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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 strangely familiar with fashions, entertainment, idioms, and even cityscapes influenced by the world around them.
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.
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.
Values in the USA
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 Labor Day. Expats should take any opportunity to get involved in these festivities and gain some 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 where religion is very important (such as the south with its famous ‘Bible Belt’), new arrivals often find that the vast majority of Americans hold quite moderate beliefs. 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 will 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.
Etiquette in the USA
Americans value punctuality and find it disrespectful for people to arrive late to an appointment. This is not only true in the workplace but also relevant in social occasions.
Expats may find the American style of communication very direct and honest. While this can come across as rude to some, 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 take care around such subjects in the USA. Americans often hold very strong beliefs and, due to the diversity of people in the country, expats can never really know what an acquaintance believes in.
►To learn about American work culture, see Doing Business in the USA
Are you an expat living in The USA?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to The USA. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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