Capital city: Washington D.C.
Population: 318 million (US Census Bureau)
Government: Federal republic, constitutional democracy
Currency: US dollar ($, USD)
Main languages: English, Spanish
Main religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam
The United States of America, universally known as America or the USA, is made up of 50 states and several overseas territories. America declared independence from Britain in 1776 and was recognised as autonomous in 1783, leading to the adoption of its constitution four years later in 1787. Since then, the USA has developed at an astonishing rate to become the world’s economic powerhouse and most influential political authority.
Founded on the principals of equality and individual rights, it is perhaps not surprising that America is traditionally viewed as the land of opportunity. The promise of social mobility and classlessness has attracted huge inward migration and made the USA extremely ethnically diverse, although critics might argue that its different communities could be better integrated with each other. Although officially secular, America maintains a strong religious identity with Christianity the dominant faith.
For such a large country, the USA has a fairly strong sense of national identity and many of its pastimes have a uniquely American feel. Sports play a major part in people’s social lives, with baseball, American football, basketball and ice hockey drawing huge crowds to games. Those who don’t attend matches often watch games with friends and enjoy food and drink together. Geography also influences people’s activities – for example rodeo and country music are popular in the Southern states while areas with cold winters enjoy a range of snow sports.
Food and drink
Think American food and you’re probably imagining hamburgers, fried chicken, pizza and donuts. While it’s true that the USA exported fast food chains to the rest of the world, its culinary heritage is in fact as diverse at its culture. Every state has its own dishes based around its produce and the influences of its different communities, although common indigenous ingredients such as pumpkin, sweet potato and corn feature heavily in most regional menus. Americans generally prefer coffee or iced tea to hot tea, and the country is also home to a huge range of soft drinks – usually known as sodas.
Although there is a no official language in the USA, English is the majority language. However, Spanish is also widely spoken, particularly in the southern and western states where large numbers of Mexican migrants have settled. Most official documentation is readily available in Spanish and it is the most widely taught foreign language in schools. There are also at least five other languages with over a million native speakers residing in the USA.
Despite its size and large population, America has relatively few regional accents. However, the sounds and dialects of each region can vary quite dramatically, with the differences between the east coast, west coast and southern accents perhaps the most noticeable.
Because of its size, the USA experiences the whole spectrum of climate conditions from tropical Hawaii to arctic Alaska. The overall climate could be described as temperate, but this doesn’t tell the whole story. Summer temperatures in certain areas can pass 50°C (122°F), while winters can see -30°C (-22°) or even lower. However, these are the absolute extremes – to find out more about the climate in a particular state, visit the National Weather Service website.
Safety and security
Although the USA has a reputation for high levels of crime, it’s important to understand that this is not true across the board. Rates of gun crime and homicide are slightly higher than in some developed countries, but they remain significantly lower than in many places. What you tend to find in the USA is that particular neighbourhoods have bad reputations for crime, so always listen to local advice and avoid these areas.
America can be prone to natural disasters, with earthquakes sometimes striking the west coast and hurricanes affecting the southern and eastern states between June and November each year. Certain areas of the USA are also at risk from wildfires and tornados. If you move to a high risk area, familiarise yourself with safety recommendations and in the event of a natural disaster, follow any instructions given to you by emergency services.