One of the distinguishing characteristics of speakers of US English that makes them stand out in any crowd is the volume of their voices. In the US we speak much louder than do people speaking other languages or even other dialects of English.
My wife and I were shouting to each other across a particularly small table at our local pub last week when this observation arose again. We recalled the pleasure of dining in restaurants on our recent visit to southern France, where everyone kept their voices at a level where normal conversation was possible at all tables.
Donald Ogden Stewart’s Mr and Mrs Haddock Abroad, Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad and, of course, the The Ugly American by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick (1958) suggest that boisterousness is a quality US Americans assume only when they are abroad. I don’t detect any significant difference in our behavior at home and abroad.
Part of the problem is that many of us are unaware that people living in other cultures are different from us. Since the US considers itself the policeman of the world, it is easy for us to think that we own it.
We don’t often discuss why US Americans are so obnoxiously boisterous. The answers that I have heard include a suggestion that most in the US never quite grow up and that the loudness is that of childhood. Others think it is a remnant of the wild and wooly days of the frontier.
My own sense is that it is individualism out of control, slipping precipitously into selfishness. We worship individualism in this country often without understanding it, or without understanding it well enough to distinguish it from selfishness. All of the “I’m worth it” and “I want it all and I want it now” commercials on TV and radio seem to me to reflect this attitude. This sort of focus on oneself implies some degree of oblivion to others.
Anyway, we can speculate on the causes but I haven’t been able to find any lexical items that shed any light on the issue so far, so I won’t belabor the point. I would be interested if anyone else out there has any insight into the matter.