Rites Of Passage
24 Examples of American Culture
John Spacey, March 12, 2021
American culture is the common meaning and expectations that have emerged out of the shared experience of living in the United States of America. The following are illustrative examples.
Melting PotThe United States is an an ethnically diverse society with a unique history of immigration and slavery. That is to say that the Indigenous Peoples of America are the only Americas who didn't arrive to the country as immigrants or slaves in recent centuries. This was historically conceptualized as a melting pot whereby wherever you come from, you become American with the experience of living in America. This can be contrasted with other models, such as multiculturalism, that views an ethnically diverse society as a patchwork of cultures with a common uniting culture.
American DreamPeople have mostly immigrated to America in pursuit of happiness and prosperity. This spirit is known as the American Dream and is considered a national ethos. The American Dream is usually interpreted to mean that Americans value freedom and economic rights.
IndividualismIn international tests of attitudes, the United States ranks highest for individualism amongst all nations1.
American PragmatismPragmatism is the philosophy that something is true if it is true for all practical purposes. This originated with American philosophers such as Charles Sanders Peirce and John Dewey in the Gilded Age. Pragmatism arguably represents an element of the American ethos whereby useful arguments are accepted over ideological perfectionism. For example, an eye for the practical can be seen in American entrepreneurship and technical prowess.
LiteratureAmerica has produced a great deal of valuable literature. Works considered great American novels that convey something important about American culture include The Last of the Mohicans, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Beloved, The Grapes of Wrath and The Great Gatsby. For example, The Great Gatsby portrays the American Dream as painfully in sight but out of reach.
MusicAmerica has produced music of copious creative variety since the beginning of the Jazz Age. American musicians have played a key role in the emergence of Jazz, Rock, Hip Hop, Punk, Electronic and popular music on an international basis. Country music is unique to America and is rooted in old folk traditions such as Appalachian, Cajun and cowboy Western music.
HollywoodA neighborhood in central Los Angeles known as Hollywood has come to symbolize American movies because several large studios that would go on to dominate the global film industry were founded there. American films include those intended as entertainment and those that represent pure artistic expression.
TelevisionSince 1950, Americans have spent a great deal of time watching television. This peaked at a household average of 8 hours and 55 minutes a day in 20092. If you consider time spent sleeping, working and commuting this is a remarkable achievement. Currently, there is a large generational gap in television viewership with adults over 65 watching more than 7 hours a day and adults under 34 watching less than 2 hours.
American FoodAmerica produces a great variety of food including fine cuisine but is primarily known for fast food such as hamburgers and hot dogs.
FashionNew York is a fashion capital and American brands and media, particularly music and movies, have a significant influence on fashion on a global basis. Generally speaking, Americans dressed quite formally until the 1960s and have become far more casual in the last 50 years.
SportsAmerica competes in most or all international sports but also has uniquely American sports such as American football, basketball and baseball.
HolidaysAmerican holidays such as the 4th of July that represent a shared experience on a national basis.
TraditionsTraditions are shared experiences that are passed from one generation to the next. For example, the tradition of dressing in costumes and trick-or-treating. This has roots in the culture of Celtic-speaking countries. Halloween has a number of uniquely American traditions such as trunk-or-treating that is performed in a parking lot from vehicles. This is often done in countryside locations where houses are far apart.
PastimesAmerican pastimes such as BBQs, block parties and tailgate parties.
ArtAmerican artists participated in 19th century and early 20th century art movements but didn't really lead. In the post WWII era, several major art movements such as abstract expressionism and pop art had American origins. At present, the United Kingdom and United States are in a close race to lead the street art movements that may end up being the defining art of our time.
Rights & FreedomsAmericans are guaranteed a number of rights and freedoms. This isn't particularly unique as most developed nations have similar rights and freedoms. Perhaps the most extraordinary right guaranteed to Americans is the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution that grants the right to keep and bear arms. This is rooted in elements of American history such as the American Revolutionary War and the American frontier, also known as the wild west. This is contentious as arms have changed a great deal since the Second Amendment was ratified in 1791.
ReligionMany of America's earliest settlers were religious refuges who came to New England to escape religious persecution or discrimination in Europe whereby Catholics persecuted Protestants or Protestants persecuted Catholics. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution of 1791 guarantees free exercise of religion and separation of church and state. Currently, around 42% of Americans are Protestant and 21% are Catholic with all religions enjoying religious freedom.
NormsNorms are shared expectations of behavior that help to create civility. For example, Americans have a reputation for being direct, candid, talkative, approachable and commonly strike up small talk. This can be compared to more reserved nations such as Germany or Japan where people seldom engage in conversation with strangers or shop staff.
Local CultureAmerica is a union of 50 states that each has its own unique local culture. For example, Hawaii has unique customs, etiquette, symbols, stories, pastimes, sports and traditions.
Town & CountryAmerican norms and lifestyles tend to be different in cities and small towns. For example, there is a culture of driving trucks in the countryside that isn't as common in large cities.
SuburbsAmerican culture was uniquely influenced by the automobile as the vast expanses of land on the North American continent allowed for wide roads and urban sprawl. This lead to large regions of detached residential housing known as suburbs whereby people live at some distance from more lively downtown areas.
LanguageAmericans mostly speak American English which has at least nine major accents with none of these being official or "correct." Only 78% of Americans view English as their native language with a large number of households that speak another language fluently, particularly Spanish. In total, Americans speak around 430 languages of which 176 are indigenous languages.
Youth CultureThe material abundance of American life has historically allowed American youths to enjoy relative independence from their family. Perhaps for this reason, waves of youthful rebellion have occurred in each American generation since the 1920s whereby the young establish their own culture. This is perhaps the root reason that America has lively cultural industries such as sport, music, film and fashion.
ProtestAmerica has a lively culture of debate and disagreement that has the power to disrupt the status quo and prevent stagnation. The nation has a rich culture and history of political struggle, protest and civility whereby creative tension has brought change.
Traditional CultureThis is the complete list of articles we have written about traditional culture.
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Footnotes1Hofstede, Geert. "Geert Hofstede cultural dimensions." (2009).2Alexis Madrigal, When Did TV Watching Peak?, The Atlantic, May 2018.
ReferencesHollinger, David A. "The problem of pragmatism in American history." The Journal of American History 67.1 (1980): 88-107.Datesman, Maryanne Kearny, JoAnn Crandall, and Edward N. Kearny. American ways: An introduction to American culture. Pearson Education, 2014.Campbell, Neil, and Alasdair Kean. American cultural studies: An introduction to American culture. Routledge, 2016.
Traditional CultureThe definition of traditional culture with examples.
Cultural HeritageThe definition of cultural heritage with examples.
Rites Of Passage
The definition of rite of passage with examples.
Social NormsAn overview of social norms with examples.
Human CultureAn overview of human culture with examples.
Material CultureAn overview of material culture with examples.
Cultural CompetenceAn overview of cultural competence with examples and counterexamples.
Importance Of Culture
An overview of the importance of culture.
TraditionsThe definition of tradition with examples.
History PeriodsA simple timeline of historical periods.
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RenaissanceAn overview of the Renaissance.
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