English is the de facto national language of the United States, with 80% of the population claiming it as a mother tongue, and some 95% claiming to speak it “well” or “very well”. However, no official language exists at the federal level. More than 90 percent of the U.S. population speaks and understands at least some English, and most official business is conducted in English.
While almost every language in the world is spoken in the United States, Spanish, Chinese, French and German are among the most frequently spoken non-English languages.
Nearly every known religion is practiced in the United States, which was founded on the basis of religious freedom. More than 75 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians. About half are Protestant, about one-quarter are Catholic, and a small percentage are Mormon. After Christianity, Judaism is the second most-identified religious affiliation, at about 1.4 percent of the population. About 20 percent of the population has no religious affiliation.
Clothing styles vary by region and climate, but the American style of dressing is predominantly casual. Denim, sneakers and cowboy hats and boots are some items of clothing that are closely associated with Americans. Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors and Victoria Secret are some well-known American brands. American fashion is widely influenced by celebrities.
American cuisine has been influenced by Europeans and Native Americans in its early history. Today, there are a number of foods that are commonly identified as American, such as hamburgers, hot dogs, potato chips, macaroni and cheese and meat loaf. “As American as apple pie” has come to mean something that is authentically American.
There are also styles of cooking and types of foods that are specific to a region. Southern-style cooking is often called American comfort food and includes dishes such as fried chicken, collard greens, black-eyed peas and corn bread. Tex-Mex, popular in Texas and the Southwest, is a blend of Spanish and Mexican cooking styles and includes items such as chili and burritos and relies heavily on shredded cheese and beans.
The United States is widely known around the world as a leader in mass media production, including television and movies. The television broadcasting industry took hold in the United States in the early 1950s and American television programs are shown around the world. The United States also has a vibrant movie industry, centered in Hollywood, and American movies are popular worldwide. New York is home to Broadway and Americans have a rich theatrical history.
American folk art is an artistic style and is identified with quilts and other hand-crafted items.
American music is very diverse with many, many styles, including rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel, country and western, bluegrass, rock ‘n’ roll and hip hop.
The United States is a sports-minded country, with millions of fans who follow football, baseball, basketball and hockey, among other sports. The game of baseball, which was developed in colonial America and became an organized sport in the mid-1800s, is known as America’s favorite pastime, although its popularity has been eclipsed by football.
Americans celebrate their independence from Britain on July 4. Memorial Day, celebrated on the last Monday in May, honors those who have died in military service. Labor Day, observed on the first Monday in September, celebrates country’s workforce. Thanksgiving, another distinctive American holiday, falls on the fourth Thursday in November and dates back to colonial times to celebrate the harvest.
Presidents’ Day, marking the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, is a federal holiday that occurs on the third Monday in February. The contributions of veterans are honored on Veterans’ Day, observed on Nov. 11. The contributions of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. are remembered on the third Monday in January.

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A form of entertainment that people in the United States enjoy is “eating out.” Family, or one or two friends, might get together to go to a local restaurant for lunch or dinner and conversation, and then return to their homes immediately afterwards. If a friend asks you to “go to dinner” with him/her, you may assume that you will each pay for your own dinner. If he/she asks to “take you to dinner,” he/she will pay for both of you.
Most Americans bathe or shower daily and use a deodorant or antiperspirant. Americans, therefore, because they are not accustomed to it, find body odor and perspiration offensive. Some international visitors may want to adjust their bathing and hygiene routine to accommodate the American preference for the time that they are here.
The American dream is equality for all; unfortunately this dream has not yet been completely achieved. Americans, however, expect that all people respect an individual regardless of occupation, handicap, sex, race, religion, or sexuality. All individuals you meet will expect the same consideration and courtesy, whether they are professors, students, doctors or janitors.
Women in the United States have an active part in community life. Many women have full time careers outside the home, and in many cases both parents take care of small children and share home chores. Women who hold responsible positions in the work world expect the same professional respect as do men.
To “date” someone or to “go on a date” with someone implies that you would like to know the person better, often leading to a romantic relationship. It does not mean that you wish to marry the person or that you have any intention to marry the person. Going to social events together indicates an enjoyment of the other person rather than implying a serious commitment.

For heterosexual relationships, men have traditionally initiated invitations to movies, parties, or other evening events, although it is not uncommon for women to take the initiative. Whoever asks for the “date” should specify what is planned and when. Recognizing that few students have a great deal of money, many people go on “Dutch Dates” where the cost is shared by both people.

The amount of physical contact between people depends, of course, on the individuals and the amount of affection developed for each other. What happens on a date varies with each individual and each situation. Touching someone may appear to be an invitation to greater intimacy; sometimes it is not. Even though the U.S. is progressing in the acceptance of same-sex relationships, there are many who find it offensive or inappropriate. Showing affection to someone of the same sex is to your own discretion but be attentive of when and where you do it.

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  • Greetings are casual.
  • A handshake, a smile, and a ‘hello’ are all that is needed.
  • Smile!
  • Use first names, and be sure to introduce everyone to each other.
  • The hand shake is the common greeting.
  • Handshakes are firm, brief and confident.
  • Maintain eye contact during the greeting.
  • In most situations, you can begin calling people by their first names.
  • Most people will insist that you call them by their nickname, if they have one.
  • In formal circumstances, you may want to use titles and surnames as a courtesy until you are invited to move to a first name basis, which will happen quickly.
  • It is quite common for the recipient to put your card in their wallet, which may then go in the
Americans socialize in their homes and ‘backyards’, in restaurants and in other public places.
It’s not at all unusual for social events to be as casual as a backyard barbecue or a picnic in the park.
Arrive on time if invited for dinner; no more than 10 minutes later than invited to a small gathering. If it is a large party, it is acceptable to arrive up to 30 minutes later than invited.
Table manners are more relaxed in the U.S. than in many other countries.
The fork is held in the right hand and is used for eating. The fork is held tines down. The knife is used to cut or spread something. To use the knife, the fork is switched to the left hand. To continue eating, the fork is switched back to the right hand.
If you have not finished eating, cross your knife and fork on your plate with the fork over the knife. Indicate you have finished eating by laying your knife and fork parallel across the right side of your plate.
If you are more comfortable eating in the Continental manner, go ahead. It will not offend anyone. Feel free to refuse specific foods or drinks without offering an explanation.
Many foods are eaten by hand. Food is often served family-style, which means that it is in large serving dishes and passed around the table for everyone to serve themselves.
Do not begin eating until the hostess starts or says to begin. Remain standing until invited to sit down.
Do not rest your elbows on the table.
Put your napkin in your lap as soon as you sit down.
Leave a small amount of food on your plate when you have finished eating.

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