Lifestyle in America
Updated 2023-10-04 09:29

The United States is a vast country that is made up of a diverse group of people. Life, landscape, and culture can vary greatly from region to region. In America, you can find deeply religious and conservative communities, progressive modern cities, dramatic mountain landscapes, and arid deserts.  Even so, when taken together, it's arguable that a uniquely American lifestyle or character has developed over time that many Americans will recognize. Expats will likely find Americans, in general, to be a friendly, optimistic, and generous bunch. Keep reading for a rundown of some of the tenets of American life and society, but remember these are generalizations, and in a country so huge, there will always be ma

Cultural diversity in America

Although America has a long and troubled history regarding race, there is no denying that the United States is a melting pot of cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds and has been so since its inception. Some of these communities assimilate more than others, whereas others remain distinct cultural groups. Depending on where they have landed, expats will encounter a diverse range of people, languages, and traditions, leading to an enriching and multicultural experience.

Freedom and individualism in America

The American lifestyle places a strong emphasis on personal freedom and individualism. Expats might notice the sense of empowerment and self-expression that permeates various aspects of life, from career choices to personal beliefs to how people speak about themselves and their lives.  If you are from a country that favors a more collectivist mindset, this may be jarring, but it is part of what has built the free-wheeling, bombastic, and exciting aspect of life in America.

Family in America

The nuclear family unit is most common in the US, although there are families made up of any combination of relations. While marriage before children used to be the norm, unmarried couples and single-parent homes are just as common now. American families value individuality, and past stigmas against different kinds of families are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Even so, multiple generations of family members living together are not common.

As children grow older, they become more independent from their families. Americans are considered adults at the age of 18, which coincides with high school graduation. It's normal for young adults to live on their own, even if it's in the same town as their parents. The United States' focus on personal happiness and fulfillment means it's common for families to live apart because of work or personal preference.

Work–life balance in America

Americans work a lot, clocking in more hours than any other industrialized country. Part of this norm is the idea of the American Dream and that you can achieve anything if you work hard enough. It's probably the most valued part of life in the US, to the point that a job is almost synonymous with a person's identity. In fact, contrary to many cultures, asking a person what they do for a living is a common question and not seen as rude or intrusive. In American work life, making money is the supreme goal, and it's not considered crass to say so.

An unfortunate byproduct of this lifestyle is that many Americans don't have a lot of paid time-off vacation (aka annual leave), or even when they do, they don't always use them. The average American worker gets 11 days of paid vacation per year, which might be a shock to those from countries with more robust labor laws. Many European countries tend to offer more generous paid vacation time. It's not uncommon for employees in countries like France, Germany, and the United Kingdom to have a statutory minimum of 20 to 30 days of paid leave per year.

Informality and directness in America

Americans are very informal in their speech, dress, and behavior. Getting on a first-name basis, such as introducing people by a first name or addressing elderly people by their first name, and sitting without being asked to, are all considered normal behaviors. This is not seen as rude and is more of a by-product of their value of equality. Americans also prefer to get right down to business. They value eye contact and directness, and prefer to deal with problems by discussing them. There is a lot of importance placed on personal opinions. Additionally, questioning ideas and open discourse on any topic — especially in an academic setting – are encouraged.

Equality in America

The American Constitution states the belief that everyone should be granted equal opportunity. The US has no monarchy or titles. Any natural-born citizen can run for public office. This belief has shaped Americans' informality values and the expectation of upward mobility. Although many would argue that this equality is far from being realized, especially for minority groups, there is a general ideological belief in the idea, even if it is not consistently demonstrated in practice.

Consumption in America

While most wouldn't be proud to acknowledge this, it must be said that Americans are the biggest consumers in the world. The mantra “bigger is better” does shape the American lifestyle, and many expats are shocked at the portions in restaurants, average home size, and spending habits of Americans. It can be jarring to encounter the variety and number of consumer products in America, especially if you are from a less wealthy country, but you will soon get used to the convenience of 24/7 businesses, an abundance of shopping malls, and a seemingly endless variety of products and services.

Holidays in America

Americans love to have big celebrations and often do so with lots of decorations, food, barbecues, and parties. There are many uniquely American holidays, and the two most celebrated are Independence Day and Thanksgiving. Both days put emphasis on a gathering of family and friends, with plenty of 'traditional' food for the occasion. For instance, the 4th of July (Independence Day) falls during the hot summer months, and most people enjoy gathering around a barbecue, whereas, for Thanksgiving in the fall, a roasted turkey and lots of pies for dessert are the norms. While all government offices are closed on national holidays, it's up to the discretion of private businesses to close or not. Below is a list of the United States' national holidays:

  • New Year's Day (January 1);
  • Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. (third Monday in January);
  • Washington's birthday (third Monday in February);
  • Memorial Day (last Monday in May);
  • Independence Day (July 4);
  • Labor Day (first Monday in September);
  • Columbus Day, re-named in some states as Indigenous Peoples' Day (second Monday in October);
  • Veterans' Day (November 11);
  • Thanksgiving Day (fourth Thursday in November);
  • Christmas Day (December 25).

It's worth noting that while these ten federal holidays are recognized at the national level, some states might have other holidays that are specific to that state's history or culture. Moreover, not all businesses and institutions close on every federal holiday, and some may operate with reduced hours.

Religion in America

The first European settlers came to the United States looking for freedom and opportunity — and religious freedom was a big part of this. To this day, religion continues to play an important role in American society, and almost every known religion is practiced in the country — with over 70% of Americans identifying as Christians.

Recreation and outdoor activities in America

The US offers a wide array of outdoor pursuits, from hiking in national parks and skiing in the Rockies to enjoying the beaches of California and Florida. What's available really depends on your region, but whether you are near famous national parks or smaller recreational reserves, there will be no shortage of Americans out boating, fishing, hiking, camping, and making the most of the great outdoors. If you are from a less built-up country, it might surprise you how national parks like Yellowstone or sights like Niagara Falls are so developed, with car parks, gift shops, and accommodation right near the natural attractions; however, if you make the effort to go off the beaten path or seek less busy areas of nature, you can still be rewarded with wilderness and solitude.

Sporting culture in America

Sports are deeply ingrained in American society, with major leagues for football, basketball, baseball, and more. Expats might enjoy the excitement of attending live games and engaging in spirited sports discussions. On game days, in certain cities and college towns, you might see people dressed in team colors, marching bands, and tailgating near the stadium. "Tailgating" means gathering in the parking lot of a sports stadium or event venue before a game or event. People often set up grills, food, and drinks, and hang out in the open space behind their parked vehicles.

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.