An "American" could be anyone from North America, Central America or South America, yet much of the world refers to US citizens as "Americans". And US citizens refer to themselves as Americans. A US citizen is a more accurate description.
Being part of a culture gives you a pretty good look at it and then living outside of your culture amongst others also gives you a new perspective on your native culture.
In no particular order here are some thoughts on how Americans are and no they may not apply to you (if you are American), yet they do apply to large numbers of people in the USA:
- Individualistic. The focus is more on the individual than the group. The USA ranks #1 on the Geert Hofstede scales. Americans are individualistic which leads to subgroupism - in other words cliches. Eastern Asians for example are less individualistic. They value social harmony - which leads to groupism.
- Egotistical. Americans are very focused on their own needs and their individuality. Most other countries are more communal. "In a study published in 2008 psychologists Jean M. Twenge of San Diego State University and W. Keith Campbell of the University of Georgia concluded that high school students like themselves more now than they did in the 1970's even though they didn't see themselves any better at math, music, sports or other activities." - Scientific American Mind, 2013
- Lonely. While we may have our individuality we are still lonely. We have one of the highest divorce rates in the world.
- Loud. It's pretty easy to spot Americans when you are in a foreign country, you can usually hear them before you see them.
- Creative. The USA is a leader worldwide when it comes to film, music and other forms of art.
- Fearful. They're scared of the wrong things and they are largely influenced by the media. They're scared of terrorists attacks (think airports), bacteria (how many germaphobes do you know?), crime and more. Read The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things: Crime, Drugs, Minorities, Teen Moms, Killer Kids, Mutant Microbes, Plane Crashes, Road Rage, & So Much More
- They like space. They need more personal space than other people on the planet.
- They like big things such as big houses, big trucks, Big Gulps and Big Macs.
- Fat and overweight. 2/3 of Americans are overweight with 1/3 of those are fat (obese). Restaurants commonly serve ultra large portions that are suitable for two people.
- Wasteful. They waste a lot of food and create more garbage than any other country in the world.
- Obsessed with the rich and famous. Movie and music stars have a "godlike" stature. Stars are revered in the USA as royalty is in England. Many want to be famous and many will go to great extremes to get there, like the fat woman above and Jackass below.
- Opinionated. They are not particularly shy about voicing their opinions - especially about art/music. Go take a look at the Youtube comments and the popularity of the "Like or Dislike" buttons.
- Masculine, extroverted, aggressive. The women are masculine because unfortunately in their quest to become more equal they also became more like men in the US. In fact I believe it has tipped the other way. Many women have become more domineering.
Most employers in the US are looking for someone who is outgoing, sociable, team oriented, etc. These are also the same extroverted characteristics that many ESL employers are looking for in a native teacher. Many language schools expect ESL teachers from the USA to be like this. The extroverted mindset permeates the culture of America and introverted qualities are not often in demand.
If your hand shake is not firm enough then you are not considered man enough in some men's eyes and you may not get the job or you may be considered incapable. In Eastern Asia a "firm handshake" and direct eye contact is not usual and in fact it may be considered rather aggressive and rude.
The masculine and aggressive culture leads to a fair amount of violence. The USA suffers more than any other developed country from violent crimes. In fact some cities in America are just behind some of the most violent countries in the world. They believe in their right to bear arms and violence in the USA also increased since the advent of cable TV.
- Ignorant of other cultures. Many Americans live within the bubble of the USA. They have very little idea of what other cultures/countries are like and the media doesn't help.
- Religious freaks. Some states are more religious than others, but there are a number of religious freaks in America such as Mormons, Christians, Christian fundamentalists, Jehovah Witnesses, Scientologists, etc. They walk around knocking door to door to preach their bullheaded ideologies and then often claim that they are not "religious".
- Corporate. Franchises abound. One thing that I enjoy about living in Chinatown, SF is that there are no American chains in it. It's predominately all small and family owned businesses. It's pretty common to see areas (often in the center) of cities in America plastered with Starbucks, Burger King, Dunkin' Donuts, KFC, etc. As mentioned in the link above 90% of the media is controlled by 6 corporations. Corporate America is killing small business on a global scale.
- Extreme. The USA invented things like snowboarding, skateboarding, BMX bike trickery, dirt bikes and things like Jackass. They also take their habits to the extreme too with lots of trendy diets (which don't work in the long term).
- Appreciation of diversity. Americans like choices. Take a look at the supermarket and you'll see what I mean. You'll find an immense variety of all kinds of things, like for example toothpaste. Although they may come to expect it they are sort of drowning in it and fewer choices are better for actually making a choice. And despite their individuality if they can't make a choice then like other citizens of the world they'll just choose what everyone else does. In other words they'll read the reviews or see how many "likes" they have.
You'll find a good deal of variety in the USA from places to eat to an assortment of people to meet. Not every American is ignorant, corporate, extreme or an religious freak as mentioned above, yet, like other cultures of the world you'll find that many people have some things in common.