From Melting Pot to Salad Bowl















Understanding American Culture

E Pluribus Unum - From Many to One

America has traditionally been referred to as a "melting pot," welcoming people from many different countries, races, and religions, all hoping to find freedom, new opportunities, and a better way of life.

"Rather than a "melting pot", many consider the U.S. to be a "salad bowl".

Why? Because rather than blending ingredients into one pot, the salad bowl highlights the differences of each ingredient.

"Europe was created by history. America was created by philosophy."
~ Margaret Thatcher.

"We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic."
~Former President Jimmy Carter

American history began with waves of immigrants, bringing their own cultures and traditions to a vast new country. No other place in the world has such a diverse population. It is this diversity that makes America what it is and, at the same time, creates the challenges it faces.

Today the trend is toward multiculturalism, not assimilation. The old "melting pot" metaphor is giving way to new metaphors such as "salad bowl" and "mosaic", mixtures of various ingredients that keep their individual characteristics. Immigrant populations within the United States are not being blended together in one "pot", but rather they are transforming American Society into a truly multicultural mosaic.

Five Symbols that Represent the United States

The U.S. flag
The Statue of Liberty
The bald eagle
The Liberty Bell
Mount Rushmore

Do you Speak American?

While the official language of the United States is English, or "American English", there is a great variety of dialects. PBS developed an amazing documentary - "a journey through the United States, exploring how the language we use can define us, unite us, or separate us".

"The Census Bureau estimates that more than 350 languages are spoken in the United States. The bureau divides those languages into four categories: Spanish; other Indo-European languages, which includes German, Yiddish, Swedish, French, Italian, Russian, Polish, Hindi, Punjabi, Greek and several others. Asian and Pacific Island languages, including Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Thai, Tamil and more are also included. There is also a category for "all other languages," which is for languages that didn't fit into the first three categories, such as Hungarian, Arabic, Hebrew, languages of Africa and languages of native people of North, Central and South America." Source: The Census Bureau

But What is American Culture? Americans come from all over the world. A previous internet search for "American Culture" turned up more than 47 categories! Some of these include:


Native American

Strictly speaking, the only indigenous Americans are the American Indians who were living here long before the first waves of settlers came over from Europe.  It is said that Christopher called these natives "Indians" because he thought he had discovered a western route to India.

Map of the United States Understanding the national character of the United States begins with the land itself-- approximately the size of China, half the size of Russia, and two and one-half times the size of Western Europe. It is a vast country with an abundance of natural resources. 

From Sea to Shining Sea

The American mosaic is one of different cultures and regional identities, each with unique characteristics and flavors. Americans often think of themselves not only as coming from a particular ethnic heritage, but also of being part of a geographical region. Understanding these regional characteristics and flavors is an excellent way to get to know Americans. 

USA - The East New England

Early economic and cultural center for almost two centuries. New Englanders are known for their self-reliance, and distinctive accent, particularly in the North and in Boston. 

The Middle Atlantic States -known historically for the "muscle" of the American economy, the region became the center for heavy industry. Settlers were from many different cultural backgrounds, including Dutch, Swedes, English Catholics and Protestants, and Quakers.

USA - The South 

Famous for "southern hospitality", and a very distinctive accent, known as a "southern drawl", the South is perhaps one of the most colorful regions in the United States. English Protestants, many becoming rich by raising tobacco and cotton on large southern plantations, originally settled this region. 

USA - The Midwest 

This region has been called "America's cultural crossroads and breadbasket." Settlers came primarily from Germany, Sweden, and Norway. The Mississippi River, lifeline of the region, inspired the world-famous Mark Twain book, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

USA - The Great Lakes & Great Plains 

The Great Lakes region, named for its many lakes, played the part of the early industrial center in American. It is the center of the American automobile industry and the development of mass production. 

The Great Plains, so named because it covers over 1,000 miles of plains and prairies, reaches from Oklahoma and Kansas to North Dakota. Wyatt Earp, and "Wild Bill" Hickok, two legendary lawmen, ruled the frontier towns of Dodge City and Abilene.

USA - The West 

The American West is a geographical region, the "last frontier" to be settled in a vast country. Settlers moved west to find new opportunity, escape religious persecution, and create a new and better way of life. 

The American West is also, perhaps a state of mind. This "Frontier Spirit", and the move westward had a significant impact on the development of American culture. 

In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner's wrote his Frontier Thesis, one of the most influential models of American culture. He suggests that the frontier played a significant role in shaping American institutions, and the "expansion westward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American character." 

The story of the American West has traveled the world with the help of Hollywood. John Wayne may have been a Hollywood actor, but to many, he represents many characteristics associated with American culture.

"Every country in the world loved the folklore of the West--the music, the dress, the excitement, everything that was associated with the opening of a new territory. It took everybody out of their own little world. The cowboy lasted a hundred years, created more songs and prose and poetry than any other folk figure. The closest thing was the Japanese samurai." 
~ John Wayne


A generalization is a pattern that is rooted in data and research. However, generalizations will become stereotypes if you assume that each and every person in a culture will follow these patterns.

What are some of the typical generalizations that are used to describe Americans?

Control their own destinies
Personal achievement important
Creative & innovative
Change is often a positive thing
Focus more on future than past
Enjoy debating and stating a specific position
Values written contractual agreements & rule of law
Prefer to have things "spelled out"
Uncomfortable with long periods of silence
Separation between business and personal lives
Clear, explicit communication style
Friendly, spontaneous, & informal


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