America is a melting pot of different cultures, religions, lifestyles, careers, cities, landscapes, sports, technologies, and entertainment. America welcomes students from around the world.
Motto In God We Trust
Capital Washington DC
Population 305,809,000 (2008 estimate)
Largest city New York City
Area 9,629,047 sq km
Continent North America
Languages English, French, Spanish
Religion Protestant, Roman Catholic
President George W. Bush
Currency United States dollar
GDP $14.334 trillion (2008 estimate)
Per capita $47,025
Want to know more. Read on……
Society and Culture in the U.S.
You certainly have heard stories, good or bad, about the American people. You also probably have preconceived ideas from having met Americans before or from films and television programs that colour your impression of what Americans are and what they do. However, American society is enormously diverse and complex and cannot be reduced only to a few stories or stereotypes. Important differences exist between geographical regions, between rural and urban areas, and between social classes. In addition, the presence of millions of immigrants who came to the United States from all corners of the world with their own culture and values adds even more variety and flavor to American life.
The characteristics described below represent that image of U.S. society that is thought of as being “typically American.”
Probably above everything else, Americans consider themselves individuals. There are strong family ties and strong loyalties to groups, but individuality and individual rights are most important. If this seems like a selfish attitude, it also leads Americans to an honest respect for other individuals and an insistence on human equality.
Related to this respect for individuality are American traits of independence and self-reliance. From an early age, children are taught to “stand on their own two feet,” an idiom meaning to be independent. You may be surprised to learn that most U.S. students choose their own classes, select their own majors, follow their own careers, arrange their own marriages, and so on, instead of adhering to the wishes of their parents.
Honesty and frankness are two more aspects of American individuality, and they are more important to Americans than personal honor or “saving face.” Americans may seem blunt at times, and in polite conversations they may bring up topics and issues that you find embarrassing, controversial, or even offensive. Americans are quick to get to the point and do not spend much time on social niceties. This directness encourages Americans to talk over disagreements and to try to patch up misunderstandings themselves, rather than ask a third party to mediate disputes.
Again, “individuality” is the key word when describing Americans, whether it is their personalities or their style of dress. Generally though, Americans like to dress and entertain informally and treat each other in a very informal way, even when there is a great difference in age or social standing. Students and professors often call each other by their first names. International students may consider this informality disrespectful, even rude, but it is part of the American culture. Although there are times when Americans are respectful of, and even sentimental about, tradition, in general there is little concern for set social rules.
Americans place a high value on achievement and this leads them to constantly compete against each other. You will find friendly, and not-so-friendly, competition everywhere. The American style of friendly joking or banter, of “getting in the last word,” and the quick and witty reply are subtle forms of competition. Although such behaviour is natural to Americans, some international students might find it overbearing and disagreeable.
Americans can also be obsessed with records of achievement in sports, in business, or even in more mundane things. Books and movies, for example, are sometimes judged not so much on quality but on how many copies are sold or on how many dollars of profit are realized. In the university as well, emphasis is placed on achievement, on grades, and on one’s grade point average (GPA). On the other hand, even if Americans are often competitive, they also have a good sense of teamwork and of cooperating with others to achieve a specific goal.
Americans are often accused of being materialistic and driven to succeed. How much money a person has, how much profit a business deal makes, or how many material goods an individual accumulates is often their definition of success. This goes back to American competitiveness. Most Americans keep some kind of appointment calendar and live according to schedules. They always strive to be on time for appointments. To international students, American students seem to always be in a hurry, and this often makes them appear rude. However, this attitude makes Americans efficient, and they usually are able to get many things done, in part, by following their schedules. Many Americans, however, do not agree with this definition of success; they enjoy life’s simple pleasures and are neither overly ambitious nor aggressive. Many Americans are materially successful and still have time to appreciate the cultural, spiritual, and human aspects of life.
Restaurants in the United States range from inexpensive “fast-food” to very expensive speciality restaurants. Some restaurants feature specialties of the region, others specialize in “ethnic” foods from various regions of the world. While some of these ethnic restaurants are very authentic, others have adapted their food to suit American tastes.
It is safe to eat in restaurants in the United States since they are regularly inspected for cleanliness and for compliance with health codes. It is also safe to drink water from a tap in the United States. Bottled water is usually available in American restaurants for an extra charge. To find out about restaurants in your community, consult the yellow pages in the local phone book or follow the recommendations of acquaintances and friends.
If you plan to eat at a formal restaurant, you should call a day or two in advance to make a reservation. Not all restaurants require reservations, but it is a good idea to check just in case they are necessary. This is especially true on weekends and holidays.
In general, the wording of an invitation to dine with someone in a restaurant will give a clue as to who will pay the bill. If someone says, “Would you please have dinner with me?” or “I would like to invite you to dinner,” it usually means that you are to be a guest and that person will pay the bill. If someone says, “Would you like to have dinner together?” or “Do you want to grab a bite to eat?” it probably means that each will pay for what he or she eats and drinks and will contribute towards the tip for the waiter or waitress. If you are not sure how the bill will be paid, assume that you will pay your share.
