Economy—overview:The US has the largest and most technologically powerful economy in the world, with a per capita GDP of $46,000. In this market-oriented economy, private individuals and business firms make most of the decisions, and the federal and state governments buy needed goods and services predominantly in the private marketplace. US business firms enjoy greater flexibility than their counterparts in Western Europe and Japan in decisions to expand capital plant, to lay off surplus workers, and to develop new products. At the same time, they face higher barriers to enter their rivals' home markets than foreign firms face entering US markets. US firms are at or near the forefront in technological advances, especially in computers and in medical, aerospace, and military equipment; their advantage has narrowed since the end of World War II. The onrush of technology largely explains the gradual development of a "two-tier labor market" in which those at the bottom lack the education and the professional/technical skills of those at the top and, more and more, fail to get comparable pay raises, health insurance coverage, and other benefits. Since 1975, practically all the gains in household income have gone to the top 20% of households. The response to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 showed the remarkable resilience of the economy. The war in March-April 2003 between a US-led coalition and Iraq, and the subsequent occupation of Iraq, required major shifts in national resources to the military. The rise in GDP in 2004-07 was undergirded by substantial gains in labor productivity. Hurricane Katrina caused extensive damage in the Gulf Coast region in August 2005, but had a small impact on overall GDP growth for the year. Soaring oil prices in 2005-2007 threatened inflation and unemployment, yet the economy continued to grow through year-end 2007. Imported oil accounts for about two-thirds of US consumption. Long-term problems include inadequate investment in economic infrastructure, rapidly rising medical and pension costs of an aging population, sizable trade and budget deficits, and stagnation of family income in the lower economic groups. The merchandise trade deficit reached a record $847 billion in 2007. Together, these problems caused a marked reduction in the value and status of the dollar worldwide in 2007. CIA Fact File
As always the most important factor in understanding the culture of another country is have some idea of how your own fits into the world. Visitors to the USA are pleased to find people friendly and that most things about life work and the rules are simple. Having been introduced to the US culture through Hollywood they have both the benefit of some understanding of the country but also misconceptions. Crime is less than expected, there are far more ordinary people than portrayed on television! However, communication is often more difficult than expected, the locals are not prepared for you to not know the exact phrase when asking for something. In most areas of the Country it is important to speak loudly and be assertive especially if you are from a culture that respects quiet people, also remember to be polite, say please, thank you and excuse me at every possible juncture. If you learnt British English be prepared for many differences and try and pronounce all the syllables of a word. One thing though, Americans are straight forward, when they say yes they mean yes and when they say maybe they mean maybe, not no. Maintain eye contact when meeting people and shake hands firmly, in some circumstances be prepared to be gripped by the arm or possibly patted on the back as signs of friendship. Your name may well be abbreviated, if you have called yourself David all your life it will be automatically changed to Dave, Charles to Chuck and so on.
Social class divisions exist here but there is a genuine belief that they are related to income. There is no association with an inherited social group. You can (just about) be who you wish to be. You don't have to be a doctor and certainly not a lawyer to earn respect and who your father was is mostly of little consequence.
The American Continent is large and isolated, be prepared for your hosts to have little knowledge of world affairs and fairly outdated views of your homeland. There is little world news on television and radio, the public simply don't have much access to international news and it is not regarded as important. The locals have a strong sense of national pride, there are large amounts of flags, and some statements about the free world. It is not meant to be offensive so don't take any.
There is a limited social welfare system, however $70 Billion was given to charity in 2000. Productivity is high but partly because some US manual workers are some of the lowest paid in the industrialized world. There is a very large difference between the rich and poor with annual household income being around $30,000.
The United States has literally thousands of radio stations and numerous television stations including cable and satellite. Every community has local stations of almost every type, radio stations are classified by the type of music they play. News and sport radio is often on "AM" with music on "FM". National Public Radio is a very good source of news and is on FM, with different stations networked in each local community. However, the European technology of FM stations being automatically tracked in the car has not made it to the US.
People Going Global offers specific UK-USA training as part of our suite of cross-cultural training programs.
Culture Shock!: USA by Esther Wanning Part of the useful series on culture shock, a good introduction and a well presented series for a first impression of another culture. Written by an American this book presents a very fair and honest look at the US culture.
I'm a Stranger Here Myself By Bill Bryson A humorous account of an America returning to the United States after twenty years living in Britain. An interesting view on some aspects of American everyday culture especially for Britons coming to America. Worth reading for sheer entertainment.
Culture Shock!: USA-The South (Culture Shock)
by Jane Kohen Winter Part of the useful series on culture shock, a good introduction and a well presented series for a first impression of another culture. It is worth noting that Southern US culture is different enough to warrant a separate book.
Brit-Think, Ameri-Think by Jane Walmsley, Gary Jolliffe (Illustrator) An irreverent and indispensable guide to understanding the great cultural ocean that divides Britain and America. rave reviews at Amazon.com.
Understanding the differences between British and American English.
Cultural Misunderstandings : The French-American Experience by Raymonde Carroll, Carol Volk (Translator) Perhaps a little academic but still a good read for anyone considering a move between France and the USA.
Divided by a Common Language by Christopher Davies, Jason Murphy Never underestimate the number of differences between British English and American English. This book has been showcased on nationwide PBS channels and will be a valuable addition to your library.
The White House
A list of US Embassies around the world
US Customs for forms and information
Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
Department of State
US Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS)
Travel requirements for US Citizens traveling to other countries
Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
Department of the Interior
Executive Office for Immigration Review
Department of Labor (DOL)
Bureau of Labor Statistics
Office of the Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Back to top
US Department of Commerce International Trade Administration CEEBIC business information for Central & Eastern Europe
US Department of Commerce International Trade Administration BISNIS business information for the Newly Independent States
US Chamber of Commerce TradeRoots Trade education program dedicated to raising public awareness to the importance of international trade on a local level
Foreignborn This is the website for all foreign-born individuals entering or living in the United States
USA links Page
EthnoMed Information about cultural beliefs and medical issues pertinent to the health care of recent immigrants to the US
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
TOEFL (English as a Foreign Language)
WWW Virtual Library: International Affairs Resources
Back to top
NPR Newscasts Online Real Audio format news from National Public Radio.
MIT List of Radio Stations on the Internet Arguably the largest compilation of U.S. radio station URLs, with additional, but not extensive international listings.
A database of US Radio and Television Stations
Public Television Information Features, and program listings for local stations, listener supported television including world news (difficult to find in the US!)
1010 WINS News Radio,New York The original all-news radio station
Washington Post National Daily, breaking news, editorials, limited archives, forums, special features and classifieds
New York Times Articles from today's national daily paper, breaking A.P. news, discussion forums, classifieds, opinion, travel news, and Web specials.
USA Today National daily with news updates, opinion, special reports, and searchable archives.
Back to top
Universal currency converter