Inspired by immigrants, the United States of America is a large, multicultural, and diverse nation. As such, one singular culture within the nation is difficult to define.
The nation was built by individuals arriving from various parts of the globe, each bringing along their traditions and values (Crunden, 2015).
Within this melting pot of cultures, pockets of more specific sub-cultures exist, such as Hispanic, African American, or Native American. These have deeply influenced the broader cultural landscape, shaping what we now call American Culture.
Nonetheless, we can pick out some dominant features of mainstream American cultural life, including shared public holidays, sports, and social values.
For example, some shared customs, habits, and social norms practiced by the inhabitants of the United States include the custom of tipping, the national sport of baseball, and the nation’s founding myth of ‘rugged individualism.
Related: A List of American Taboos
American Culture Examples
1. The American Dream: The American Dream is a pervasive part of American culture. It is the belief that one can attain financial success and upward mobility through hard work. This ideal disregards one’s background and socio-economic status, making it a beacon of hope in striving for a better life (Samuel, 2012).
2. Independence Day (Fourth of July): July 4th is a defining feature of American culture. This holiday celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Parades, fireworks, and barbecues are traditional festivities associated with this day.
3. Thanksgiving: Another important cultural hallmark is Thanksgiving. Traditionally celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, it was originally a harvest feast shared between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians in 1621. Nowadays, it involves family gatherings, a huge meal (often featuring turkey), and expressions of gratitude.
4. Baseball: Known as America’s pastime, baseball has been intertwined with American culture since the 19th century (Hillman, 2016). It’s not just a sport, but a venue for socializing and community-building. The World Series, the championship series of Major League Baseball, is a highly anticipated event every year.
5. Super Bowl Sunday: Super Bowl Sunday is an unofficial American holiday. Held annually on the first Sunday of February, it celebrates the championship game of the National Football League (NFL). The event is marked by exuberant parties, commercials, and halftime shows, attracting viewership beyond regular football fans (Hillman, 2016).
6. Hollywood: Hollywood, the historical hub of American film industry, is an integral part of American culture. It plays a major role in shaping perceptions of American lifestyle abroad. Blockbuster movies, celebrity culture, and the Oscar Awards are parts of Hollywood’s cultural significance (Mintz, Roberts & Welky, 2016).
7. Fast Food: Fast food, with industry giants like McDonald’s and Burger King, is a defining feature of American culture. It signals the country’s love for convenience and efficiency. Some fast food chains, such as McDonald’s, have become American cultural ambassadors globally.
8. Cowboys and The Wild West: The Wild West and cowboy culture forms part of the American cultural landscape. Cowboys symbolize American ideals such as rugged individualism and fearless exploration. Media, including movies and literature, frequently romanticize this aspect of American history.
9. Jazz: Jazz music, originated from African American communities in the Southern U.S., is a unique part of American culture. It’s known for its improvisational nature and expressive tones. Jazz has influenced many other genres of music and continues to enjoy a dedicated audience.
10. Blues Music: Blues music, rooted in the African American experience, is a significant cultural element. It uses music to communicate deep emotional experiences, particularly those related to hardship and struggle. Blues has greatly contributed to the evolution of jazz, rock, and R&B music.
11. Rock and Roll: Rock and Roll emerged in the late 1940s, partly as a rival with UK rock, and became a symbol of youth culture. It fused elements of blues, jazz, and country music. Its popularity continues to this day, impacting global music culture.
12. Country Music: Country music, rooted in Southern U.S., is an essential part of American culture. It’s characterized by strong narrative lyrics, expressing themes like love, faith, and hardship. Major gatherings like the Grand Ole Opry and CMA Music Festival uphold the genre’s tradition.
13. Silicon Valley: As a hub of innovation and technology, Silicon Valley significantly marks American culture. It’s home to many start-ups and global tech companies like Google and Apple. This Californian region symbolizes the American culture of entrepreneurship and innovation.
14. Broadway: Broadway in New York City denotes American theatre culture. It’s famed for its high-quality, professional theatre productions. Shows like “Hamilton” and “The Phantom of the Opera” have achieved global fame.
15. BBQ Culture: Barbecuing is a beloved cooking technique in America. Its practice varies by region, with different styles of sauces and meats. BBQ cookouts are common social gatherings, especially on holidays.
16. Tailgating: Tailgating is a social event tied to football games. Fans gather hours before the game, enjoying food, drinks, and company in the stadium parking lots. This event is a prominent feature of American sports culture.
17. Halloween: Celebrated on 31st October, Halloween is part of American culture and an example of cultural blending with Irish-Celtic culture. It features trick-or-treating, costume parties, and spooky decorations. The holiday has ancient Celtic roots, but has undergone significant transformation in America.
