People and Culture
If you’re moving to the U.S.? Here’s what to expect.
The United States of America, otherwise commonly known as the USA or the U.S., is considered to be one of the world’s superpowers based on the size of the country’s economy and its political influence.
The U.S. is known as a hub for innovation and entrepreneurialism and its entrepreneurialism has been a major driver of the country’s economic and cultural growth.
Population and cities
The U.S. is home to over 324 million people which makes it the third-largest country in the world by population.
Historically, immigration after the discovery of the U.S. was by Europeans - mainly from England but also from other European countries, followed later by people from Latin America and Asia. The five greatest number of immigrants to the U.S. in the last ten years (2015 figures) have been from China, Cuba, India, Mexico, and the Philippines.
The U.S. is made up of 50 states, and is bordered by Mexico in the south and Canada in the north, facing the North Pacific Ocean to the west and the North Atlantic Ocean to the east. Taking up a significant portion of the North American continent, the U.S. extends its reach in the states of Alaska in the far northwest and Hawaii out in the Pacific.
Given such a huge land area, the U.S. is divided into four major regions: the Northeast, the South, the West and the Midwest. Each region is then subdivided into two or more census divisions.
Given the significant differences between the country’s busy city streets, vast open plains, mountain ranges, coastal cities and quiet country towns, it's impossible to geographically define the U.S. with one single term.
The U.S. climate varies quite considerably from coast to coast due to the differences in latitude as well as the country’s very varied geography.
The seasons in the U.S. are:
Winter (December to February)
Spring (March to May)
Summer (June to August)
Autumn/Fall (September to November)
Most of the eastern parts of the U.S. have four distinct seasons, with a humid continental or subtropical climate. The Southeast has quite mild winters with hot humid summers whereas the Northeast and Midwest have much colder winters with frequent snow and periods of time with snow on the ground.
In Hawaii the typical weather is tropical with cold and wet seasons in the winter months and dry seasons in the warmer months. On the other hand, Alaska experiences Arctic conditions with very distinct summer and winter seasons due to the significant change in temperatures between these two seasons.
Politics and government
The Founding Fathers of the U.S. created the Constitution as they wanted to ensure a written record which allows for a separation of powers, or three distinct branches of government – those being the Legislative which creates the laws, the Executive which carries out the laws and the Judicial which evaluates the laws.
The U.S. Government is a representative democracy with two legislative bodies, that is the Senate and House of Representatives. The Senate consists of 100 elected senators - two senators per state who serve a six-year term - while the House of Representatives has a total of 435 voting representatives. The number of these representatives from each state is based on the size of the state's population. Each representative serves a two-year term and can be re-elected.
The Executive Branch consists of the office of the President of the United States, the Vice President and the Cabinet. An elected president can only remain in office for a maximum two four-year terms.
The Judicial Branch consists of the court system which includes: the Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals, the U.S. District Courts, State Courts and the County Courts.
Any areas that the Federal Government does not directly govern are then controlled by the state governments which copy the federal government and made up of three branches: Legislative, Executive and Judicial.
Ethnicity and religion
The U.S. is one of the most diverse countries in the world and as such the exact breakdown of ethnic diversity is very difficult to determine as the majority of Americans are from varied ethnic backgrounds.
Having such an ethnically diverse population naturally results in a wide diversity of religious beliefs and practices. For many Americans religion is a very important part of their their lives, which is, today, quite unusual among developed countries.
The indigenous people of the U.S. are referred to as Native Americans, sometimes called American Indians or Indians for short. Native Americans are the people whose ancestors were indigenous to the lands within the modern nation's borders before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492.
The Native Americans formed distinct tribes, bands, and ethnic groups, many of these are still intact today.
Language and accents
In the U.S. there is no official language, however around 80 per cent of Americans are native English speakers.
The predominance of English in the U.S. has come from the British colonisation of the Americas. The first English-speaking settlers arrived in the Americas at some point early in the 17th century, however, since that time American English has been influenced by many other languages including those of the Native American population plus the Dutch, German, Irish, Spanish, and those of West Africa in successive waves of immigrants to the U.S.
You will hear a wide variety of accents and dialects across the country. So there may be sometimes when American English may be difficult for a visitor to understand.
Like all countries, Americans have their own slang, but you’ll find that you’ll soon become familiar with words like ‘buck’ (dollar), ‘raincheck’ (reschedule) or ‘bail’ (leaving quickly).