumer culture. The first was the “Dream of Abundance” offering material goods to all Americans, making them the richest society in the world. The second was the “Dream of a Democracy of Goods” in which the same products are available to all regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or class, challenging the control of the aristocratic and the rich over luxury goods. The third was the “Dream of Freedom of Choice,” which allowed people to choose their individual lifestyle. Lastly, the “Dream of Novelty,” in which new fashions and products raised consumer awareness of the market, and challenged the conservatism of traditional society and culture. Although the dreams of the new consumer culture were initiated in major cities in America, they quickly spread to the rural and the most isolated areas as well.” It is amazing how the concepts of equality and freedom have been applied in the daily lives of the public eliminating all barriers and class distinction in an orderly and peaceful manner.
There are many lessons that we can learn from the American way. The state has a responsibility to allow for political freedoms as well as to enforce law and order; the business community has an obligation to serve society and the public needs to apply work ethics to contribute to the building of the nation. Maybe then we can create our own Saudi Dream.
Samar Fatany is a Chief Broadcaster in the English section at Jeddah Broadcasting Station. Over the past 28 years, she has introduced many news, cultural, and religious programs and has conducted several interviews with official delegations and prominent political personalities visiting the kingdom. Fatany has made significant contributions in the fields of public relations and social awareness in Saudi Arabia and has been involved in activities aiming at fighting extremism and enhancing women’s role in serving society. She has published three books: “Saudi Perceptions & Western Misconceptions,” “Saudi Women towards a new era” and “Saudi Challenges & Reforms.”