General Question

RubyB's avatar

Does the U.S. of A. have a culture?

Asked by RubyB (581 points ) September 10th, 2011

Can a melting-pot of cultures evolve a common culture, and if so, what components of culture do all Americans share?

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33 Answers

everephebe's avatar

No “the U.S. of A.” doesn’t “have a culture”, there are multiple cultures and traditions in the States.

marinelife's avatar

Yes, there is an “American” culture. We ship it all over the world.

We love to eat hamburgers, especially, and hot dogs.

Our picnics feature bake beans and potato salad and ice cream.

We love baseball and football and basketball, all sports invented here.

We all wear blue jeans. Proudly and happily.

We make and watch movies.

smilingheart1's avatar

Pride in being Americans. Democracy. Consumerism gone sour.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I’ve also thought so.

America is the land where you are supposed to not use the advantages of family and community but instead to venture out on your own and prove you can go against the odds by achieving success all by yourself. At least that’s the facade, the pitch that the underdog is the real hero.

dappled_leaves's avatar

Guns, baseball, insularity, fried foods.

I kid, but this sort of question begs for this sort of answer.

Dog's avatar

Among the more negative:

Culture of entitlement.
Culture of insatiable want.
Culture of apathy.

Earthgirl's avatar

Ruby B I think this is a great question. I especially like how you bring up the aspect of melting pot culture. I think common culture is different than simple nationalistic pride. I think you need to look a little deeper for the common threads that define American. It may not be as self evident as in other countries with a more well defined culture and a longer history. Instead of having a special cuisine of local foods and distinctive spices we have a history of assimilating influences from around the world. Trash it if you may,but there is a fusion cuisine that is distinctly American.
When it comes to dance we also evolved many different disciplines to create forms distinctly American. Is this bastardization? In some cases yes, but it is part of the free for all aspect of being a melting pot culture. I think it’s something we should celebrate rather than disdain.
As far as music goes, again, by taking say, Appalachian music and it’s influences from Ireland we evolved Bluegrass. I know there are many other cases to cite, and other places in the world where diverse influences created a vibrant culture. I love that aspect of American culture. I love how combining two or three cultures creates something new and different. More than the sum of its parts (and admittedly sometimes less, sigh…)
When I was little I used to feel sad that the USA didn’t have as distinctive a culture as other countries did. When you would meet someone they might ask, “what nationality are you?” and they would mean “where were your ancestors from?” I identified myself with my ancestors and didn’t see anything culturally distinctive at all about being American. I mean, hot dogs, french fries, apple pie, don’t cut if for me. So I have always tried to appreciate what is special about the country of my birth.
I think we fee all have times when we feel very negatively about all the areas we are lacking in and in the excess that can and does result when you take a prosperous nation let loose with freedom. But we also have to appreciate that the melting pot has resulted in some damn impressive accomplishments.

rooeytoo's avatar

Of course it does and the farther you live away from it, the more you appreciate it and miss it. (Even if where you live presently is very good, it will never be as good as home.)

ml3269's avatar

“A Culture”... in the meaning that there is a common view on Democracy, liberty etc… but the States are as different as the EU-States… each with light or stronger differencies to another… My point of view from the east side of the Atlantic Ocean.

And do not reduce yourself too much on Hollywood and fried food.
The Burgers in the USA are the best… and generally the US-Americans have a view to the world that is much kore orientated to the future than we have in Europe…

