Living in Florida is a unique experience, because Florida itself is a pretty unusual state. Its residents are a mixture of native Floridians and millions of others who come down to the Sunshine State from all over the United States and elsewhere. It has the longest history of European colonization in the United States and a sunny environment that draws beach lovers everywhere.
Florida is the fourth most populated state in the country, and has the second highest number of residents from other states. Most of these people are retirees who choose to spend their autumn years in a more relaxing environment, where the lifestyle focuses more on retirement and senior issues. There are, of course, also many native residents; long time Floridian families are sometimes jokingly called “Florida crackers.”
Florida is famous for warm weather. In fact, many residents, nicknamed snowbirds, only stay for the winter months by keeping a winter home or driving an RV. In general, you can expect a lot of sun in Florida, though thunderstorms are fairly common in the summer. For better or for worse, you should not expect snow, which is very rare. And of course, there is the added danger of hurricanes. They most commonly hit the state in August and September, but experienced Floridians will begin preparing as soon as hurricane season starts.
Peninsula and Panhandle
Florida is divided into the Peninsula and the Panhandle. The Peninsula is more urban, holding most of the tourist sites, industry and agribusiness, and is politically liberal. The Panhandle tends to be more like a typical Southern state: more rural and more politically conservative, with less big business. Most of Florida’s major cities are near the coastlines, and even if you live inland you are always within a few hours of the beaches, which makes up a large part of the state’s appeal.
Tourism and senior citizens drive the economy, though other major factors include fishing, industry, agriculture and the state’s high military concentration. The unemployment rate is currently at 11.5%. There is no state income tax.
The culture of Florida can be hard to define, giving its large number of non-native residents. Given that summer temperatures can last most of the year, beaches, barbecues, etc. are large facets of Florida society. Spanish and Hispanic culture has influenced the state, both because of its history as a Spanish colony and because of its large Hispanic population (largely Cuban and Puerto Rican, but increasingly Mexican as well). Approximately a quarter of residents can speak a language other than English, primarily Spanish. Southern culture is also a major factor, especially in the Panhandle, where drawling accents are not uncommon.
Northern and Central Florida are considered part of the Bible Belt, but South Florida tends to be less religiously observant. Slightly less than half of the state’s residents are Protestant, with about a quarter others being Catholic. Florida has the highest Jewish population of any Southern state, primarily in the Peninsula.
Overall, it is hard to give a single perception of life in the Sunshine State; it is a state of contrasts, of different cultures mingling together, its own second melting pot within the United States. It is, however, a state that is not quite like any other, and one quite popular with people from all over.