15 Unique Aspects of American Culture (2023)

Society - Culture
15 Unique Aspects of American Culture (1)
By: Jay Adrianna - at October 3, 2014

The culture of the United States includes traditions, regional customs, institutions, art and so much more. The culture can largely be referred to as ‘Western’ culture, as much of it is shared with the Western world, but there are still influences that come from Asia, Africa and Latin America. What’s more, there are many parts of American culture that are not replicated elsewhere in the Western world, giving it some areas that are totally unique. Many immigrants who come to the United States enter into what historians call the melting pot of culture, abandoning old cultural traditions and adopting new ones.

We have listed the top 15 elements of American culture that set the country aside from, not only the rest of the Western world, but make it stand out from the rest of the world.

15) Tipping
Across Europe, tipping is often practiced but it’s not always expected. In France, often tipping is included at the end of menus as a standard. In the United States, things are very different. Tipping is not mandatory, but most restaurants, bars and other sit-down services will generally expect a tip. Tipping is often seen as part of dining out.

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Often, visitors to the United States will be reluctant to tip, and will generally feel pressured into doing so. Many will feel that it is unfair to tip somebody for services that they already get paid for. However, in the United States most people who work in the service industry expect tipping as part of their wages. These workers are paid much less in hourly wages and have become accustomed to receiving tips as a means of compensating them for their poor wages.

In many places, the tip will be placed on the bill, but oftentimes you will be expected to add what you feel is appropriate when you are paying your bill. The general consensus in the United States is that 10% of the overall bill in a restaurant or other similar venue is appropriate. However, if you feel that the service was generally good, 15% will be a welcome tip. If you are feeling particularly generous and are very pleased with the service and the food, 20% will show your gratitude.

Other instances where you may be expected to tip include being helped by doormen or bellhops. Should you find yourself in these situations, a tip of between one and two dollars is acceptable. If you find yourself being assisted by a concierge, between five and ten dollars is usually expected.

14) Regional Cultures
Regional culture is a huge part of the culture in the United States. There are six major regions that tend to have the wildest differences with regards to local custom and culture. These include the West, Southwest, Midwest, South, New England (northwest) and the Mid-Atlantic.

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New England includes Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts. These states are grouped because of their colonial history, which included town meeting governances and a general feeling of community spirit. Some of the best universities and schools in the world exist here such as Harvard, Yale, and many other Ivy League colleges.

The South is known again for its history, but also for its warm weather, its agriculture and its dedication to religion. Here is where you will find the most obvious differences in English dialect as well as customs. Then there’s the Midwest, which is known largely for its agricultural industries, and being home to the third largest city in the United States, Chicago.

The Mid-Atlantic is notorious for being home to New York City, the largest city in the States, as well as its service sector, businesses, history and general government. New York is the epicenter for finance as well. The Southwest states once belonged to Mexico, and experienced a huge population growth during the 2000s, and the West is known largely for its technological industries and efforts to maintain and preserve the natural environment around it. Largest challenges facing these states stem from immigration policy.

13) Art
When it comes to traditional art, people will generally think back to the days of the Roman Empire, and to the Renaissance period in Europe. America, however, is in fact home to some spectacular traditional art. In general, American art refers to painting and visual arts that started to emerge in the 18th Century.

An example of traditional American art
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During this period, most artists focused primarily on realism, painting landscapes and portraits of important individuals. In the 18th Century, when the Declaration of Independence was signed, a new national identity appeared and artists began imagining their new nation through painting and other arts. Most of the young artists of this time copied the styles of the first artists in the nation, which meant that for a great period of time, most art was focused on history and portraits of people.

The 19th Century, however, brought a whole new form of painting to the country. A new movement, called the Hudson River School, emerged in 1820. The new movement started focusing on simplicity in their art, but most of their focus was on the Hudson River. Paintings depicted the surrounding area of the valley, and later began including mountains. While this was not a significant change, a number of new painting styles appeared that rejected some of the strictly realistic painting styles of the past.

