Different regions of America have been influenced to different degrees by the different ethnicities and cultures giving each a unique balance. They are drawn together by a belief in the ‘American Dream’, the idea that with hard work and talent anyone can achieve great success and wealth. Success is praised and admired rather than envied, and this is one of the things that makes a major impression on newcomers from other countries.
Hard work is regarded as one of the core values of America and many employment contracts include much lower vacation time than would be offered by most European employers. New employees often get two weeks’ vacation initially and can then build additional weeks based on longevity with the company.
Americans have a reputation for being outgoing and direct talking and this can take a little getting used to for those from countries where people are more reserved. They are often very sociable and will readily welcome people into their homes. In many places special groups are set up to welcome newcomers into the neighbourhood. Americans are generally patriotic and disrespect of the country or the national anthem is severely frowned upon. The pledge of allegiance is said each morning in most schools and the national anthem is generally sung at major sporting events. The stars and stripes flag is flown in many public locations and outside many people’s homes, especially on holidays like Independence Day on July 4th. The American flag must never be allowed to touch the ground and even inadvertently allowing it to hang touching the ground can prompt an adverse reaction from neighbours.
News on TV tends to be very local and for most people there is very limited exposure to news about other parts of the world. Only 36% of the population have passports compared to 60% of Canadians and 75% of Britons and Australians. Americans are the second most well-travelled people in the world, but much of this is done within the US and only one in five travel abroad. Although many never move far from their home towns, most Americans are prepared to relocate to different parts of the country to work.
There is no official language in the US, although some states have official or preferred languages. English is the dominant language and 90% of the population speaks at least some English. However, it is estimated that around 20% of the population speak a language other than English at home. Spanish, Chinese, French and German are the most common other languages.
The original settlers in America were often driven by a desire to find religious freedom and religion is still very important in American society. Virtually every known religion is practised in America and only 23% of Americans identify themselves as having no religion, according to research by the Pew Research Center. Around 71% identify themselves as Christian and there are growing populations of Muslim and Buddhist followers.
Most cities offer houses of worship for most major religions, enabling people to continue their religious practice. Religious freedom is an important principle in America and the constitution separates religion and the State, although the country is not without cases of religious persecution of minorities.
Sport is an intrinsic part of American society both as a participation activity and for spectators. Baseball, basketball, football (American football rather than soccer) and ice hockey are very popular, dominating TV schedules and drawing large crowds. Each of these sports is more popular than elsewhere in the world and are quintessentially American sports. Other sports, such as soccer, athletics, tennis, golf are also popular, as is the pursuit of fitness and the outdoor life, including jogging, aerobics, skiing and other participation sports.