The USA is a multicultural country, where every national culture has a right to existence. Nowadays, the problem of multiculturalism here is especially pressing and as a result, Americans realize the importance of compulsory multicultural education for every citizen of the country. Living in present-day society is impossible without understanding the culture and cultural differences because it influences our communication, interaction, and worldview.
Very often, people associate culture just with the visible traditions such as music, foods, and holidays. However, this concept is much wider. Culture is a set of feelings, thoughts, and beliefs that are shared by any ethnic, racial, social, or religious groups of people. Culture may refer not only to the groups people are born into (for instance, ethnic or racial ones) but also the ones that they choose to belong to (social and religious groups). It is interesting, that culture is a dynamic system, and people can move between different cultures. In this way, a person who is born into poverty can eventually become rich. Besides, people can change their beliefs during their lives from those with which they were raised (Zion, 2005).
Being the result of our thinking and world perception, culture in its turn shapes our view of the world and of the people around us. Those who do not realize that culture is a complex notion, which consists of many elements and cultural indicators, usually make assumptions about someone’s beliefs on one cultural indicator, such as ethnicity or race. In reality, culture is broader than race or ethnicity. Many things influence person’s cultural orientation, namely class, gender, mental and physical abilities, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation. To my way of thinking, each person belongs to his personal culture, as we all are different and unique individuals. The culture a person belongs to depends on its every detail, belief, and experience. However, if speaking about the culture more generally, there is one American culture characterized by diversity and multiplicity.
In the most general meaning, multiculturalism is a form of ideology, by means of which our society carries out the strategies of social amity and stability based on the principles of equal coexistence of different forms of cultural life (Habermas, 1994). Multicultural country is the one, where citizens of different cultures (religions, traditions, races) have equal status. It affirms that everyone has his or her own validity and importance (Kellner, 2003). The idea of multiculturalism in the United States supports the immigrants and thus, Americans are becoming more aware of the importance of proper education and spreading the information about different cultures.
People who live in a multicultural society must understand differences between existing cultures so that the communication and interaction between individuals were effective. All the members of our society understand that they deal with multiculturalism every day as people from different racial, ethnic, and cultural groups live in very close physical proximity.
Among the keys, that can help us to unlock the doors of other cultures are certain elements of cultural interactions, namely language, attitude towards time, space, gender and family roles, education, etc (Hall, 1990). For instance, let us analyze language. It includes not only verbal communication but also non-verbal means (body language, proxemics, signs, symbols, touch). In the USA, the predominant language is English but it is clear that there are many speakers of other languages in the country. Besides, language can be either formal or informal. People can use slang or dialect. Different cultures have their own rules of communication. To my personal way of thinking, all the members of American multicultural society have to know these things about the cultures they deal with or, at least, to be ready to get information about them. It is important to understand people you speak to: both in verbal communication (grammar, semantics, phonology, discussion modes) and in non-verbal one.
Speaking about the differences in the attitude towards time and space, it needs to be mentioned, that they are of major importance too. The knowledge about the interlocutor’s perception of reality definitely makes the communication easier. For example, some people consider present events more important than past or future ones; others value planning for future and cannot live without schedules. Representatives of some cultures admire punctuality, while other cultures do not mind being late. The other important cultural differences are those concerning social values (beliefs about behavior in definite situations or in general). One example is the attitude towards gender roles: how a person relates to the opposite sex. In some countries, women and men are treated equally; in others, people of opposite sex have definite social roles and responsibilities.
American population is officially divided into Whites, African Americans, American Indians, Alaskan Natives, Asians, Native Hawaiians, and Latinos (Bennett, 2010). American population is diverse and each day we meet hundreds of people belonging to different groups and cultures. People say that all these groups were “invented” to make life easier and more meaningful but I think that categorization quite the contrary complicates the reality. The life would be much easier if we did not mind the skin of color and shape of eyes and if we considered everyone equally. Multicultural education is very important because it may lead the society to such a state, when everyone belongs to one culture.
Summing up, living in a multicultural country is not easy. Every citizen of plural society has to realize, that all people belong to one human race and each person has equal rights. Nowadays, the population of the USA is diverse and that is why people are taught the basics of multiculturalism, as the understanding of other cultures is the integral part of effective and successful communication.