Immigrants were asked what they like about America and there’s some great responses. But this one is actually what I don’t like about the place:
What surprised me was the social circles that existed in schools and in life. Back in Italy, schools didn’t have the nerds, the jocks, the skater kids, emos, or what else have you. People were all basically the same, with minor differences in interests. Most everyone played soccer, was a casual gamer, and hung out in the town square at night. That’s it. It may sound like an exaggeration, but 95% of my friends there were exactly like this. So when I came to school here, I was amazed by how the jocks would hang out at gyms and play 4 different sports after school, while the skaters headed off to find a park. It was so different. And I loved it. Because while I could fit it back in Italy, I was always much more introverted and interested in nerd stuff, and in the US I finally found people who were really like me. It was really unexpected, and you only notice it after spending a lot of time in America.
In one sense the US is distinctly nonconformist. You can indeed be anything you want to be, a jock, a nerd, a goth, absolutely anything.
But in another sense it’s hugely conformist. Because you’re going to be a goth, a jock, a nerd. And whichever subgroup you belong to you’ll be expected (and the social enforcement is harsh) to really be a jock, a nerd, a goth.
A jock starts dating a goth just because she’s a bit of alright and it gets treated like a Montague just eloped with a Capulet. The retelling of that tale, West Side Story (and the re-retelling of it, Grease, The Breakfast Club has a bit of it too) aren’t joking about the tribalism of American society.
Yes, obviously, I’m exaggerating, but it is something that’s always struck me as being really very different about American as opposed to say English society. You can be as tribally nonconformist as you like in the US and there’s tribes, groups, that do just about anything. But it’s not a place where people tend to be personally nonconformist. There’s a much greater sense (and to be fair, it is a sense, not an insistence) that you need to be collectively nonconformist over there in a manner that we really don’t.