The United States is the most diverse country in the world. People from all over the world have immigrated to the United States. Therefore, it is very difficult to define a typical American, as there is no such thing. However, a majority of the current Americans are of European descent; therefore, the description below is primarily with that in mind.
Language in the USA
The United States does not have an official language, but English is spoken by about 82% of the population as a native language. The variety of English spoken in the United States is known as American English; together with Canadian English it makes up the group of dialects known as North American English. Spanish is the second-most common language in the country, spoken by almost 30 million people (or 12% of the population).
English is an Indo-European language. US-English varies in many ways from UK-English as well as the English spoken in Canada, South Africa, Australia and other English speaking countries.
Some 300 languages are spoken in the USA. In the southwest of the USA 80% of the population have Spanish as their mother tongue. In order to obtain American Citizenship one must speak English but many immigrant families continue to speak their native language at home. They balance daily between two cultures.
The family name of an American usually represents his cultural background: Sanchez, Wong, Krawic, Al Harbi, Arikian, Roosevelt, Levy etc.
The USA with her 300 million inhabitants, is a multicultural and multi ethnic melting pot. America is ultimately a nation of immigrants and as a result is a cultural mish-mash in every sense of the word. Not only is the country populated by people from foreign countries but all Americans in one way or another trace their ancestry back to another culture, whether Irish, German, Italian or Scottish. Looking around any major city one will notice the ‘melting-pot’ that it is.
Therefore it is difficult to describe what the “typical” American looks like. For five centuries people from all over the world flocked to the United States, many of them seeking a better life. Today there are many mixed marriages with children having the features of both races. The elite however is still WASP. (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant).
Informal and Friendly
Most people who come to the United States may already know a few things about the people through TV. Although this is of course a skewed reality some of the stereotypes are true, especially American friendliness and informality. People tend to not wait to be introduced, will begin to speak with strangers as they stand in a queue, sit next to each other at an event, etc. Visitors can often be surprised when people are so informal to the point of being very direct or even rude.
Americans address each other very informally and are on a the first name basis. This can make it challenging to find out if you speak to the CEO or to the receptionist when at a social event. No academic or job titles are used unless one is formally introduced in a business setting. After the formal introduction first names are used.
Time is Money
The country that coined the phrase obviously lives the phrase. In America, time is a very important commodity. People ‘save’ time and ‘spend’ time as if it were money in the bank. Americans ascribe personality characteristics and values based on how people use time. For example, people who are on-time are considered to be good people, reliable people who others can count on.
Energetic and positive Americans usually speak in the present or imperative tense with lots of action oriented words. “Let’s do this”. “Make it work” “Instant solution”. This energizes people. Many powerful words and expressions are used such as; greatest, excellent, brilliant, thrilling, ultimate, a roller coaster ride.
Americans are well known for their positive thinking. A positive approach and attitude is key in business. Negative thinking or complaints are not received very well. Do not complain. Use the word challenge instead of problem.
Most Americans are friendly, open and direct in their communication.
The first impression
First impressions are important. Americans know how to sell themselves and expect others to do the same. Be very present and express your will to work hard. Appearance should be healthy and energetic. Dress and good manners are less important than the above-mentioned qualities.
Rules and regulations
The Unites States citizens are law abiding and used to many rules and regulations. People hardly question public authority.
Marriage, Family, and Kinship
Marriage. Marriage is formally a civil institution but is commonly performed in a church. Statistically, marriage appears to be on the decline. Half of all adults are unmarried, including those who have never married and those who are divorced. Rates of marriage are higher among whites than among blacks.
With the exception of Vermont, civil unions are legal only between heterosexual adults. However, gay marriages are increasingly common whether or not they are formally recognized by the state. Some religious denominations and churches recognize and perform gay marriages. The high rate of divorce and remarriage has also increased the importance of stepfamilies.
Domestic Unit. The typical model of the family is the nuclear family consisting of two parents and their children. Upon marriage, adult couples are expected to form their own household separate from either of their biological families. The nuclear family is the cultural ideal but is not always the reality. Immigrant groups have been reported to rely on extended family networks for support. Similarly, among African-American families, where adult males are often absent, extended kin ties are crucial for women raising children. Extended family relatives live in their own homes, often at great distances from their children. Individualism is prized, and this is reflected in the family unit. People are proud of their individual accomplishments, initiative and success, and may, or may not, share those sources of pride with their elders.
Inheritance. Americans trace their ancestry and inherit through both the maternal and paternal lines. Surnames are most commonly adopted through the paternal line, with children taking the father’s name. Women usually adopt the husband’s surname upon marriage, but it is increasingly common for women to keep their own surnames and for the children to use both the father’s and the mother’s last names.
Kin Groups. Family can refer to a nuclear family group or an extended kin group. The “ideal” family consists of a mother, a father, and two or three children. Americans often distinguish between blood relatives and relatives through marriage; blood relatives are considered more important. Ties among nuclear families generally are closer than ties among extended family members. Adoption is common, but reproductive technologies that allow infertile couples and gay couples to reproduce are highly valued. This reflects the importance of the concept of biological kinship in the culture.
Alternative models of family life are important in American life. A great deal of scholarship has addressed the historical and economic conditions that have led to a high proportion of female-headed households and the incorporation of non nonrelated members into family units among African-Americans. However, these trends are on the rise in the population as a whole. A significant number of Americans of all ethnic backgrounds live in nontraditional families. These families may consist of unmarried couples or single parents, gay couples and their children, or gay families without children.
