The American lifestyle

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Updated 2021-08-02 09:05

The United States is a vast country that is made up of a diverse group of people. Life can vary greatly from region to region. Even so, a uniquely American lifestyle has developed over time. Expats will likely find Americans in general to be a friendly, optimistic, and generous bunch. However, some Americans can sometimes seem ignorant about the world outside their own borders. Each person's experience will vary, but here are some common aspects of the American lifestyle.

Family

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 then live on their own, even if it's in the same town as their parents. The United States' focus on personal happiness means it's common for families to live apart because of work or personal preference.

Work-life balance

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. Paid-time off is a fringe benefit in the U.S. and businesses aren't actually required to give employees annual leave. Entry-level jobs generally come with 3-5 days of vacation per year, and additional days are added based on the number of years of service. Additionally, if the company is open on a holiday such as Christmas or New Year's Day, they can require their employees to work on those days.

Values

American values greatly shape the way in which people live and relate to one another. Because individuality is held sacred, many expats won't have any problem living their lives as they please.

Independence

In general, Americans value the right to do as they please above almost anything else. They prefer to do things their own way and see themselves in control of their own destinies. As it's declared in the U.S. Constitution, Americans believe that happiness is their right.

Informality

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.

Straightforward

Americans prefer to get right down to business. They value eye contact, 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 of any topic — 'especially in an academic setting – are encouraged.

Equality

The American Constitution states the belief that everyone should be granted equal opportunity. The U.S. 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.

Consumption

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. Some of this is a result of the cheap cost of products in the U.S. Rather than fixing something that's broken, it is often cheaper to simply buy a replacement.

Holidays

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 norm. 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)

Religion

The first 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 the

American society and almost every known religion is practised in the country — with over 70% of Americans identifying as Christians.

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