Anyone who tries to dig deeper into the phenomenon of the American culture always faces many obstacles to comprehending it. The issue is that the American culture is often described as a “melting pot,” i.e. the United States is a place where numerous – completely different and sometimes even hostile – cultures interact with each other and somehow get mixed. So, despite being regarded as a truly Western culture, the American culture also features elements of Latin American, Polynesian, Asian, Native American, and African cultures.
General Overview of the American Culture
It is pretty obvious that the largest influence on the American culture had the British rule during the colonial times of America. Thanks to the strong ties with the British Empire, the British legal system, the British culture, and the English language have spread all across the states of America.
Yet, considering that the United States has been a land of immigrants, they played a huge role in the formation of the American culture as well. Perhaps, the largest influence on the American culture by a non-English group was exercised by Germans, who settled in many states of America, but especially in Pennsylvania. A large number of German citizens in the United States even led to the famous vote in 1795, when the Congress voted on the bill about translation of all legislation into German (read more about it here).
Pennsylvania is the state where the highest percentage of the Germans in America have lived
The American culture is a unique combination of both liberal and conservative values, whereas it typically includes moral and material elements, free expression, risk taking, political structures, religious and scientific competitiveness. A large territory of the country and varying background of newcomers have led to the appearance of many new phrases in the English language. Yet, some researchers point out the American culture’s flexibility and symbolic nature by claiming that it has a “mythic identity.”
Due to the large scale and vast territories, the United States are typically divided into certain regions that comprise a handful of states, including the Southern United States, the Mid-Atlantic States, the Midwestern United States, New England, and the Western United States – the latter are typically divided into the Mountain States and the Pacific States.
In terms of religion and political inclinations, the United States seems to be not less diverse. The western coast of the United States (which includes Washington D.C., Oregon, and California) is often called the Left Coast, pointing to the tendency of their inhabitants to vote for left-leaning politicians who promote social liberalism. On the other hand, the southern part of the United States is usually referred to as the “Bible Belt,” pointing to high conservatism and religiousness (evangelical Protestantism) of its citizens.
The History of the American State
The history of the United States starts from the so-called Pre-Columbian Era, i.e. from the period when America had not yet been discovered by Columbus and was populated by the aboriginal people. There are a lot of theories that the Vikings could actually visit America around the year 1000, yet they did not settle there.
During the colonial times of America, the first place where the English decided to settle was Roanoke Island and it happened in 1585. However, they did not succeed to settle there and made the first real settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. The location of the town allowed the newcomers to settle there easily (the aboriginal people did not live there) and defend themselves from other colonists (the town’s location on the island allowed the newcomers to repulse attacks of the conquerors).
Then, the English people continued to expand further in the United States, whereas new colonies were founded in Plymouth (Massachusetts) and Rhode Island in 1630 and 1636 respectively. However, what is nowadays considered as the United States was the place for settlement not only for the English people, at that time. The Dutch people decided to settle in what is known now as New York, though they called it New Netherland. The French opted to settle in Louisiana, while the Spanish ended up in Florida.
By the 1730s, there were over 30 colonies in the United States, with the largest cities being Charleston, Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. In the period between 1754 and 1763, France and England warred for their territories in America. That war is known as the Seven Years’ War, which was won by England. Following that war, the British government imposed additional taxes on American states, which caused a great deal of discontent among inhabitants. They wanted to feel as real Englishman and be treated equally.
In 1770, there occurred a clash between the colonists and soldiers of the monarchy, which was called the Boston Massacre later. Three years after that, a group of Americans known as the Sons of Liberty dressed in the clothes of Native Americans and dumped lots of tea boxes in a river (later it became known as the Boston Tea Party). Shortly after that, the British army seized control over Boston. In response, the Continental Congress, a group of leaders of the 13 colonies of that time, was created and included such notable personalities like Jay John, Roger Sherman, John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin.
1775 was the year when the Revolutionary War started at Lexington and Concord, where the American soldiers, led by George Washington, warred against the British soldiers. Even though the American soldiers suffered a large number of defeats under the command of G. Washington, the won the crucial battle at Saratoga in 1777. Once this victory took place, Spain and France decided to join the war against England in order to knock the stuffing out of the British Empire. The last major battle occurred in 1981 at Yorktown, where Americans – who were helped by the French army – obtained a victory and forced Britain to give up on the colonial territories of the United States.
The major divide between the south and the north was the issue of slavery
Following the War for Independence, the American quickly created a confederation of the United States, yet it proved to be non-working and prompted the Americans to abandon that idea. Instead, a constitution was written and adopted in 1787, which led to the creation of a federation of the United States. The independence from the British rule allowed America to industrialize the country quickly and expand its economy, though slavery was one of the engines of the staggering economic growth.
