The United States of America (the ‘USA’ and often ‘America’), which comprises 50 states and the federal district of Columbia, is mostly located in central North America. It has borders with Canada to the north and Mexico to the south, and has the Atlantic Ocean on its east coast and the Pacific Ocean on its west coast. The USA covers an area of almost 3.8 million square miles (9.8 million sq. km.) and has a population of around 313 million people. The USA also controls a number of islands located in the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
Although over 80% of the population lives in urban areas, the USA’s geography is extremely diverse, with the coastlines of the Atlantic and Pacific, forests, hills, several mountain ranges, grasslands, prairie, farmland, swamplands, deserts, rural areas , volcanoes, and urban and industrial areas.
There is no official language as such, but English is the national language and is considered the official language of at least 28 states. Around 80% of the population speaks English at home, while Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language (12% of people at home). Due to the great diversity of its population and immigration over the centuries, several languages are spoken in the USA.
The USA, a member of the G8 group of leading industrialized countries and (among other things) of the G20, and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), has the world’s biggest economy that is the world’s 19th richest by GDP per capita. Its natural resources and advanced infrastructure both assist with the country’s economic growth (the USA is the world’s number three oil producer), and although the services sector now accounts for over two-thirds of GDP, it still bears considerable industrial power. The United States of America is also the world’s third biggest exporter. Its main exports are machinery and equipment, consumer goods, motor vehicles and auto components, aircraft, food, animal feed and beverages.
Reflecting the diversity of the USA’s population and history, there is great variety in the local and regional dishes of each area.
For example, New England’s regional recipes, many of which date back to the Pilgrims, include corned beef and cabbage, clam chowder and blueberry muffins. Around the North-East, food has been influenced by the many waves of immigration, with the street foods of New York and the Dutch culinary influences of Pennsylvania among them. Many foreign communities originally adapted their own national recipes to include locally available produce, with typical dishes including New York’s own take on Italian pizza, Waldorf salad and Maryland crab cakes. (Let’s not forget, either, the all-American hamburger, which originated from the German city of Hamburg.) The cooking of the South-East is rich in flavor and variety, combining European, African, Native Indian and Caribbean cultures, with ‘soul food’ having its origins in the cooking of African slaves. Examples of food consumed around the South-East are sausage and shrimp jambalaya, southern-fried chicken, sweet potato fries and red velvet cupcakes. Around the South-West, spicy colorful dishes reflect the legacy of the Native tribes and cowboys, and the influence of both the Spanish and the Mexicans.
Thanksgiving, a national holiday that in the USA takes place on the last Thursday of every November, has its roots in religious tradition and the celebration of the year’s harvest, and can be traced back to the early decades of the 17th century. Today, however, it is largely a secular holiday that often results in a four- or five-day weekend when friends and families come together for a dinner. Following in the tradition of the Thanksgiving feast of 1621, turkey is generally the centerpiece of any meal, and is commonly accompanied by mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes, corn, the season’s vegetables, and stuffing.
America, with its melting pot of races and cultures, has a truly diverse cultural landscape. While mainstream US culture tends to be influenced by its European immigrants and other elements such as the traditions of the African slaves, more recent waves of immigration have added Asian and Latin American culture and traditions to the mix.
African-American rhythms have had a huge influence on American music, from early blues and jazz, through to country music in the 1920s, rock and roll in the 1950s, soul and funk in the 1960s and 1972, and more recently hip hop and house music. America’s writers back in the 18th and 19th centuries were largely influenced by their European counterparts, with writers such as Edgar Allan Poe emerging with a unique style mid-19th century, and Mark Twain and the poet Walt Whitman dominating the latter part. In art, American artists similarly took their cue from European painters in the 19th century, before the 20th century introduced American artists of lasting world renown such as the abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock and the iconic purveyor of Pop Art, Andy Warhol.
Sports take a front seat in American society today, with baseball considered the national sport for over 120 years, and American football easily the most popular spectator sport, followed by basketball and ice hockey. Sports invented by Americans include skateboarding, snowboarding and cheerleading.