Autumn On the Hudson River Art
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Then, the 20th Century brought a wider range of paintings with entirely new subjects. One of the most famous paintings of the early 20th Century is the American Gothic painting, by Grant Wood. It was this period that saw artists turning their back on tradition and using brighter colors, new paints and new methods.

American Gothic painting, by Grant Wood
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12) Science and NASA
Science is a huge part of American culture and for good reason. As far as space exploration goes, The United States is the most successful country on earth. The U.S. stands as the first country to land a man on the moon, and the country responsible for most of the fact finding missions on Mars with their rovers.

Buzz Aldrin salutes the U.S flag on the Moon (1969)
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Efforts in space from the United States are a result of the work performed by NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. This is an agency run by the U.S. government and it is responsible for most aerospace research and the US civilian space program. Although there have been many cutbacks over the years, NASA still stands as the most active space program on earth.

NASA has been a symbol of national unity since the Cold War, and during the time where a fear of mutually assured destruction laid the ground work for a competitive space rivalry between the Soviet Union and the U.S. Missile programs for both sides led to the development of the first space programs. Today, NASA has begun cooperating with space agencies from all over the world, and is heavily involved with the International Space Station.

NASA rocket launch take off for space travel
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Due to budget cuts that possibly could stem from a desire to move away from a government monopoly on space travel, have led to many attempts at providing privatized consumer space travel. Virgin Galactic is a space agency run by Virgin and Richard Branson, and a project called Space X, run by Elon Musk, is designing manned missions to Mars. This level of innovation and drive to experience new things is one of the most defining things about American culture.

11) National Holidays
The United States do not technically have national holidays, as a result of their constitution. Under the Tenth Amendment, the government can only create holidays for itself and it cannot regulate businesses, however, holidays have since been established using local governments instead. What’s more, most business owners shut their businesses on these days anyway, as they wish to spend them with their family. Those who keep businesses open will usually pay their staff more.

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Federal holidays in the United States include New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Inauguration Day, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

While there are many religious holidays that are recognized by schools and businesses, the likes of Easter are not recognized as government holidays. Good Friday is recognized as an official holiday by North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, North Dakota, New Jersey, Louisiana, Kentucky, Indiana, Florida, Hawaii, Delaware and Connecticut. Again this variety shows the diversity of the United States.

10) Gun Culture
The United States is generally said to have a gun culture, due to the fact that citizens have the right to bear arms. The gun culture in the country is shaped by the debate over guns in the political sphere. There are large groups in the United States that believe gun control is necessary to reduce the amount of violent gun crime, while on the other side, political groups campaign to avoid any form of gun control. Gun and Gun control policy have been one of the most controversial issues in American. School shootings and other horrible atrocities have led to many asking for a repeal of the Second Amendment in an attempt to abolish gun possession all together.

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Groups in favor of the right to bear arms believe that guns are necessary for self-defense and sport, while opponents would explain that the police and other options are available to defend oneself.

The origin of gun culture is considered to be a result of the use of guns at the very founding of the American nation. Guns were used to fight the British before America was established as an independent nation, and the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees all citizens the right to bear arms. Today, gun culture can be described as the battle between the two sides of gun laws.

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9) Fashion
The United States of America is one of the biggest players in the global fashion scene, along with the Italians and the French. The United States has a rich history in fashion that spans much further than just the very top lines, like Dior and Chanel. In fact, the United States of America is home to some of the most famous brands of clothes, like Levi’s and Converse.

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Throughout American and Western history, people have enjoyed different fleeting styles and fashions, and the United States has always been on top when it comes to designing these latest trends. Levi’s Jeans are among the most famous denim jeans in the world, and this is all thanks to the capitalist economy that allows for the creation of fashion lines. If there was no one to purchase couture than there would be no need to produce it.