The issue of slavery was at the core of the Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865. In the 1840s and 1850s, the people of the Southern and Northern American states disliked each other a lot and differed in opinions on many issues, but the main issue was slavery. Numerous steps had been made in order to find a solution, yet nothing of that has helped in the long run.
While the pro-slavery South had better generals (such as Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee), they were left without good infrastructure and necessary factories that produced equipment needed for waging a war. The first couple of years of the war were pretty successful for the South, especially considering that the Union forces tried to capture Richmond, the capital of the Confederates, yet failed each time. Union’s victories in the battles of Vicksburg and Gettysburg, however, paved a way to the Union’s victory in the war. In 1865, Ulysses S. Grant, the general of Abraham Lincoln, captured the city of Richmond and forced the Confederates to give up.
After the end of the Civil War, America returned to the path of economic growth, which reached the numbers that had never been seen before and which helped the United States to become the country we know nowadays. The phenomenon of the “robber barons” appeared exactly then. Cornelius Vanderbilt was the first such robber baron, as he monopolized the market of railroads. Later, appeared J. Rockefeller, A. Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and H. Ford, each of whom monopolized certain industries (oil, steel, electricity, and car building respectively).
American Culture and its Core Values
When it comes to comprehending the American culture, you should be acquainted with the core American values. Even if you are not going to move to the United States, it will definitely help you to deal and get along with Americans better. So, the key American values are the following ones:
Directness. Americans are a nation that, perhaps, values being frank and direct the most. They usually believe that the best way of solving conflicts is doing so via an honest, straightforward discussion of problems. Citizens of this country tend to believe that if anyone has a problem with another person, he/she should say so directly to that person and make everything clear, which will allow both of them come up with a solution either outright or a bit later.
Directness is something that is especially valued by Americans
Informality. Informality is perhaps something inherent to every single American, which is caused by their pure belief in equality (see below). For example, it is not something uncommon to face a situation when a waiter/waitress or a porter introduces himself/herself informally by saying only the first name. You shouldn’t consider this to be rude or uneducated, it just appears to be a normal thing in the American culture.
Equality. The words about equality of people can be found even in the American Declaration of Independence, and equality is something that Americans value very much. Basically, belief in equality is deeply rooted in the subconsciousness of Americans. Therefore, you should keep in mind that they consider showing too much respect towards someone (like bowing to someone) as something bad.
Independence. One may barely find a nation that is so obsessed with individualism as Americans. For an American, it is the most important to be an individuality rather than to belong to a certain religious group, class, society, country, or anything else.
American Holidays and the Customs You Should Know
American holidays are something that is deeply rooted in American culture and even defines it. A person who lives in the European continent may be surprised about the fact of how much the holidays in Europe and the United States differ. In this section of our American Culture Guide, we will provide information about the most important holidays and customs in the United States.
New Year’s Day (1st January). On the day before (the New Year’s Eve), people gather in the evening and celebrate the New Year’s Coming.
Valentine’s Day (14th February). On this day, people exchange gifts, candies or post cards in order to express love and celebrate romance.
President’s Day (3rd Monday of February). This holiday is aimed to make people honor and remember their past presidents – especially that is going about George Washington, a general who warred for the American Independence against British troops and the first president, and Abraham Lincoln, who put an end to the Civil War and abolished slavery.
Saint Patrick’s Day (17th March). This holiday emigrated from Ireland to the United States and allows the people to celebrate Ireland’s patron saint, whereas everyone and everything will be colored in green.
April Fool’s Day (1st April). A day when friends joke about each other in a silly, not offending manner.
Memorial Day (last Monday of May). On this day, Americans remember and honor all the soldiers who served in the American Armed Forces and died.
Independence Day (4th July). You are able to view numerous fireworks and celebrations of the day, on which 13 states proclaimed independence from the British rule.
Labor Day (1st Monday of September). This holiday was created to honor the hard work of people who have contributed to the creation of this country.
Columbus Day (2nd Monday of October). Even though the name of Christopher Columbus is often associated with colonialism, Americans tend to celebrate the day of the discoverer of America.
Thanksgiving Day (last Thursday of November). This day commemorates the first meal that has been shared by the Native Americans and Pilgrims (newcomers).
Christmas Day (25th December). Similar as in Western and Central Europe, Americans also celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25.
If you want to get to know about the American culture more, we can suggest you to make use of the following sources: