American Culture Tips

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Here are some tips on American culture to help you understand and navigate your day to day. Word of advice, as with all generalizations, sometimes they apply and sometimes they don’t.

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Be aware of your own culture. Step back and think.  Your own ways of thinking and behaving determine how you react to other people’s behavior. 

Be curious.  There will be many questions and many things will look different.  Before making a judgement, try to actively listen and understand another person. Pay attention to nonverbal communication (gestures, tone of voice, facial expressions).  When in doubt, ask!  You’ll be surprised what you will learn.

Be willing to adapt. Some things and ways of doing things will be very different from what you are used to at home.  Keep an open mind and try it. 

American Culture Tips

These are a few values that many Americans hold important for interpersonal interactions.  We will have more on this topic in future posts. Please keep in mind that these are just starting tips and not predictors of someone’s behavior as every American you meet will differ in how strongly they feel about each of these values.

  1. Attention to Time. Americans tend to dislike the idea of wasting time. Efficiency is a virtue in the U.S. Being late for an appointment with an American can be taken as a personal offense because it indicates disrespect. Plan to arrive a few minutes before the specified time for meetings and events and call in advance if you will be late.
  2. Informality. Be prepared for informality. People dress very casually, call superiors by their first names, and eat just about anywhere.
  3. Privacy.  The right to privacy runs deep in American culture.  It’s inappropriate to visit someone without giving them a notice. Americans don’t talk about salary, age and weight. Conversations about personal family matters, politics, or religion are reserved for later stages of friendship.
  4. Personal Space. Americans value their own personal space and generally do not like that space to be invaded. They find it uncomfortable when others stand too close and will unconsciously move away.
  5. Directness. Americans tend to be very direct.  Americans often say exactly what they think and value stating a point concisely. What you say is often more important than how you say it. No usually means no and yes usually means yes.

Social protocols are quite relaxed in the U.S. but there are some taboos:

  • Cover your mouth when you yawn, sneeze or cough. Americans are careful not to spread germs. It is considered unsanitary to not cover one's mouth.
  • Americans are offended by strong odors, and normally bathe daily (sometimes twice daily in hot weather) and use underarm deodorant. Strong smelling perfumes or colognes are applied sparingly because they may not be pleasant to others.
  • Do not belch loudly in public.
  • Do not spit. You may see people spitting on the streets, but it is considered very rude.
  • Do not pick your teeth or nose in public.
  • Do not stare (gaze continuously) at someone you are talking to.
  • Do not whistle at women.  This is sexual harassment.