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Culture in the U.S.

Find out the diverse culture of the U.S. and what happened in its history to make it the country it is today.

A melting pot

The many millions of immigrants who made the U.S. their home have all brought a piece of their own culture that’s blended and become part of mainstream American culture. The black population found solace in local churches, most joining the Baptist and Methodist religions. The spirituals and hymns sung in those places formed the basis for today’s rock and roll.

Klezmer music of central and eastern Jewish Europe can be heard in the music of Gershwin and other great composers. If you’re eating a pastrami on rye from a New York deli, you could have been enjoying the same snack in downtown Warsaw several centuries ago.

English is the national language, but you can expect to find regional variations in vocabulary, and differences in spelling from UK English. In states close to the Mexican border, expect to hear Spanish. Yiddish, Russian and Cantonese as well as many other languages can be heard in some of the larger cities across the whole of the country.


Religion has played a large part in the development of American culture. The first pilgrims were escaping religious persecution in England in the 17th century. The Pennsylvania Amish arrived in the 18th century to escape European religious intolerance. Others, including the Irish and the Italians, arrived to escape poverty and oppression in their respective countries. Where would New York be without the annual St Patrick’s Day parade? Can you imagine watching a big baseball match without pizza or a hot dog? Or where would many American cities be without their Catholic schools, universities and churches?

Salt Lake City in Utah was founded purely as a religious centre for the Mormons who continue there today. The Hispanic fruit pickers brought their own traditions from central and southern America. Only 16% of all Americans identified as having no religion at all in 2015. All of these cultures have left an indelible mark on the American psyche.

Marginalised communities

Native Americans have left their mark through the many place names that have derived from their languages. Massachusetts is just one of these, and their survival techniques in a harsh and often unforgiving climate helped the first settlers thrive. Thanksgiving celebrates the instruction given by the Wampanoag people to the English pilgrims in how to cultivate corn, extract maple syrup from the trees and how to catch fish with very basic implements. Without this knowledge, the settlers would have starved.

It’s important to remember that the American dream didn’t extend to large numbers of its population for many centuries. Many Native American tribes were obliterated and mistreated at the hands of the white settlers on their westward campaign to claim the whole country. And life for many Native Americans, especially those living on the country’s 310 reservations, is still bleak.

Slavery was abolished in 1865, though freedoms for many of the African American population weren‘t achieved until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and the heroic struggles of the late Dr Martin Luther King, among others. The 2008 election of the nation’s first black president marked a truly momentous day for the whole of America and its many ethnicities and cultures.

Reports examining poverty in 2017 show that 42 million of the country’s population ‘live below the poverty line.’ 19.4% Hispanics work in low-paid jobs and many are poorly educated. Of the African American population, 9.1 million live in economic hardship.

Learn more about the U.S. and what expats can expect when moving to the country in our comprehensive Destination Guide.

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