18. Freedom of Speech: Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of American culture. As a constitutional right, it protects an individual’s expression of thoughts. This value reinforces America’s democratic ideals.
19. Volunteerism: Volunteering is a widespread practice in America. Many people engage in community service, displaying a strong sense of civic duty. This altruistic culture allows non-profit organizations to thrive.
20. Ivy League Education: American culture places importance on higher education. Renowned universities like Harvard and Stanford attract students worldwide. This focus on education reflects the value Americans place on knowledge and advancement.
21. National Parks: The U.S. has 63 national parks, reflecting the cultural importance of nature conservation. Parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite offer stunning landscapes. These protected areas underscore America’s commitment to environmental preservation.
22. Coffee Culture: Coffee is a popular beverage in America. Coffee shops serve as social meeting spots and remote workspace. Brands like Starbucks have grown into global entities, even influencing coffee culture abroad, for better or worse.
23. Gospel Music: Originating in African-American churches, gospel music is central to American culture. Characterized by dominant vocals and Christian lyrics, it’s deeply tied to faith and spirituality. Its influence is evident in genres like R&B, soul, and rock music.
24. Hip-Hop Culture: Originating in New York in the 1970s, hip-hop culture has become an American cultural powerhouse. It extends beyond music to fashion, dance (breakdancing) and visual art (graffiti). Influential figures like Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar embody this culture.
25. Diversity: America is known as a “melting pot”, featuring ethnic, racial and cultural diversity. This characteristic, shaped by a long history of immigration, impacts cuisine, language, music, and more. Diversity is celebrated annually during events like the World Cultural Festival.
26. Route 66: Route 66, a historic highway running from Chicago to Los Angeles, is a significant part of American culture. It’s famed for road trips, symbolizing freedom and adventure. Its picturesque landscapes and classic roadside attractions represent a slice of American nostalgia.
27. Skateboarding: Skateboarding has deep roots in American culture, particularly in California. It evolved from surfing, symbolizing youthful rebelliousness and creative expression. Skateboarding’s influence is evident in sports, fashion, and video games.
28. Bagel Culture: Bagels are an essential part of American breakfast culture. They reflect a broader wave of Jewish immigration in the late 19th century. Bagels with various toppings, such as cream cheese or lox, are popular across the country.
29. Motorcycle Culture: Motorcycle culture, especially associated with Harley-Davidson, is deeply rooted in America. It symbolizes freedom and rebellion, and has influenced fashion, music, and film. Major events like the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally exemplify its cultural importance.
30. Civil Rights Movement: The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s profoundly affected American culture. It aimed at abolishing racial discrimination and securing equal rights for African Americans. Figures like Martin Luther King Jr. are cultural icons in this landmark struggle.
31. Protestant Work Ethic: Americans are renowned for a strong work ethic, often equating career success to personal fulfillment. This cultural trait is tied to the concept of the American Dream. Vacation culture is impacted by this work-centric mindset.
32. College Greek Life: Greek life is a major facet of American college culture. Joining fraternities and sororities provides social networks, leadership skills, and community service opportunities. Greek life traditions, including pledging and homecoming, can significantly shape university experiences.
33. National Symbols: The American flag, bald eagle, and Statue of Liberty are prominent national symbols in American culture. They convey American principles such as freedom, democracy, and patriotism. These visual elements are often used in political, educational, and popular culture contexts.
34. Fusion Cuisine: Fusion cuisine is a defining feature of American culinary culture. It blends elements from different culinary traditions, reflecting the country’s cultural diversity. Examples include Tex-Mex cuisine and Korean Tacos, which are Americanized versions of foreign dishes.
35. Comic Book Culture: Comic books, featuring superheroes like Captain America and Batman, are a significant part of American culture (Johnson, 2014). They provide commentary on social issues under the guise of fantastical narratives. The development of comic cons underscores their cultural influence.
36. Fitness Culture: Fitness and wellness are embedded in American culture. From yoga practice to CrossFit, various fitness trends shape this health-conscious culture. The fitness industry’s growth, wellness retreats, and Athleisure fashion underscore this cultural trend.
37. National Pride: America is known for its strong sense of national pride. Explicit displays of patriotism are common, especially during national holidays or at sporting events. The Star-Spangled Banner and Pledge of Allegiance are affirmations of this cultural aspect.
38. Streetwear Culture: Streetwear is a significant part of American fashion culture. It blends elements of sportswear, hip-hop, punk, and Japanese street fashion. Brands like Supreme and Stussy are notorious within this cultural trend.
39. Street Art: Street art is a crucial part of urban American culture. Cities like Los Angeles and Miami are known for vibrant murals. These works often address societal issues or celebrate local heritage.