Religion and Religious Freedom
The Bill of Rights in the United States begins with the words, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The First Amendment guarantees the free exercise of religion on American soil and prohibits the United States government from infringing upon the freedom of religion. America is one of, if not the, most religiously diverse country in the world. Wide varieties of religious traditions can be found in any large American city as well as in smaller towns that host a college or university. There is a single small section of Washington, D.C. that boasts a Cambodian Buddhist temple, a Muslim Community Center, a Ukrainian Orthodox Church, a Gujarati Hindu temple, a Jain temple, and many Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. Even in cities like Minneapolis where 34% of the people are Lutheran, there exists a thriving East Asian population of 80,000 people that has established Islamic Centers, Baha’i communities, and Hindu and Jain temples. The citizens of the United States take religious freedom very seriously. Americans also take the religious freedom of other people very seriously. As visitors to the United States, the right of international students to practice their home religions cannot be revoked.
Shopping is one of America’s favourite pastimes. Even the smallest cities in the United States have shopping centers or “shopping malls” that contain a wide variety of stores and services. Stores usually open at 9:00 or 10:00 a.m., Monday through Saturday. They usually stay open until 9:00 p.m., but this can vary greatly depending on the area. Many smaller stores close at 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. Some stores are also open on Sunday, usually from noon until 5:00 p.m. Businesses usually work from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on weekdays. Stores and businesses do not close at lunchtime as is customary in many other countries. Stores in the United States are generally very customer-friendly. For example, it is usually quite easy and acceptable to return or exchange an item after you have purchased it. If you notice that the goods you purchased are damaged, that the clothing does not fit, or that you have bought the wrong item, you can usually go back to the Store with the sales receipt and exchange these goods or get your money back. Keep your sales receipt from every purchase made until you are certain that you are content with the item or that it works properly.
Common Types of U.S. Stores
The Campus Bookstore: Almost every college and university operates a bookstore on campus. These bookstores carry required textbooks and supplies, a complete range of stationery items, and items of clothing with the university’s emblem printed on them, as well as a variety of things needed or enjoyed by students. Most textbooks are available either new or used. Used books are considerably cheaper, but they may be damaged or marked in by the previous owner. It is important to keep the sales receipt when you make a purchase. If you drop the class or decide that you do not need the book, you may return the book for a full cash refund if you have not made marks in it and it is returned before an established deadline. At the end of the school term, if your textbooks are in good condition and you do not need them anymore, you can sell them back to the bookstore for a reduced price. If you are unsure if you should sell the book, ask the advice of the professor who taught the class. Some books are valuable for future reference.
Supermarkets: The supermarket, sometimes called the “grocery store,” is a large store that sells all kinds of food, as well as a small selection of other things like pharmacy items, hardware, kitchen utensils, houseplants, food for pets, and sometimes even clothing. Prices in supermarkets are usually lower than in small, independent stores. Some supermarkets carry foreign foods, especially if they are located in an area with a large immigrant population. Get to know your local supermarkets, compare the prices and selection, and if you have any questions, ask the clerk at the checkout counter.
Pharmacies: In the United States, pharmacies are also called “drugstores” and usually offer a large selection of cosmetics, toiletries, stationery, and other items, as well as medicines. You may also purchase “nonprescription” (that is, not prescribed by a doctor) medication, such as aspirin and common cold remedies. Only a licensed pharmacist can sell prescription medication. Unlike in many countries, most medication in the United States can be obtained only with a doctor’s written prescription, and it is not possible to simply ask the pharmacist for many types of medication.
Department Stores: Department stores have many different sections, or departments, where you can buy clothing, shoes, appliances, kitchen items, china, gifts, jewellry, and more. Department stores differ in price and quality.
Discount Stores: Discount stores are similar to department stores but generally offer lower prices because they buy in large quantities (sometimes older and discontinued models) and because the stores are large, economically built, and plain. At some discount stores, you must pay a membership fee and present your membership card to enter. You can find “bargains” (good buys) at discount stores if you shop with care.
Sports, Recreation and Entertainment
The United States offers limitless opportunities for sports, recreation, and entertainment. Cities large and small offer numerous indoor and outdoor opportunities. Almost every city or town in the United States with college and university students will likely offer those students ways to kick back, run around, and have a good time.
Sports and Activities
Sports make up a considerable portion of the United States economy and culture. People can be found anywhere in the United States who are interested in participating in almost any sport. The most popular sports in the United States are arguably baseball, American football, basketball, and hockey. Football (called soccer in the United States) is very popular in secondary schools, colleges, and universities, but is still in the process of becoming a popular professional sport. Rugby and cricket are also popular intramural collegiate sports.
Recreation and Entertainment
Students less interested in competitive sports are certainly not left without entertainment. The United States claims the most successful cinema industry in the world, and if a town or city has a college or university, then it likely has a movie theater. Movie tickets usually cost between USD2 and USD15, depending on where you are in the country and how long the movie has been released.
Most colleges and universities arrange a great deal of on-campus programming for their students’ enjoyment. Comedians, musical groups, theater troupes, guest lecturers, actors, actresses, writers, poets, playwrights, stunt teams, and even travelling massage therapy clinics are regular guests at American institutions of higher learning.
An Active Social Life
American institutions of higher learning have high expectations for their students. However, college and university faculty realize that students need to take a break from studying and enjoy themselves, as well. Students at American colleges and universities can engage in any number of competitive and intramural sports through their universities, play at a local gym or park, organize their own sports leagues, or enjoy the local community and surroundings. The myriad opportunities for sports, recreation, and entertainment mean students are never without “something to do” and can engage in an active and vital social life with friends and peers.
To read even more on American society, culture, businesses, education etc, click on the images to the right. (Some of them require Adobe Acrobat Reader and Flash to be installed on your system)
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