I have been living in the US for almost two years now, and have met and befriended quite a few Americans. A question I get very frequently when I go back to my home country, Brazil, is how Americans differ from Brazilians. Because I am not a fan of stereotypes or too broad questions, I have a hard time answering this, and usually, just laugh it off and say an ambiguous "I don't know". If I am pressed for details, I sometimes say that Americans are really friendly, but harder to get to know on a deeper level than Brazilians. I know that this explanation is vague and if probed even further, I have to admit that I don't really understand Americans that well.
However, recently one of my friends who is also a fresh immigrant to the US gave me some much-needed insight. He approached me to discuss how Americans make friends and told me about his theory that at first, Americans are really open and friendly, more so than Brazilians. I agreed with him on that point, noting how in the US it's possible to make friends just by walking into an elevator or standing in line, whereas in Brazil people who don't know each other don't start up a conversation for no reason. That is where my friend corrected me, saying that these random conversations with strangers didn't make them your friends, but rather it makes you acquaintances.
According to my friend, Americans only consider you a friend once you have done something together out of your own free will as opposed to because of school or work. I laughed at this and thought it absurd that such a clear line could be drawn between being acquaintances and friends. My friend insisted that this was the norm in the US and that he also thought it was strange at first but after running some experiments, he concluded there really was a clear line between acquaintances and friends.
I forgot about this conversation until two weeks ago. My American roommate and I were talking about a girl in my psychology class, and I told my roommate that I had lunch with that girl earlier that week to which she answered: "Oh I didn't know you were friends friends, I didn't know you were that close". I immediately remembered my conversation about Americans and began to trace back my friendship with this girl to see if the lunch we had together indeed changed the nature of our friendship. And looking back, I realized it actually did. We went from occasionally texting about class to texting about many things, and hanging out more outside of study groups.
I then called my friend who originally came up with this theory and compared notes with him. I realized I had been making American friends this way and hadn't noticed the pattern, while my friend had deliberately been making American friends this way. I am not sure if this is particular to my university or if this is indeed how all Americans socialize. I don't know if they are aware of this pattern and the clear line between acquaintances and friends, and if anything about this friendship making process is deliberate. I am not even sure if this is actually a pattern or a bizarre coincidence. But at least this experience gives me an entertaining answer to the questions when I go back home.