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Perhaps more than any other country in the world, American culture is a global mishmash of customs, traditions, languages and beliefs. Most expats aren't terribly likely to experience culture shock in the USA, as they'll find themselves already strangely familiar with fashions, entertainment, idioms, and even cityscapes thanks to the far reach of American culture and especially Hollywood.
Truly a melting pot, America has been shaped by a whirlwind of inspirations from across the world. Nevertheless, the USA still has a few distinct attributes of its own. In fact, there are a number of differences from other Western cultures that may take expats moving to the US by surprise. It's also worth bearing in mind that culture can vary widely across the different states.
Celebrating in the USA
While the US is made up of a huge variety of different ethnic groups, each bringing their own distinct traditions to the country, a shared sense of patriotism unites Americans. This is especially apparent on holidays such as Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Labor Day.
Americans like to throw themselves into any celebration, be it oohing and aahing over fireworks for Independence Day, dressing up for Halloween parties or participating in any sort of parade. Joining in is a great way to bond with locals. Expats should take any opportunity to get involved in these festivities and gain some insight into local culture.
Values in the USA
Many people move to America with a view of the country being a particularly Christian country, but this view is somewhat deceptive. While there are some parts of the US where religion is very important (such as the South with its famous ‘Bible Belt’), the vast majority of Americans hold quite moderate beliefs. The West Coast tends to be fairly liberal, with cities such as San Francisco and LA being home to large artistic, bohemian communities. Big cities like New York, Chicago and Boston are also quite progressive.
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 for an appointment. This is not only true in the workplace but also relevant in social occasions.
Communication in the USA
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 that may be passionately debated at social occasions in other countries, expats should take care around such subjects in the US. 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
"I think my biggest mistake was assuming that America wasn’t too different from where I’d come from. I thought I’d be fine. But Texas is a world of its own and the US varies from state to state."
Read Irish expat Las's interview with Expat Arrivals for more about her new life in Houston, Texas.
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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