8) Modern Art
Modern art is an art form that includes the works and designs that have been created since the 1860s. The term, however, is usually associated with experimental, contemporary art. This kind of art includes expressionist pieces, abstract paintings and sculptures that do not fit any kind of classical style.

Example of Modern Art
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Modern art first became known and most popularly practiced in the United States in 1913, when the Armory Show was held. The Armory Show was the first exhibition of modern art in the United States and it is introduced the American people to English, Swiss, French and Irish paintings and drawings. The gallery even included work by famous modern artist, Marcel Duchamp. This event marked a radical change in the art scene in the United States, opening the world up to a whole new way of thinking.

Some of the most daring modern artists appeared in the United States during the 1960s in particular, which Dada movements and groups like Fluxus, which aimed to change the way in which people perceived art. Notable figures from the 1960s include Yoko Ono, John Cage and Andy Warhol.

7) Religion
The United States, unlike many nations on earth, does not have an official religion, and so, religion in the United States is defined by a diverse range of beliefs. Recent statistics have shown that nearly 80% of American people identify as Christians, but not necessarily Christians that are actively involved with a local church. 2008 statistics show that 25% of American adults class themselves as Catholics, and 51% of the same group class themselves as a Christian from one of more than 30 different denominations. Religion has always stood as a controversial issue in American and has since the Revolutionary War.

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Despite this, a wide range of religions are practiced in the Untied States, including Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Mormonism.

Despite there being no official religion, America has still been influenced by religion. This has been the case since the very early days of the nation, when German and English settlers began living on the land. Religion played a huge part in politics, life and general culture, and a number of the first colonies were actually established by people who wanted to practice a religion within their own community. At this time, there were colonized established by Catholics, Anglicans, Quakers and Puritans who all wanted their own communities where people could freely practice these religions.

The United States later became the first country in the world to have no official religion. The founding fathers and influential people behind the Constitution rejected any form of official religion and designed the First Amendment to ensure that the government could not force any particular religion on anybody living under its rule.

6) Social Classes
Social class in the United States is a huge part of national culture. The social class of an individual depends on their education, income, social status and general lifestyle. Social class is a controversial issue, but nonetheless, class does exist and there are thought to be around three main academic classes. These academic classes include upper, middle and working class. However, other classes outside of academia can explain people who work on farms or in other industries that do not require regular academia. Social class in the U.S. depends on what you make of yourself, whereas in the U.K. class is mostly determined by which class you were born into; either the ruling class or the ruled.

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The middle class in the United States is easily the most vaguely defined class, but it’s also considered to be the class in which most people fit into. The middle class is always growing in the United States, and while many people who are middle class do not have degrees, higher education is usually a sign of whether somebody is working or middle class.

There is a term called ‘lower middle class’, which refers to those that are indeed part of middle class society, but do not have a large amount of disposable income. The amount of disposable income someone has really dictates where they fall in the class spectrum.

Class mobility is another important term in the states, and it refers to the increased living standards of one generation compared to their previous generation. Class mobility plays a central role in the idea of the ‘American dream’, which is a huge part of American culture. This is the idea that as long as you are willing to work hard, the United States can give you what you need to live a positive and fulfilling life.

Class mobility is made possible through the hard work of one generation, ensuring that a child gets access to quality schooling and grows up in a good environment. Mobility is also possible through improved technology and equality, meaning that it is possible to break through barriers that would have been difficult for the previous generation to get through.

5) Attitude to Alcohol
In general, the attitude towards alcohol in the United States is laid back but it largely depends if you are in a dry country or not. There was a time during the 1930s, known as the Prohibition, when alcohol was banned from sale. This resulted in underground bars and homebrewed alcohol that was dangerous and incredibly strong. Soon after, the laws were changed and since then, alcohol has been a central part of American life. Unfortunately over the years, many other drugs have been made illegal and the only drug that has survived is alcohol. Alcohol is one of the most hazardous and dangerous drugs on the planet. Due to involvement from the DEA, it is the only drug that is strangely still legal in the U.S.

