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American Culture & Lifestyle Today: Values & Characteristics

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

American culture and lifestyles are quite distinctive when compared to those of other countries. In this lesson, the focus will be on highlighting the unique values and characteristics of American culture and lifestyles as they exist today.

Eye Contact

Riku immigrated from Japan to the United States about six months ago. He speaks English fluently, but is still adjusting to the differences between Japanese and American lifestyles. When he finally receives an interview for an information technology position with a large company, Riku decides to see a career coach in order to prepare. The career coach gives him several tips, including the importance of maintaining eye contact with the interviewer. In Japan maintaining direct eye contact is considered rude, but the career coach explains that in the United States this is culturally appropriate and considered important in business discussions.

American Culture and Lifestyle

It is understandable why Riku sought career advice prior to his interview. American culture and lifestyles can be quite different from those of other nations around the world. The term culture refers to the shared beliefs and behaviors assigned and accepted by a group of people. Culture encompasses many different areas; these can include attitudes towards education, work ethic and time orientation, religious beliefs, and preferences about things like food, art, entertainment and celebrations, and etiquette.

Since the United States is a diverse nation which has been influenced by many different cultures, acceptance of cultural and individual differences is itself a core value that weaves the nation together. Some important values and characteristics of American culture that are common among most Americans include:

  • Independence: Individual achievement is valued over group achievement and people are encouraged to rely on themselves rather than on others.
  • Privacy: While Americans are welcoming of others, they also value their privacy when it comes to personal information. Sharing salary information, for example, is not common practice.
  • Equality: Americans believe that everyone is entitled to equal rights. No one group or person shall enjoy rights that are not extended to everyone.
  • Timeliness: Being on time is crucial, and being late is generally frowned upon. To Americans, time is money.
  • Informality: American behavior tends to be casual rather than formal. Formal titles such as ''Sir'' and ''Madam'' are seldom used in daily life. This informality is extended to clothing and greetings as well as conducting business.
  • Achievement: Americans believe in working hard and playing hard. There is a general acceptance that the harder one works, the more they will be able to enjoy their free time. Success is valued.
  • Directness: Americans believe in being direct and don't hesitate to give their opinions. They tend to be outspoken on issues and prefer addressing conflict rather than working around it or using a go-between.
  • Future Orientation: Americans focus on the future rather than the past or the present. Everything that is being done today is to reach a goal at some point in the future. Change is embraced and welcomed.

American Lifestyle

The American lifestyle is derived from American cultural values. This refers to the ways in which most Americans choose to live their lives on a daily basis. To someone entering the United States from another country, like Riku in our earlier example, the American lifestyle can be a source of confusion. Some of the things that are characteristic of the American lifestyle in general include:

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