What is American Culture?

A map showing symbols and images commonly associated with the United States.
A map showing symbols and images commonly associated with the United States.

Culture encompasses the totality of a people's way of life from the food they eat to the clothes they wear and even the language that they speak. The American culture is unique in that it draws from most of the world's dominant cultures. America gained independence from Britain in 1776 and began a path to determining and developing a unique cultural heritage. The culture of the Native Americans is also a strong influence on the American way of life. Countries such as Spain, France, Italy, and England have contributed significantly to the American culture due to their close historical ties.

People and Society

American societies can be broadly categorized into two: rural societies and urban societies. Even though rural areas cover a vast majority of the American territory, less than 20% of the total population live in rural areas. Rural communities are considered to be more closely knit than urban societies as most people know each other. Regardless of where they are from, Americans have a reputation as some of the friendliest people on earth due to their readiness to go out of their way for a complete stranger. Americans are well known for their unity especially during times of tragedy when they come together to support one another. Research done by the Business Insider shows that Americans are the most patriotic people on earth indicating their pride in their country and its culture.

Food and Drink

Food is an integral part of the American way of life with apple pie being thought of as the most American food. However, apple pie has its origins in England with Geoffrey Chaucer printing the first known apple pie recipe in 1381. As with apple pie, meals that have become distinctly American such as hamburgers were introduced to America by immigrant communities. Due to the nation's vast size, various regions have developed a unique culinary style. The French culinary tradition influenced cooking style in states such as Mississippi with meals such as Crawfish Etouffee being immensely popular. Native American cuisine contributed food such as turkey, a staple of American Thanksgiving meals, to the American culture. Bottled water is the most popular drink in America though soda and alcohol are also heavily consumed.

Arts and Literature

American literature is popular around the world with notable authors such as Mark Twain and James Fenimore Cooper being household names although their books were written in the nineteenth century. Poetry is a significant part of the American literary tradition with poets such as Edgar Allan Poe, Maya Angelou, and Walt Whitman being famous for their poetic masterpieces. American art initially borrowed heavily from the English style until American painters and artists developed their particular styles. Realism, abstract expressionism, and the pop art movement are some of the most well-known American art styles. The most well-known American pop artist was Andy Warhol.

Music and Dance

America is the most dominant country in the world when it comes to music as the American music business is a billion dollar industry. American musicians like Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and Frank Sinatra are some of the most popular globally. Music was an integral part of Native American culture albeit the music of some communities is permanently lost due to their extinction. Various immigrant communities brought along their own musical culture such as the spiritual songs of the Africans brought to America as slaves. Jazz is one of the musical styles from the US to gain global acclaim. Jazz traces its roots to the state of New Orleans, particularly among African Americans. Dance in America developed along community lines together with music. Isadora Duncan was one of the pioneers of the American modern dance movement which differed greatly from the European style. The neighbourhood of Harlem in New York was the birthplace of lindy hop, a form of swing dance. Modern dance styles such as hip-hop have a large following due to the musicians who incorporate it into their music.

Sports and Leisure

Sports are an integral part of American life and have been for much of the country's history. Baseball, the country's most popular game based on attendance, became a professional sport in 1869. Basketball and volleyball were both developed in the US and are two of the world's most popular games. American sports stars are immensely popular with the public and some are even considered national heroes due to the number of medals they have won. Sports stars usually have lucrative contracts to endorse a wide array of products. Michael Jordan is the most notable American sports star. America has a strong Olympic tradition with athletes from the country having won more medals at the summer Olympics than athletes from any other nation on earth.


Religion has played a vital role in American history since the times of the Pilgrims who moved to America in search of religious freedom. Catholics, Anglicans, Puritans, and Quakers were some of the religious denominations that had a significant impact in the formation of American states. Religious freedom is guaranteed in the US constitution. Christians, at 69%, are the largest religious group in the US. Native Americans communities had their own set of religious beliefs and practices mainly based on nature. There is a rising number of people who do not identify with any religion.

Pop Culture

American pop culture refers to the popular trends, particularly in the film, music, gaming, and comic sectors. Television programmes such as Friends and Game of Thrones have had a lasting impact on the nation's pop culture. Comic books have also played a significant role with some characters like Batman and Spiderman being incorporated into film and TV to critical acclaim. American comics have a large international fan base with their total sales exceeding more than one billion copies. Since the development of video games, they have featured prominently in American pop culture. The gaming industry contributed close to $5 billion to the American economy in 2010. Gaming is one of the most popular leisure activities in the US with nearly 150 million people playing video games.


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