Some of you may have been unduly alarmed by the type of information you have heard in places such as Aspects of Northern European-American Culture that may be new to you. To counteract anyone's fears that American society may be too intricate and culturally hidebound for foreigners to decipher, I am going to write a brief list of aspects of American culture that may seem familiar to you. Although American culture does have its eccentricities, they are not that unusual for travellers who have experienced a variety of different cultures.
One of the few aspects of American culture that may seem strange is how strange it may not seem. If you are living in a medium sized American city, you will probably be able to find a community of immigrants who come from your home nation, perhaps even from your own city. The fact that you can visit America and not even meet typical Northern European descended Americans may come as a surprise to you. But even if you choose to spend your time in America with your own ethnic group, you will probably have to at least casually deal with Americans from a wide amount of backgrounds. While it is hard to generalize, here are some things that most Americans, regardless of lifestyle and ethnic background, share:
- Eating: Much like in your home country, Americans like to eat. In fact, Americans even NEED to eat to keep from dying. And much like in your home country, the variety of ways that Americans eat is quite wide. Most Americans eat prepared meals at home, for reasons of both ceremony and nourishment. Americans also eat meals at restaraunts, which can also be ceremonial or simply for purposes of nourishment. Americans have many and varied customs relating to food, but many of these are shaped by the fact that eating must be done for nourishment.
- Sleeping: Much like in your homeland, Americans must sleep to live. Most Americans also sleep for enjoyment. One difference is that Americans sleep mostly at night, with afternoon naps being a rarity. However, if you choose to sleep in the afternoon, most Americans will not think it strange, although some may be envious.
- Work: Most Americans work in some capacity, and also believe that work is generally a good thing. Most Americans respect and like people who work hard, and who are intelligent and skillful at their jobs.
- Education: Americans on the whole consider education to be an important thing, both because it helps people earn a career, and also because education itself is intrinsically important. Most Americans will respect well educated people, but, as you can probably understand, people who are educated but arrogant, pretentious or impractical can receive scorn.
- Money: Much as with education, most Americans think that wealth is generally a good thing to have. Having expensive items can be a sign of social status, and they are sometimes displayed. However, for most Americans, being arrogant about success and prosperity can raise people's resentment.
- Family: In American culture and society, as in most of the world's cultures and societies, people are expected to take care of their family, finacially and emotionally. Although not always the case, most Americans also are fond of their families, and find them a source of meaning and happiness. What may be different from your culture to American culture is the scope of "family". It is perhaps true that Americans are more nuclear family oriented than other cultures, but for most Americans, the extended family plays a role, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and the like.
- Formality: Much like in your home culture, Americans have lots of formal rules for various circumstances. And just like in your own culture, they don't use these on an everyday basis. There are different rules of decorum and behavior in different situations. In general, situations with strangers, or situations that mark an important occasion (such as weddings or funerals), are more formal. It is hard for a newcomer to this country to feel their way around these various levels of formality, but then, it is hard for people who are born into the culture to understand the intricacies of how to act at various times.
- Sports: Just like in your own country, many Americans enjoy sports, both as participants and as spectators. Although the specific sports may not be the same as in your country, the idea is the same. Football (which is referred to as "soccer"), basketball and baseball are popular in America, and the last two were even invented there.
- Forms of culture: Literature. Cinema. Visual Arts. Dance. Music. Sculpture. Gardening. Cooking. All of these are probably popular in your home nation, and they are popular in America, too.
- Crime: Most Americans look down on criminals, crime, and violent and destructive behavior. Most Americans value polite behavior, and flagrantly destructive behavior is certainly a contradiction to that. However, much like in your culture, Americans sometimes have romanticized tales of outlaws.
- War: Like most peoples, most Americans think war is an ugly, bad thing. But, just like many other peoples, Americans seem to get involved in lots of wars.
This is just a small primer of various aspects of American culture that may seem familiar to you. The similiarities between American culture and your culture are much deeper and numerous than I could list here, but I hope I covered the basics.