smilingheart1's avatar

@RubyB, I have been thinking more about your question and would like to circle back around for a view from another side. Our Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated the second Monday of October each year but it is my understanding that the American Thanksgiving is always the third Thursday of November and essentially leads into the holiday season that culminates with New Years Day. I have also heard it said that American Thanksgiving is more venerated in people’s minds than Christmas. (When I speak of Christmas, it could mean commerce Christmas or spiritual Christmas). What I am getting at is that Thanksgiving is actually a huge part of the foundational culture of United States which through toil, much bloodshed etc. went on as a nation to dominate for the past two hundred or so years as the currency setter of the world and also the global watchdog for protecting Democracy and maintaining peace. Also the Christian/humanitarian aspect of being an American has greatly aided the impoverished, war torn, disaster torn parts of the world historically. So what I am trying to say here is that I believe there really has been a culture of humanity that has been exemplified by the American national life through the decades. Therefore I want to expound and say that the democratic aspect of the American mindset has been a strong asset and produced a culture around it that helped maintain the value of freedom. In summary, yes the culture of the American people has been to uphold and protect humanitarian issues and democracy for its own people.

ragingloli's avatar

Depends on how low you define “culture”.

wundayatta's avatar

Of course the US has a culture. No group of humans can not have a culture, by definition. Culture is a concept we use to pull together ideas about how a group of people interact in a characteristic way.

The US does many things to acculturate our children and newcomers. We teach them civics and manners and how to shake hands and how to use a toilet and a dishwashing machine and a refrigerator. We teach people how to vote and what voting means. We give people common cultural references by showing things on TV and mentioning them on the internet.

Fluther has it’s own particular culture which is enforced by moderators and by the structure and purpose of the website.

There are no components that all people in the US share. But there are elements that are shared by a vast majority of people. Television watching is one such component. Social group meetings, such as church breakfasts and American Legion chicken fries and various forms of fried dough are common to most Americans. Baseball games, football games, a disdain of politicians, a fascination with weather reports and disasters of all kinds are common to many Americans.

There are a gazillion other things I’m sure we could mention that a large proportion of us share. However, I don’t think it would really help you. I think that the answer to your question would be perfectly obvious if you realized that culture is an emergent thing, and not something that can be imposed. We look at human behavior, and whatever we notice becomes a component of culture. There is no cultural litmus test for being American. People will try to say there is one, but those people are generally small-minded and fearful of anything that is different. But that’s typical around here, and in fact, is one thing we often see in the American culture. Not something we should be proud of, but culture is not about being proud. It is about describing how people behave.

RubyB's avatar

Thanks to everyone for answering and your various views. I’m an American. I worded the question U.S. of A., short for United States of America, because I’ve been reminded many times by South Americans that we’re their North American neighbors and because that’s how I learned to say it pledging allegiance to flag every morning in school. But also to emphasize the vast land mass and regions that make up the fifty states. I agree there’s culture in America, but it seems more regional to me than across the board. For instance, New England culture is no more like Southwestern culture, than the mindset of San Francisco is like Little Rock. Not all Americans watch t.v., go to church/cathedral/synagogue/kiva, etc., and some like hamburgers but a growing percentage don’t eat meat at all. What I did find interesting in some of the answers was a subtle defense when no offense was intended. Perhaps defensiveness is part of the American culture? There’s no hidden agenda in the question, just curiosity to see what others think.

SpatzieLover's avatar

Yep! It’s as American as Baseball & Apple Pie

Earthgirl's avatar

Ruby B I was not offended by your phrasing of the question which was pretty straight forward. I saw a lot of the responses as being overly negative and wanted to focus more on the positive.

MRSHINYSHOES's avatar

It definitely has a distinct culture. Compare England to the United States. In both countries, the majority of people speak English. But if you go to England and spend some time there, then come back home to America, you can see, hear, and feel the difference in “culture” between the two English speaking countries. The cultures of both countries are very distinct.

amazingme's avatar

If we didn’t have a culture, I think it’d be kinda hard to be a country.

Response moderated (Writing Standards)
dappled_leaves's avatar

Agreed that nationalism is dependent on having a shared experience, so in that sense yes, America must have a culture… I think the reason some people struggle with this question is that there are also strong regional cultural differences – such that New England has a distinct culture from, say, the Pacific Northwest, etc.

But yes, I think Americans as a whole have a culture that is distinct from that of other countries in the world.

