The many different (Sub-)Cultures of North America

North America, the United States — one homogenous culture? Hardly.
First of all, Canadians are not U.S. Americans. In fact, many Canadians will tell you they’re quite different from their neighbors in the South. And just wait what the Québecois will tell you about the rest of the continent.
Then there’s the semantic detail that most U.S. citizens speak of themselves simply as “American” — neglecting the tiny fact that all inhabitants of the Americas (from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego) are technically Americans.
To avoid making this even more complicated, I will not go into much detail about the term “America.” Just this: A Cherokee Chief once reminded me that the native peoples of this continent never referred to themselves as Americans since that’s only the name a German cartographer gave the land across the big water (in honor of the Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci).

No, the United States and North America do not represent a homogenous culture. Coming from abroad, some people may not realize this right away. After all — so the impression — everyone in the U.S. speaks English, eats and shops at the same franchise chains, consumes the same media, and uses a uniform infrastructure throughout the country.

During our cultural training programs we dedicate ample time to correct this lopsided half knowledge. Since a big portion of the U.S.-inbound expats I have worked with in recent years come to the Southeast, I find it especially important to prepare them for an America which may not fit the stereotypical image of this country. The South is different. And so are all other regions of the United States. Let’s take a look.

The map above was published in the Fall 2013 issue of Tufts University’s alumni magazine and was developed by Colin Woodard, the author of American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. Woodward claims that North America can be broken down neatly into eleven separate “nation-states”, where dominant cultures explain voting behaviors and attitudes toward everything from social issues to the role of government.

“The borders of my eleven American nations are reflected in many different types of maps — including maps showing the distribution of linguistic dialects, the spread of cultural artifacts, the prevalence of different religious denominations, and the county-by-county breakdown of voting in virtually every hotly contested presidential race in our history,” Woodard writes. “Our continent’s famed mobility has been reinforcing, not dissolving, regional differences, as people increasingly sort themselves into like-minded communities.”

Here is how he describes these 11 distinct cultural areas:

Now, let’s overlap these regional cultural clusters with the findings of a study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, called “Divided We Stand: Three Psychological Regions of the United States and Their Political, Economic, Social, and Health Correlates.” According to the research team these three regions look like this:

Marina Koren at The Atlantic summed up this study nicely:

Add to all of this the different dialect (accent) regions of the United States and you’ll hear how heterogeneous this country and its people are.

In case you haven’t already come across Joshua Katz’s work I encourage you to watch this clip which provides a snapshot into his research:

What have been your experiences with regional differences in North America?

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