Culture

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Due to its size and the fact that nearly all citizens are descended from immigrants it is in general not possible to identify a single "American" culture. Visitors to the South will find a far different culture than those traveling to California or New York City. However, there is a culture that is said to be American, in a way a stereotype of what America wishes itself to be, a culture that people over the globe have seen in Hollywood film, and that has energized immigrants from all over the world. Like many stereotypes, there is a certain truth to it; likewise, there is a certain falsity. For example, it has been said that America is a "classless" society. This is true in the sense of class as it is traditionally known in Europe or India, where one's class at birth largely determines one's social station in life. But there is a huge disparity in the socioeconomic status of the upper and lower classes in America. The "classlessness" means that one can freely move between them by changing one's financial situation; one's outcomes – not one's origins – determine one's class.

It is also true that Americans are more materialistic and individualistic than many other cultures, though that is probably true of any very wealthy society. The wealth on display almost casually in large shopping malls all over the country might seem shocking to someone from a developing country. Yet it is also true that America is more religious than most other industrialized countries. So it is a mixed bag, and this should make it an interesting place to visit.

Race is an issue that the U.S. is still having difficulty dealing with. The nation's long history of racist policies and attitudes are a heritage that its population continues to struggle to overcome. Even such simple matters as terminology can lead to awkwardness. A foreigner's innocent use of the "wrong" name for a racial group isn't likely to seriously offend, but it's safest to avoid referring to race altogether, or to ask the person to whom you're speaking what the right term is in this country. Note: The answer will change depending on whom you ask.

Many current trends in industrialized and developing countries began in the United States, and almost every modern invention, including telephones, cars, airplanes, radio, television, computers, the Internet, and many others, were either invented or first mass-produced in the United States. The dependence on cars and the national interstate system to get around has long been an American icon, and to this day the United States has one of the highest per-capita car ownerships in the world. Other traditional elements of United States culture include Hollywood films, country music, blues, jazz, rock, rap, pop music, baseball, and fast food.

While numerous political parties exist, the system is dominated by the Democratic and Republican parties. The current Democratic party tends to be more liberal on fiscal and social issues and attracts much of its support from urban voters, especially in the Northeast and West Coast. The Republican party is more conservative on these issues and attracts much support from voters in rural areas, especially in the South. Both parties are fairly centrist (but to the right of parties in most European nations). Far-right or far-left political movements that might take hold in other places tend to do poorly here.

While most domestic political issues have little impact on international travelers, the current debate within the U.S. over immigration is worthy of attention. Ongoing concerns about the availability of jobs, the question of national identity for a "nation of immigrants", the still-open wounds of the country's racist heritage, and new fears of political violence from foreign nationals, have all contributed to impassioned views on the subject. Illegal immigration (primarily from Mexico) is one of the focuses of this debate, but it spills over into policies regarding port/border controls, "guest workers", and even permanent legal immigration. Hostility rarely takes violent form, but suspicion about a visitor's legal status or intentions may lead to discourteous treatment or unpleasant situations, and heated discussions.



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