Culture Shock in the USA
Perhaps more than in any other country in the world, American culture is a global mishmash of customs, traditions, languages and beliefs.
Expats will find themselves already eerily familiar with fashions, entertainment, idioms, and even cityscapes influenced by the world around. Even those expats relocating to the USA from smaller, more reclusive corners of the world will be reassured to note that real evidence of their homeland - from cuisine to religion – will likely be found in this multicultural melting pot.
The many influences and integrated cultural characteristics are long to list, but each contributes a bit to the national ethos. This is particularly apparent in the cities which are bigger, brash blends of humanity; smaller towns often retain characteristics of their founding nationalities. The lesser place names are often denoted by suffixes like 'burgh' and 'ville' or prefixes such as 'New' and 'San'.
Still, despite its many inspirations, American culture still has distinct attributes of its own. In fact, there are a number of differences from other Western cultures that may take expats living in the USA by surprise.
The sheer geographical size of sprawling American cities may intimidate many initially. Long commutes and long drives are normal. A dependence on vehicles is a common characteristic of American life.
Americans consider themselves earnest, hardworking and independent, and many Europeans are surprised by the lack of universal social services provided by the government.
While the USA is made up of a huge variety of different ethnic groups, each bringing their own distinct traditions to the country, expats will find that many Americans are very patriotic. This is especially apparent on holidays such as Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Labour Day. Expats should take any opportunity to get involved in these festivities and get an insight into local culture.
Many people move to the USA with a view of the country being a particularly Christian country. However, this view is somewhat deceptive. While there are some parts of the USA, especially the South with its famous ‘bible belt’, where religion is very important, new arrivals often find that the vast majority of Americans hold quite moderate beliefs and the values of freedom and equality are more commonly upheld. Expats will find that Americans living on the West Coast tend to be more liberal with cities like San Francisco and Miami being home to large artistic, bohemian communities. Big cities like New York, Chicago and Boston are also quite progressive.
Expats find that philanthropy is important to many Americans, who enjoy giving back to their community or those less fortunate than themselves. There are plenty of opportunities for people to get involved in various charity projects or volunteer schemes in the USA. For expats, volunteering is a great opportunity to meet new people and get settled in their new home.
Some expats might find American culture to be materialistic. Americans are often seen as having a ‘live to work’ attitude, rather than the ‘work to live’ approach preferred in Europe.
Cultural etiquette in the USA
Americans value punctuality and find it disrespectful for people to arrive late to an appointment. This is not only true within the workplace but also relevant when considering social occasions.
Expats may find the American style of communication very direct and honest. While this can come across as rude to some people, locals rarely mean any real harm.
While religion and politics are topics of conversation which may be passionately debated at social occasions in other countries, expats should avoid such subjects in the USA. The reason for this is partly due to the diversity of people in America and the fact that one can never really know what an acquaintance believes in and how strongly their belief systems are.