Nullo's avatar

There are a number of cultures, actually. There are social forces at work with the aim of delaying or wholly eliminating integration.
There is a sort of default culture that appears most on TV, which typically draws from upper-middle-class coastal Urbia and Suburbia.

jonsblond's avatar

Can you think of one country that doesn’t have a culture?

Of course the USA would be the only country that didn’t have a culture.~

Blackberry's avatar

Cheeseburgers, sports, holiday shopping, grilling, fireworks, blind patriotism, doing whatever it takes to become rich, and child worship.

mattbrowne's avatar

Yes. Here’s a scientific approximation of it based on universal cultural dimensions

http://www.geert-hofstede.com/hofstede_united_states.shtml

Far more serious than consumerism gone sour in my opinion is individualism gone sour.

Coloma's avatar

I think @marinelife and @Dog have summed it up nicely.

Quite frankly, America tops the list for self centeredness, entitlement and other unsavory, narcissistic “values” at this time.

We are a nation of gluttony in all aspects, and, doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon.

On the individual level there are plenty of decent and ethical people, but, you’d never know it to look at the big picture.

Earthgirl's avatar

mattbrowne That was very intereresting and informative. Thks for the link!

Earthgirl's avatar

I think people are mixing up character with culture too much here.

Earthgirl's avatar

I hate to answer by just posting links but it would take too long to touch on all the contributions and rich heritage of the USA’s cultural history. I really like the wikipedia quote that says that although we have been referred to as a melting pot we are really more of a salad bowl!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_the_United_States
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_American_culture
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_realism
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swing_music
Just to name a few

Gabby101's avatar

I agree with rooeytoo, you can’t really appreciate the culture unless you have lived outside of the US for a little bit. Growing up white and in the midwest, I had a hard time defining my culture because it was everywhere and the only culture we talked about was that of other countries or of people recently from other countires. It was only once I was away from it that I was able to define and critique it. There are some aspects of our culture that are negative, but also a lot of positive as well.

I won’t try to define our culture here, but I will say the one thing I really missed was American humor. I learned to like the food, speak the language and wear the fashion of my host country, but I could never learn to find their humor funny (not just bring a smile, but bring a laugh funny).

rooeytoo's avatar

The country must have gone to hell since I left 13 years ago. Most of the people I met and lived among in NYC, DC, Baltimore and other assorted towns and cities up and down the east coast were good human beings. Everywhere I have ever been in this world has had its share of bad apples, and the USA is no different, but I have never seen them in the majority nor would I define an entire country based on the behavior of a few.

Is the USA truly filled with ego maniacal gluttons??? When did this happen? I was back for a visit in early 2001 and it still seemed the same then.

wundayatta's avatar

@rooeytoo I think when people are asked to make vast generalizations, they do exactly that. They pick the most well-known myths about something and describe that. That stuff is sexy, not the everyday values and culture that one finds in the neighborhood or in coffee shops or college classrooms or the workplace or at ball games or theater or wherever ordinary life is taking place.

The US is not filled with ego maniacal gluttons. It’s just that the extremes in behavior get all the notoriety. Notoriety makes the news, but it can’t be taken for the prevailing culture. How many people join hot dog eating contests or wing eating contests? How many people watch? How many people have no idea these things even exist?

rooeytoo's avatar

@wundayatta – thank you, my faith in my fellow yanks has been restored!

And I agree, nice guys don’t make the headlines no matter where you live.

Nullo's avatar

@rooeytoo It’s a sort of propaganda. Most of the world has its misgivings about us, and so wants to present us in the most unflattering light possible.

rooeytoo's avatar

It’s not too surprising when others have no respect or loyalty, it is when USA citizens dump on it that I don’t understand. But I assume it is the grass is always greener syndrome. Really all you have to do is travel or live in other countries to realize how good it is at home. I now live in Australia and I love it here, but it has its drawbacks too. No place is perfect.

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