American Culture

Other Considerations

  • Discussions about terrorism, Islam, slavery and race relations can be sensitive topics.
  • If discussing politics, expect to have to explain how aspects of the Australian social system work (e.g. healthcare). The American political and social system operates quite differently as a Republic.
  • There is a strong cultural and religious narrative in America of the ‘Good Samaritan’. As many as 1 in 4 Americans volunteer for non-profit organisations and events. It is also common (in a relative sense to Australia) for people to reach out and help total strangers on impulse.
  • 13 is an unlucky number to the superstitious, and therefore some buildings may skip it when numbering floors.
  • In the USA, the date is written as month/day/year. Americans also use U.S. customary units to measure instead of the metric system (i.e. miles instead of kilometres, pounds instead of kilograms).
  • US English varies from British English spelling. The main differences are: use of “ize” instead of “ise” (e.g. organize, realize, criticize). Words ending in “or” instead of “our” (e.g. color, labor, honor), words ending in “er” where Brits would use “re” (e.g. center, theater, meter) and words ending in “og” instead of “ogue” (e.g. Analog, catalog).
  • Americans can be very passionate about those sports that have originated in the USA. If you support a team adverse to an American’s, take light insults and slurs without offence. It is all in the name of sportsmanship and doesn’t go so far as to ruin relationships.
  • Over 68% of American adults over 20 years-old are considered overweight, with a third of all adults considered to be obese. If talking about this, it’s less inflammatory to frame it as a social problem as opposed to a result of people’s personal flaws
  • Be aware that many laws vary significantly between states in America, including drug laws and capital punishment. This can also correlate with many social attitudes towards certain topics.

Ethnic and Racial Sensitivity

There are many cultural sensitivities regarding minority races and ethnicities in America. The following are important points to consider:

  • The term ‘African-American’ refers to the descendants of African slaves in America. It is not always a black person’s term of preference as some feel no affiliation to their African genealogy and would rather just be recognised as ‘American’. Others may have other ancestry that they would rather be referred to by (e.g. Caribbean or Afro-Caribbean). Alternatively, some black people may identify as being ‘African-American’ for its cultural meaning in contemporary America as opposed to its reflection of their African heritage.
  • More recently, black people have preferred their race to be referred to as simply ‘black’, finding terms readdressing them by another category to be insulting.
  • The term ‘people of colour’ is sometimes used as the politically correct terminology to refer to anyone who is not white. However, the term is still felt to be offensive by many as it implies that ‘non-coloured’ or white is the norm or ideal. ‘Coloured people’ is considered even more offensive with its link to the civil rights movement and segregated populations in the southern states.
  • Wearing ‘blackface’ (by which a non-black person paints themselves black to imitate being of that race) is extremely offensive. It can also be offensive to depict the average black man or woman as ‘ghetto’ by connoting a lack of education, drug involvement or violence.
  • It is offensive to culturally appropriate the Native Indian headdress for a decorative costume.
  • ‘Hispanic’ refers to people from a Spanish-speaking countries, while ‘Latino’ refers to people of Latin American origin. Latin America includes a diversity of countries that speak Spanish, Portuguese, French, etc. People from any of these countries may find the terms to be inadequate as they group together a big variety of cultures. If referring to their background, it is best to define them by their nationality.
  • Latino and Hispanic are not races but are rather recognised as ethnicities. Thus, a Latino person may be black, white, Asian, etc.
  • It can be offensive to assume that someone is not Latino or Hispanic because they have white or Anglo-Saxon physical features. The same applies to indigenous peoples.
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