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In July, 1988, every single state in America had a minimum purchase age of 21. Alcohol can be purchased in restaurants, bars and general stores. The minimum purchase age of 21, however, does not stop young people from drinking. Studies have shown that most young people simply have people they know over the age of 21 purchase alcohol for them. A look at college culture shows this better than any other example in U.S. culture. Friends give each other old IDs, older brothers and sisters get alcohol for minors, and even sometimes parents get alcohol for their children and friends - provided they surrender their keys and stay the night. For these reasons, an organization known as Choose Responsibility started campaigning against the minimum purchase age in 2007, and suggested that children should be educated about alcohol from an early age.

4) War
The United States does not have the largest military in the world, but it has one of the most powerful and influential. The United States Armed Forces have been involved in a great deal of international wars and conflicts, beginning as early as 1676, before the United States became an independent nation. As a dominant member of the UN security council, the U.S. is at the forefront of just about every single international conflict.

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The earliest record of the United States Armed Forces going to war is King Philip’s War, where the New England Colonies were battling the Wampanoag and Nipmuch Indians. Throughout the following decades, the U.S. Armed Forces were involved with wars and conflicts with the French and French Colonies, as well as the Cherokee Indians.

After the First World War, the United States Army became involved in ever more conflicts. The First and Second World Wars were largely focused around Europe, as well as Japan. It was the Korean War that saw the United States go eve further, however. Starting in 1950 and ending in 1953, the Korean War saw the United States aiding South Korea against the communists in North Korea and China. Later, the United States went to war with Vietnam, Cuba, Panama and Iraq. From 1995, the United States and allies have been involved in the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. Now the U.S. seems to become involved in almost any country's conflict, especially if there are economical interests or security interests at stake.

3) Multiculturalism
America does have its own national culture that involves its institutions, its freedoms and its moderate approach to social life. The nation, however, has become significantly more multiculturalism in recent years. Today, multiculturalism and the idea of a ‘melting pot’ is one of the most significant parts of American culture.

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By Monisha.pushparaj, via Wikimedia Commons

Multiculturalism is the idea that communities can incorporate a number of different cultures. In the United States, multiculturalism is not clearly established as a policy from the government, but it is certainly observable in modern society.

The reason why multiculturalism appeared is without question because of mass immigration into the United States that began in the 19th Century and didn’t stop for hundreds of years. With a constant stream of new people moving to the United States to find a new life and enjoy the freedoms that its constitution provided, the country soon became a melting pot in terms of ethnicity, religion and culture.

2) Cinema
The cinema of the United States is incredibly popular across the world. In fact, the cinema produced in the United States is the most exported cinema in the world. Hollywood is not just a city in the U.S., but a term that refers to the people and the companies that work to create the movies that are exported to the rest of the Western world. Hollywood really sets the pace for the rest of international film.

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Hollywood has had a huge effect on cinema across the world ever since the early 20th Century, and the history of its success is often split up into four parts. Hollywood’s history spans through silent films and classical Hollywood to New Hollywood and contemporary film.

US cinema has existed since the early 1900s, but it was between the 1920s and the 1960s that Hollywood really took off. This period was known as the Golden Age of Hollywood, and the very beginning of this age is considered to be the movie ‘The Jazz Singer’. This was the first movie with sound, and was released in 1927, marking the end of the silent movie era and introducing the world to the concept of a feature film.

Then came the rise of 20th Century Fox, which is still one of the biggest movie companies in the world. From here, Hollywood grew, and most of the movies we know and love can be credited to actors, actresses, producers and film companies found in Hollywood and the United States. Today, the main distributors of Hollywood film are Paramount, Sony and Warner Brothers. The U.S. still holds the lion's share of all profits, but other countries have stepped up over the years.

1) Sport
Sport is one of the most unifying and significant parts of the culture of the United States, but the sports favored by the Americans are generally quite different to what is preferred in Western Europe. Some of the most popular individual sports include motor sports and tennis, while the most popular team sports in the country include American football, baseball and basketball.

