Let me first observe that it's U.S. culture, not American culture, that's a puzzlement. Referring to American culture as if the other American continents, not to mention the Canadian north, didn't even exist, is part of the grand deception that is the U.S., where nothing means what it says. Well, perhaps "nothing" is an exaggeration, but the U.S. is a place where every utterance has to be taken with a grain of salt (what does that even mean?) and no assertion can be taken at face value.
New arrivals, once they get clued in to the fact that much of what they assumed about the "States" is actually false, put the pervasive deception down to good manners. After all, since they've given no offense, why would the natives be directed by animus? Deception is the common mode of behavior in the face of the threat of danger. "Good manners" is a category that covers anachronistic behaviors whose usefulness has passed.
But, the new arrivals are too kind. They are getting it wrong. There is a significant percentage of the U.S. population that is motivated by animus. It may be mindless and have no basis in fact, but it is antagonistic to all and sundry and resorts to deception as a constant. It is not polite. "Have a good day" is dismissive -- as dismissive as Barbara Bush's "I'm done with you," a rare example of honesty from a family of master deceivers. Which is why it stands out. A Bush actually said what she meant! But then, she'd only married into the clan. And Barbara Bush is a woman, an inherently suspect class.
Although some women have proved adept at spouting the deceptive lingo, the antagonism it hides seems to arise mostly from the male psyche. Perhaps that's because a sense of repressed male aggression lies at its base. I used to think the habit of saying the opposite of what one meant, a strategy that's designed to distinguish friend from foe in an uncertain environment (the friend recognizes true intent; the foe is deceived) was endemic in the Southern states, where a state of subjugation had persisted long after the war to end it was done. Certainly, the Southern states have long been reputed as being more polite than the rest of the country. And recognized as not being entirely sincere, even as the reason behing the antagonism it hides is not understood.
Why are the denizens of the Southern states antagonistic and why do their numbers seem to be growing? The answer to the second question, IMHO, is because antagonists from other parts are moving in. Birds of a feather flocking together. The antagonism, on the other hand, would seem to stem from a systemic pattern of abuse. The culture of the U.S. is abusive, especially of males.
I think it has something to do with hair cuts. Being neither a male, nor a person who's had her hair cut but once, as best I can remember, I've arrived at this hypothesis somewhat circuitously. What is it about hair that animates the U.S. psyche? Why is it important for male politicians (from certain parts of the country?) to have "good hair"? What is the role of the barbershop in the life of the U.S. male? Why are "long hairs" and men with beards derided? What is the significance of the "skin head"?
Hair is not a topic that is well covered from a white perspective. Chris Rock, it turns out, created a documentary in 2009, entitled "Good Hair" and Native Americans consider long hair to be a sign of strength, an item of privacy that is not to be touched by outsiders. One has to wonder what effect the story of Willard Romney assaulting a classmate to cut his hair had on the Native American psyche.
Cutting someone's hair is, of course, a direct act. So, it might logically not figure in a culture that's focused on indirection and misdirection, unless direct actions are actually symbolic of something else. What does a boy's first hair cut in U.S. culture symbolize? And why is a reduction in the value of a financial asset referred to as a "haircut"? Moreover, if some cuts are bad, but haircuts are good, are tax cuts good, bad or symbolic of something else entirely? Are tax cuts, oft promised but rarely delivered, actually signals or reminders of something else entirely -- a threat of punishment withheld, if the target is compliant in some other, unspecified arena? In other words, are tax cuts for the rich merely designed to warn the already impoverished of the potential of even more stress, if they don't change their ways and vote right?
How might such a threat be directly stated? "I'm going to give your lunch to Johnny, if you don't do what I say"? How does one describe the threatened transaction. "Triangulation" would be ordering Johnny to take your lunch.The threat of a third party crime to extort compliance is something else. We can see it played out when Congress proposes to deliver workers' pensions to the speculators on Wall Street and demand credit, when the transfer doesn't happen, to justify their re-election. But, we don't have ready language to describe so many layers of ulterior motive. It's like the first cousin, once removed, of politics. Politics being the exercise of power, or coercion by indirection, in this case.
Coercion by indirection. Is that what a boy's first haircut at the barbershop is a symbol of in U.S. culture? Going to the barbershop always struck me as a frivolous expense. When the members of my household needed or wanted a hair cut, I pulled up a chair, brought out the scissors (had to look up the spelling), and gave them a trim, as directed. For some reason, my sons tell their sons "my mother always cut our hair," as if that has some significance I miss. Myself, I've only been to a "salon" twice: once for a "do" that I washed out as soon as I got home, and once for a "trim" that turned out no better than I could do with the split ends. So, DIY seems the norm, even as it is also obvious that some kinds of hair aren't amenable to being done by oneself. If tightly curled hair is to be kept healthy and neat, it requires help, providing an opportunity to socialize.
On the other hand, a shave and a haircut can be quite abrupt and, if the neighborhood barber is an example, an opportunity to proselytize. You see, even though I haven't patronized barbershops on my own behalf, I've visited both as a political candidate (everyone recommends it) and in the company of an old codger, who demanded a professional, if his tresses were to be trimmed and his beard shaved off. Being barbered was a treat for the old fellow. The barber, here in old Georgia, saw it as an opportunity to preach -- not just to the client under his razor, but also to the one in the next chair over. Made me wonder how many barbers are preachers in disguise. It also reminded me that barbering is the antecedent to modern surgery and medical care.
Which leads me to question whether the formal separation of church and state has had the unintended consequence of moral proselytizers having to go in disguise. How many doctors and lawyers and barbers are modern versions of the magician and shaman of old, experts in the field of getting people to do what they are told.
Sit still in that chair, if you don't want to get cut! Coercion. It's the American way. Free enterprise is a delusion. Perhaps therein lies the root of resentment. A grand deception. The irony is that neither the African American, Native American, First Generation American, nor American Female experience is indirect; their oppression is quite direct. Which may account for why they are more likely to resist, rather than resent.