People and culture
Moving to the US? Here's what to expect.
The United States of America, otherwise commonly known as USA or the US, has long been considered one of the world’s superpowers based on the country’s economy size and political influence.
Known as a hub for innovation and entrepreneurialism, its entrepreneurialism has been a major driver of the country’s cultural and economic growth.
Population and cities
The US is home to more than 324 million people, making it the third-largest country in the world by population.
Historically, immigration to the US — after its discovery by Europeans — was mainly from England and other European countries, and then later from Latin America and Asia. The five countries that have contributed the most immigrants to the US in the last ten years (2015 figures) have been Mexico, India, China, the Philippines and Cuba.
Made up of 50 states, the US faces the North Pacific and North Atlantic Oceans and is bordered by Canada in the north and Mexico in the south. Taking up a large portion of the North American continent, the U.S. extends its reach through the states of Alaska in the far northwest and Hawaii in the Pacific.
Given its huge land area, the US is divided into four major regions: the West, the Midwest, the South and the Northeast. Each of these regions are then subdivided into two or more census divisions.
It's impossible to geographically define the US with a single term given the disparity between the country’s bustling city streets, wide open plains, mountain ranges, coastal cities and quiet country towns.
The climate of the US varies considerably from coast to coast due to the differences in latitude and the country’s varied geographical features.
The seasons in the United States are:
- Winter (December to February)
- Spring (March to May)
- Summer (June to August)
- Autumn/Fall (September to November)
Much of the eastern parts of the US have a humid continental or subtropical climate, with four distinct seasons. The Southeast has mild winters and hot humid summers and the Northeast and Midwest have much colder winters with frequent snowfalls and periods with snow on the ground.
Hawaii typically experiences tropical weather conditions with cold and wet seasons during winter months and dry seasons during warmer months. Alaska on the other hand, experiences Arctic conditions with very distinct winter and summer season due to the significant changes in temperatures between the two seasons.
Politics and government
The Founding Fathers of the US, who created the Constitution, wanted to ensure it was written to allow for a separation of powers, or three separate branches of government — that being the Legislative which makes the laws, the Executive which carries out the laws and the Judicial which evaluates the laws.
The US Government is known as a representative democracy with two legislative bodies, the Senate and House of Representatives. The Senate has 100 elected senators — two senators per state who serve a six-year term - while the House of Representatives has 435 voting representatives. The number of representatives from each state in the House of Representatives is based on the state's population. Each representative serves a two-year term and can be re-elected.
The Executive Branch consists of the President of the United States, the Vice President and the Cabinet. A president can only remain in office for a maximum two four-year terms.
The Judicial Branch is made of the court system which includes: the Supreme Court, the US Court of Appeals, the US District Courts, State Courts and the County Courts.
Any areas that the Federal Government does not directly control are ruled by the state governments which are modelled after the federal government and made up of three branches: Legislative, Executive and Judicial.
Ethnicity and religion
The US is one of the most diverse countries in the world and its exact breakdown of ethnic diversity is extremely difficult to determine as most Americans come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.
Being one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world naturally brings a wide diversity of religious beliefs and practices. Many Americans believe that religion plays a very important role in their lives and this is unique among developed countries.
The indigenous people in the US are referred to as Native Americans but are also known as American Indians or Indians for short. Native Americans are considered to be the people whose ancestors were indigenous to the lands within the nation's modern borders before Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492.
These people formed distinct tribes, bands, and ethnic groups, many of which are still intact today.
Language and accents
The US does not have an official language, however around 80 per cent of its people are native English speakers.
The use of English in the US is a result of the British colonisation of the Americas. Since the first English-speaking settlers arrived early in the 17th century, American English has been influenced by the languages of West Africa, the Native American population, German, Dutch, Irish, Spanish and other languages of successive waves of immigrants to the U.S.
A wide variety of accents and dialects can be found across the country. As a result, American English might be difficult for a visitor to decipher.
American have their own unique form of slang language, and you’ll find you will soon become familiar with words like ‘buck’ (dollar), ‘bail’ (leaving quickly) or ‘raincheck’ (reschedule).