The United States is a multicultural nation, home to a wide variety of ethnic groups, traditions, and values. Aside from the now small Native American and Native Hawaiian populations, nearly all Americans or their ancestors immigrated within the past five centuries.
Mainstream American culture is a Western culture largely derived from the traditions of European immigrants with influences from many other sources, such as traditions brought by slaves from Africa. More recent immigration from Asia and especially Latin America has added to a cultural mix that has been described as both a homogenizing melting pot, and a heterogeneous salad bowl in which immigrants and their descendants retain distinctive cultural characteristics.
American culture is considered the most individualistic in the world. The American Dream, or the perception that Americans enjoy high social mobility, plays a key role in attracting immigrants. The American middle and professional class has initiated many contemporary social trends such as modern feminism, environmentalism, and multiculturalism. Americans' self-images, social viewpoints, and cultural expectations are associated with their occupations to an unusually close degree. While Americans tend greatly to value socioeconomic achievement, being ordinary or average is generally seen as a positive attribute
The United States is officially a secular nation; the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion and forbids the establishment of any religious governance. However, christianity plays an important role in the life of many Americans.
English is the de facto national language. Although there is no official language at the federal level, some laws—such as U.S. naturalization requirements—standardize English. In 2007, about 226 million, or 80% of the population aged five years and older, spoke only English at home. Spanish, spoken by 12% of the population at home, is the second most common language and the most widely taught second language.
Characteristic dishes such as apple pie, fried chicken, pizza, hamburgers, and hot dogs derive from the recipes of various immigrants. French fries, Mexican dishes such as burritos and tacos, and pasta dishes freely adapted from Italian sources are widely consumed. Americans generally prefer coffee to tea. Marketing by U.S. industries is largely responsible for making orange juice and milk ubiquitous breakfast beverages
In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, American art and literature took most of its cues from Europe. America's first internationally popular writers were James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving in the early nineteenth century. They painted an American literary landscape full of humor and adventure. These were followed by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Henry David Thoreau who established a distinctive American literary voice in the middle of the nineteenth century. Mark Twain, Henry James, and poet Walt Whitman were major figures in the century's second half; Emily Dickinson, virtually unknown during her lifetime, would be recognized as America's other essential poet. Eleven U.S. citizens have won the Nobel Prize in Literature, including John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Eugene O'Neil, Pearl S. Buck, T.S. Eliot and Sinclair Lewis. Ernest Hemingway, the 1954 Nobel laureate, is often named as one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century.
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