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The United States of America is the most populous nation in North America. It is made up of 50 states, 48 of which are adjacent to one another. It is the third largest country in the world both by size and population. Canada is immediately north of the United States and Mexico is immediately south of the United States, and these three nations form the largest part of the continent of North America, with the southern-most portions of the continent (south of Mexico) being considered two recognized regions, Central America, and the Caribbean. The United States is bordered by two oceans on its east and west coasts; the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, respectively.
Top 5 Cities
- New York City, The Big Apple, is the largest city in the US, and the second largest metropolitan area in the continent
- Los Angeles, home of the film industry, Rodeo Drive, the Hollywood sign
- Chicago, the Windy City
- San Francisco, the City by the Bay, home to the Golden Gate Bridge, the Haight/Asbury district, the historical port of the Gold Rush, and the Transamerica Pyramid
- Seattle, Washington is home to coffee, grunge music, Starbucks, Microsoft, the port to Alaska, and the Space Needle
Most areas of the United States will require an automobile to visit and explore, although several cities such as Chicago, New Orleans, New York City, Portland (Oregon), San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., can often be more easily traveled without one, due to a public transit system that covers more of the metro area than not, or due to their compact nature and ability to get around via alternate forms of transport, such as bicycle riding or walking.
Make sure to look for Couchsurfers in towns nearby where you wish to visit. Sometimes hosts live in a part of the city that you are trying to visit that goes by a unique name, so (using the advance or map function on the CS site) searching within a radius of 25 miles (40km) is recommended.
The US uses miles (1.6km), feet (0.3m), gallons (3.8l) and other unique units of measure.
Laws regarding alcohol, drugs, sex, firearms, and smoking in public vary greatly from state to state. Be aware of the laws in the state that you are visiting. Laws regarding alcohol purchase and consumption can be especially complicated and confusing. The drinking age in all 50 states is 21 years old, and enforcement is very strict. Expect to be required to present proof of age before entering a club or bar and when buying or ordering an alcoholic beverage.
Most people in the US speak only English. Spanish is also spoken widely with public services often available in Spanish especially in the border states of the Southwest and in major metropolitan areas such as New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, among others.
People and Culture
When traveling to another country knowing a little bit about its people and culture is vital. The people of the United States usually refer to themselves as Americans though this can be confusing for other peoples of the American continents. Stereotypes of Americans are wide-ranging and will not be discussed here.
When receiving a service in a restaurant, hotel, or taxi you will be expected to include a tip. In restaurants, for example, you should include 15-20% of the cost of your meal. Typically servers are paid reduced wages and are expected to earn more than half their pay from tips or gratuities.
Many citizens of the country may be easily offended by course language and swear words (even if these are frequently on display in popular, mainstream films and television shows produced in the USA) such as "fuck," "dick," and "shit." It may be wise to avoid such terms in public. This is especially true in small towns.
Adults in the USA can seem to display a limited exposure to the history, geography, and current events in other countries, although this can be less true amongst Couchsurfers. This is a rather complex issue and should not be interpreted as an indication of intelligence.
Personal finances are given significant import in the United States. It is even somewhat common for natives to discuss what may seem like private financial issues such as salary or how much they paid for a certain item.
The country has a high rate of association with religion, with Christianity being predominant, and this has historically been an important part of national thought. It is important to understand that the USA is a secular religious society much like countries in Europe, and a diversity of religious beliefs is embraced. The presence of Islam, however, is still somewhat uncomfortable for many, with a growing fear following the attacks of September 11, 2001. If you travel to the US wearing a headscarf or turban, expect to be treated with special attention at airport and government building security check-points. Some people may even point or make confusing comments referring to jihadis, "9/11", or Osama Bin-Laden. Tolerance and freedom of religion are by far the dominant mode, but one may expect occasional prejudice and mild harassment, especially in rural areas. The culture is very diverse. Expect a great mix of religions, races, and nationalities, especially in large, urban areas and metropolitan cities.
While the USA is by certain measures the richest nation in the world, many of its citizens live in great poverty, unable to afford housing, health care, transportation, and sometimes food. The widening gap is especially visible in large cities where one can see people living in dumpsters next to high-rise luxury condominium buildings. Rural areas can also be quite poor.
Do not be afraid to voice agreement with or criticize the actions of the government. Many citizens in this country enjoy talking politics and you can learn a lot about the United States this way. You're sure to get somebody excited no matter which side you take. Visa information for the United States is available at an external website, here: