America, MIT

Bill of Rights, Talent, Ideology

creativity, uniqueness, freedom, self-confidence


expression, apathy, self-confidence

freedom, unfamiliar, remembered


identity, uniqueness, liberal

illusive, essential, personal

important, interest, passion

personality, expression, interest

personality, to speak one's mind, expression

private, complex, selfish

self confidence, independence,

self, decisions, independence

self, interests, hobbies

Selfish, Disregard, Ambition

spirit, open, personal

standing out, different, colorful

strength, confidence

Unique, Character, Preference

Unique, Creative, Self-reliance (Ralph Waldo Emerson), Free

unique, perspective, independent

unique, self, own

égoïsme, peu d'ouverture d'esprit, libéralisme

égoïsme, solitude, matérialisme

capitalisme, égoïsme,

conception morale, conscience, collectivisme, psychologie

de plus en plus

isolé, pas de relations, renfermé,

libéralisme, égoïsme, manque d'ouverture d'esprit.

liberté individuelle, autonomie morale

liberté individuelle, opinion propre

Méthodologique, Seul, Humain

Répandu, Protection, Peur


seul, indépendance,

Seul, Prétention, Triste



solitaire, courant économique et politique, Durkheim

Solitude, égoïsme, carrière


Words referring to self and freedom were most common from both the Americans and the French. While the connotation was mixed with the American responses, most of the French responses were rather negative, with words referring to selfishness/self-centeredness and solitude being the most frequent. Having lived in the US for over 8 years, I believe that Americans generally value individualism, with some exceptions. However, based on the French responses, it appears as if individualism is perceived as a selfish, isolating trait in France and I am curious to know why.



Most Americans seem to value their individualism while the French, as Evita mentioned, see it as negative. When one says 'family', who do the French and Americans think of? Parents? Siblings? Grandparents? Cousins? Second-cousins? Uncles? How are family holidays celebrated in France?

There are many positive words describing individualism in American responses (creativity, uniqueness etc), with only a few outliers (by foreign students studying in the USA?). However, my evaluation of these responses is based on my own ideology - perhaps there are cultures where uniqueness is not valued, though France definitely isn't one such culture. The French answers are more negative: e.g. individualism is equated with loneliness (solitude, isolation). I assume that capitalism, liberalism aren't negative words. 


Do you think there is less individualism in France and Europe? Is a welfare state an indication of there being less individualism? 

I actually didn't think there was too much of a difference in opinion of what individualism means from the two responses, I just think that there are different takes on whether it is an inherently good or an inherently bad thing.  The french notion tends toward the latter, while clearly the American notion hints at the former.  Nevertheless, both positive and negative opinions of individualism manifest themselves in each side of the responses, French and American.  My speculation as to what might be causing this would have to do largely with the events over the past decade that have led America to seeming more and more "every man for himself."  In the past,  France and America have maintained closed ties, and the American Revolution was in fact inspiration for the French Revolution.  As far as "socialism" goes, America once led the world on these causes, including public education and one of the world's leading sanitation systems.  It is in recent years that these have failed to keep up as other nations have surpassed us on these fronts, and I'd hypothesize that the cowboy, cavalier stereotype of America is now what defines us.

Although in the last decade the image of America was done a great disservice, I believe that the negative perception of "American individualism" existed before that (cf. various Hollywood productions portraying extreme careerism, gated communities etc). I agree with Aaron that American public services have deteriorated in recent years, though I would extend it to recent decades. It has been a very long time since America was at the forefront of social causes.

An important factor that might influence the French perception of "American individualism" is the lack of universal healthcare in the USA, which might be perceived by them as a sign of selfishness of rich(er) individuals, as well as paying for college (going into debt to pay for school).

The roots of these distinct ideologies should be sought in ...

Traditional American values are inherently individualistic. The American Dream accurately portrays how success and individualism are tied together in the US. Americans are expected to show self-reliance and initiative (though frankly, that may not always be the case). It's very "un-American" to depend on someone or something else for support. Even our economic values are evidence of a strong emphasis on the individual.

It seems to me that the French understand very well what American individualism means, but probably don't believe that it would be a desirable thing. If anything, Americans may have taken the word "individualism" and attached more positive interpretations like expression and creativity over time, when in reality it just means that in America, you do things for yourself by yourself (again, not really true anymore, but valued nonetheless by more conservative groups).

That being said, individualism also fosters competition. :D

Je pense qu'il faut chercher dans l'histoire de nos deux pays l'explication de ces différences, qui sont pour moi les plus frappantes. Votre histoire est celle du self-made man, alors que la nôtre est celle de l'homme instruit. En France, celui qui réusiit tout seul dans son coin est louche, et l'individualisme est toujours considéré comme négatif: c'est celui qui ne partage pas, qui est asocial, qui ne pense qu'à lui, qui ne fait jamais rien pour les autres; nous avons un passé où la notion de collectif est importante, c'est en unissant nos forces, à l'époque de la révolution, que nous avons pu instaurer la liberté, l'égalité...

The general theme I got from the French responses is that there seems to be a fear that valuing the individual alone leads to isolation or self-imprisonment. It's not that they don't attach positive meanings to the word at all or that they have no desire of individualism, but maybe it's something they employ with a healthy amount of trepidation?
For example, I think the French would probably attach expression as part of individualism and would consider individual expression to be important, but would consider that people who are overly expressive are actually drowning out those around them (hence the lack of open-mindedness).
By contrast, I would guess (although it's not really stated), that there is an fear that a lack of individual enterprise leads to some kind of stalemate, so one needs to keep on working. Is it really true that most Americans shy away from dependence? From my perspective, there seems to be a large dependence on family at least (but maybe it doesn't go any further than that).

Je suis d'accord avec Luka,

je pense que l'histoire de nos deux pays explique beaucoup de choses. Peux-tu m'expliquer la référence à Ralph W Emerson dans la iste de mots que vous associez à l'individualisme?



je pense que le welfare state comme tu dis montre qu'il y a moins d'individualisme car cela veut dire se préoccuper des autres; un exemple: les retraites. En France, nous avons un regime par repartitition, ce qui veut dire que les jeunes générations paient pour les plus âges; c'est de la solidarité; vous, vous avez les fonds de pension, qui sont à l'opposé et qui represente le summum de l'individualisme



peux-tu expliquer ce que tu veux dire par ces mots: "but maybe it's something they employ with a healthy amount of trepidation?"; je n'arrive pas à voir ce que tu entends par là. Merci de m'aider.

Martine, what I think Andrew meant was, literally, "but may it is something they are very careful not to overuse," in the sense that the French possess a great deal of individuality and respect for individualism and obviously have their own opinions, but they are perhaps more careful about expressing them.

I don't know if I can agree with that entirely. From my experience, the French tend to have very strong opinions that they do not hesitate in expressing. Perhaps they are more willing to express the ones in keeping with French culture and tradition than they are to express others? That does also carry over to Americans, though I suppose there is sometimes a more belligerent quality in expressing dissent. I think that this also changes depending on the audience, and whether or not the person you are talking to is foreign, as you will expect a certain difference of opinion. What do you think?

Mariya's interpretation is about right: in this sense you can substitute 'employ' for 'use' and 'trepidation' for 'caution'. Also, 'healthy amount' just means a reasonable or fairly large amount.

I actually agree with Mariya that the French are generally more than happy to express their own opinion. What I meant to ask is if the French are specifically mindful about not becoming too obsessed with or focused on their own individual opinions? In other words, is their an instinctive reaction to genuinely consider the opinions of others as being equally valid as your own?

Merci pour vos réponses, non, je ne pense pas que les français hésitent à donner leur opinion, ils sont plutôt assez sûrs d'eux (souvent trop).

"je ne pense pas que les français hésitent à donner leur opinion, ils sont plutôt assez sûrs d'eux (souvent trop)."


Martine, it's interesting that you bring this up...we discussed this in our class that the French are good at rhetoric and voicing their opinions, they are blunt. I also found this to be generally true, although I probably do not know as many native French people as you do.