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Baseball can be seen in the United States as early as the 18th Century, and was initially played by amateurs who created their own rules and played with a makeshift ball. Baseball was also very popular during the Civil War and continues to be America's national sport.

The culture of the United States is particularly interesting when you consider the founding and the very nature of the U.S. as a nation. The country does not have as extensive a history as other nations in the world, but despite this, it has grown to be one of the largest and most powerful nations in the world.

The country’s culture has been developed over just a few hundred years, and influence came from all over the world. As more people from different parts of the world moved to the country, the culture changed again, and what we find today is a mixture of European, Asian and South American cultures, unevenly distributed over America’s large landmass. Today's immigrants can see a country that has been molded by the cultures and traditions of everyone that has attempted to make it happen in America. Many traditions have been modified and changed to better fit the status quo, but there are still many who have retained almost all of their heritage over the years.

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What unique characteristics make up American culture? ›

There are many important aspects of American culture. Some of these are a love of independence, a respect for hard work, a belief in equality, a respect for timeliness, and an outlook towards the future.

What defines American culture? ›

American culture includes both conservative and liberal elements, scientific and religious competitiveness, political structures, risk taking and free expression, materialist and moral elements.

Is American culture unique? ›

U.S. culture has also been shaped by the cultures of Indigenous Americans, Latin Americans, Africans and Asians. The United States is sometimes described as a "melting pot", according to Golden Beacon USA (opens in new tab), in which different cultures have contributed their own distinct "flavors" to American culture.

What are the traditional American values? ›

Typical American values include achievement, success, equality, individualism, activity, work, education, efficiency, practicality, religiosity, progress, romance, monogamy, science and technology, equal opportunity, materialism, nationalism and patriotism, humanitarianism, external conformity, freedom, democracy and ...

What is the American culture known for? ›

American culture is not only defined by its fast-paced lifestyle, fashion, and "to-go" coffee cups. It is also the culture of many diversity, different religions, races, and ethnicities. It is a culture that nourishes competition and political correctness, and also tries to enforce the freedom of speech.

What are some beliefs and values in American culture? ›

There are certain ideals and values, rooted in the country's history, which many Americans share. These are: FREEDOM, INDIVIDUALISM, PRAGMATISM, VOLUNTEERISM, MOBILITY, PATRIOTISM, PROGRESS, AMERICAN DREAM.

How many cultures are in America? ›

That's according to award-winning author Colin Woodard, who writes in his book "American Nations" that there are 11 distinct cultures that have historically divided North America (Canada is included in his overall analysis).

What is a typical American lifestyle? ›

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.

Which of the following is a Top 10 American value? ›

Having lived in the U.S. for over 2 years as a foreign student, here is my list with the top 10 values that make you an American:
  1. Individualism. ...
  2. Equality. ...
  3. Materialism. ...
  4. Diversity. ...
  5. Philanthropy. ...
  6. Science and Technology. ...
  7. Work Hard. ...
  8. Play Hard.
Jan 24, 2014

What are the top ten American values? ›

The New Top Ten American Values
  • Good health (85 percent) ...
  • Finding time for the important things in life (83 percent) ...
  • Enjoying a good marriage/relationship (81 percent) ...
  • Knowing how to spend money well (81 percent) ...
  • Striking a good work/personal life balance (79 percent) ...
  • Working at a job you love (75 percent)

What are 5 basic American values? ›

American Values and Assumptions
  • Individualism. ...
  • Equality. ...
  • Informality. ...
  • The Future, Change, and Progress. ...
  • Achievement, Action, Work, and Materialism. ...
  • Directness and Assertiveness. ...
  • Time.

How many cultures are in America? ›

That's according to award-winning author Colin Woodard, who writes in his book "American Nations" that there are 11 distinct cultures that have historically divided North America (Canada is included in his overall analysis).


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