Gender Roles and Statuses
Division of Labor by Gender
Although most women work outside the home, household and child-rearing responsibilities are still overwhelmingly the responsibility of women. The “double day” of women consists of working and then returning home to do domestic chores. This situation persists in spite of the cultural belief that men and women are equal. Studies carried out in middle-class homes, in which couples claim to share household duties, show that women still do the vast majority of domestic work. Although young women as a whole spend much less time on domestic chores than their mothers did, this is attributable not to the fact that men do a significant share of domestic work, but to the fact that women spend less time cooking, cleaning, and caring for children than they did in the past.
Women are paid seventy cents to every male dollar for comparable jobs. Occupations continue to be defined along gender lines. Secretarial or low-level administrative jobs are so overwhelmingly female that they have been termed pink-collar jobs. In the white-collar world, women often occupy middle-management positions. With a few exceptions, the “glass ceiling” keeps women out of high management positions. This situation is justified on the grounds that women take time from their working lives to raise children and therefore do not spend the same amount of time developing their working careers that men do. Occupations requiring nurturing skills, such as teaching and nursing, are still predominantly female.
Within the blue-collar sector, women are underrepresented in jobs considered to require physical strength, such as the construction industries and firefighting. Women often fill low-paid positions in industry, such as assembly-line work, sewing, and electronics assembly. This is justified on the basis that women are by nature more dexterous and that their small hands suit them to assembly-line work. It is more likely that the low wages offered by these factories explains the recruitment of female laborers, whose other options may include even less desirable seasonal and temporary work.
The Relative Status of Women and Men
In legal terms, women have the same formal rights as men. They can vote, own property, choose to marry or divorce, and demand equal wages for equal work. They also have access to birth control and abortion. The status of women in relation to men is very high compared to the situation in many other countries.
However, women as a whole do not receive the same social and economic benefits as men. Women are greatly underrepresented in elected political offices and are more likely to live in poverty. Female occupations both in the home and in the workplace are valued less than men’s. Women are more likely than men to suffer from a sense of disempowerment and to have a distorted or low self-image.
Status in American society is more closely related to possessions and money than to family standing. Each American fights his way up the ladder, individually. Moving up the social and business ladder is usually done through a change of jobs. Americans easily move across the country for a higher position with a better salary.
Classes and Castes
Most Americans do not believe that theirs is a “class” society. There is a strong cultural belief in the reality of equal opportunity and economic mobility. Rags to riches stories abound, and gambling and lotteries are popular. However, there is evidence that mobility in most cases is limited: working-class people tend to stay in the working classes. Moreover, the top 1 percent of the population has made significant gains in wealth in the last few years. Similar gains have not been made by the poorest sectors. In general, it appears that the gap between rich and poor is growing.
Symbols of Social Stratification
Stratification is visible in many facets of daily life. The social segregation of blacks and whites in cities mirrors their separation in the labor force. The crumbling housing stock of blacks in the inner cities contrasts with giant homes in gated suburbs all across the country. Speech, manners, and dress also signal class position. With some exceptions, strong regional or Spanish accents are associated with working-class status.
The overwhelming majority of the people are Christian. Catholicism is the largest single denomination, but Protestants of all denominations (Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and others) outnumber Catholics. Judaism is the largest non-Christian faith, followed by Islam, which has a significant African-American following. Baptism, the largest Protestant sect, originated in Europe but grew exponentially in the United States, especially in the South, among both whites and blacks. Aside from the many Christian movements from England and Europe that reestablished themselves early in the nation’s history, a few religious sects arose independently in the United States, including Mormons and Shakers.
Although religion and the state are formally separated, religious expression is an important aspect of public and political life. Nearly every President has professed some variety of Christian faith. One of the most significant religious trends in recent years has been the rise of evangelical and fundamentalist sects of Christianity. As an organized political-religious force, fundamentalist Christians significantly influence political agendas.
Another trend is the growth in New Age religions, which blend elements of Eastern religions and practices, such as Buddhism, with meditation, yoga, astrology, and Native American spirituality.
In addition to the practitioners of world religions such as priests, ministers, and rabbis, the United States has a tradition of nonordained and nontraditional religious practitioners. These people include evangelical lay preachers, religious leaders associated with New Age religions, and leaders of religious movements designated as cults. Women are increasingly entering traditionally male religious positions. There are now women ministers in many Protestant denominations and women rabbis.
Rituals and Holy Places
The country does not have religious rituals or designated holy places that have meaning to the population as a whole. However, Salt Lake City is a holy city for Mormons, and the Black Hills of South Dakota and other places are sacred native American sites.
There are many shared secular rituals and places that have an almost religious importance. Secular rituals include baseball and football games. Championship games in these sports, the World Series and the Super Bowl, respectively, constitute major annual events and celebrations. Important places include Disneyland, Hollywood, and Grace-land (Elvis Presley’s estate).
Death and the Afterlife
Americans have an uncomfortable relationship with their own mortality. Although most residents are Christian, the value placed on youth, vigor, and worldly goods is so great that death is one of the most difficult subjects to talk about.
Death is considered a sad and solemn occasion. At funerals, it is customary to wear black and to speak in hushed tones. Graveyards are solemn and quiet places. Some people believe in an afterlife or in reincarnation or other form of continuity of energy or spirit.