40. Venture Capitalism: Venture capitalism reflects America’s entrepreneurial spirit. It involves funding start-ups, fostering innovation and economic growth. Silicon Valley is a hotbed for this culture, nurturing tech giants like Facebook and Uber.
41. NASCAR Racing: NASCAR racing is a popular motorsport in America. This culture extends beyond the track, permeating fashion, music, and advertising. Major championships like the Daytona 500 and Talladega define the NASCAR calendar.
42. Surf Culture: Originating in California and Hawaii, surf culture plays a significant role in America. This culture encompasses more than just the sport, contributing to fashion, music, film, and slang terminology. Iconic surfing spots like Huntington Beach and Waikiki showcase its influence.
43. Space Exploration: Space exploration, led by NASA, distinctly marks American culture. It reflects the country’s spirit of discovery and technological achievement. The 1969 moon landing remains a monumental event in shared cultural memory.
44. Craft Culture: The rise of craft culture reflects American value for authenticity, personal expression, and quality over quantity. It spans a wide range of sectors like food, beverages, fashion, and arts. The culture is evident at farmers markets, local breweries, and Etsy online stores.
45. Rodeo Culture: Rooted in the practices of Spanish ranchers, rodeo culture has evolved to be distinctively American. This culture, prevalent in Western states, is all about cowboy events, bull-riding, and rodeo queens. Annual rodeo festivals, like Cheyenne Frontier Days, draw huge crowds.
46. Garage Rock: Garage Rock is an American subgenre of rock music. It originated in the 1960s, featuring raw, energetic performances and simple, straightforward lyrics. Bands like The Kingsmen and The Sonics were pioneers in this genre.
47. Tipping Culture: Tipping is a deeply ingrained practice in American culture. It’s customary to tip service providers, such as waitstaff, bartenders, taxi drivers, and hairdressers. The amount typically ranges from 15% to 20% of the total bill.
48. Democracy: America, known as a beacon of democracy, values governmental power derived from the people. This principle is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, ensuring citizens’ rights to vote and free speech. U.S. presidential elections every four years embody this democratic practice.
49. Hunting: Hunting serves as both a recreational activity and a cultural tradition in America. It connects people with nature and is often seen as a rite of passage. Hunting also influences conservation policies and local economies in regions such as the Midwest and Alaska.
50. Religion: Religion plays a significant role in American society. While there is a broad range of faiths, Christianity is dominant. Freedom of religion, protected by the First Amendment, solidifies the country’s commitment to religious diversity (Hackett, 2003).
51. Apple Pie: Apple pie is an iconic American dessert. Its history spans centuries, symbolizing home, comfort, and tradition. The phrase, “As American as apple pie,” exemplifies its cultural significance.
52. French Fries: Despite the name, French fries are a staple of American fast-food culture. They’re served in restaurants, food trucks, and in homes, often accompanying burgers. Various regional adaptations, like cheese fries and garlic fries, further solidify its popularity.
53. Great American Literature: Great American literature, encompassing works from Ernest Hemingway to Toni Morrison, reflects diverse aspects of American life and history. These works capture the nation’s expansive landscapes, social changes, and individual experiences. Notable books, like “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Great Gatsby,” are considered foundations of American literature.
54. Freedom: Freedom, an ideal deeply rooted in American culture, is valued in various aspects, from speech and religion to economic enterprise. It’s a fundamental premise in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. This principle is celebrated during national holidays like the Fourth of July.
55. Meritocracy: Meritocracy, the concept that individuals can advance based on talent, ability, and hard work, permeates American culture. It’s tied closely to the American Dream, emphasizing individual achievement. This cultural belief influences the educational system and professional advancement policies.
Despite the nation’s great diversity, some emergent cultural elements have come about – often through fusion of other cultures around the world, and giving them an American twist. Several cultural groups, including Hispanic Americans, African Americans, Native Americans, Jewish Americans, and European Americans, have contributed greatly to the nation’s collective cultural identity. But one fantastic feature of American culture is that it is live and let live – and this means you can embrace any cultural identity or personal identity that you wish in this nation of freedom.
Crunden, R. (2015). A Brief History of American Culture. New York: Taylor & Francis.
Hackett, D. G. (2003). Religion and American culture: A reader. Psychology Press.
Hillman, C. (2016). American sports in an age of consumption: How commercialization is changing the game. McFarland.
Johnson, J. K. (2014). Super-history: Comic book superheroes and american society, 1938 to the present. McFarland.
Mintz, S., Roberts, R. W., & Welky, D. (2016). Hollywood’s America: Understanding History Through Film. John Wiley & Sons.
Samuel, L. R. (2012). The American dream: A cultural history. Syracuse University Press.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]