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Culture Shock USA Part I


Welcome to America! This fertile land is much more than golden beaches and purple mountains, giant cities and rolling green hills; this is the land of endless opportunities and big dreams, created by centuries of immigrants- and anything is possible.

Although the USA is made up of many different regions and does not have one distinct culture, there are a few unwritten rules and norms that once learned will make it easier for you to explore the amazing natural beauty and get to know the friendly people who live here, from New York City to the tiniest town in the heartland.

Here are our first 10 cultural tips to keep in mind:

  • Americans respect individuality over conformity. People are expected to be independent and solve their own problems and create their own futures with a minimum help from extended families or communities.
  • Despite their gregarious and affable nature, Americans value privacy very much and enjoy spending time alone.
  • Americans are loud! Conversations are animated and peppered with jokes and friends bond by ribbing each other, especially males.
  • Time is money in America. Punctuality is important, and being late can be considered rude, particularly in business situations. It is fine to be fashionably late to a party, but for dinner or other social obligation, fifteen minutes max is the acceptable tardiness.
  • Equality of all human beings is very important in America, which can lead to a lack of deference to those in authority. First names only are commonly used even between those of differing levels of authority, for example between professor and student, or boss and worker.
  • American culture is casual and informal. Wearing blue jeans, sweatshirts, tee shirts, sweats and even pajamas (for younger people) in public is the norm.
  • It is considered rude to talk about money or ask about someone's salary, but it's absolutely fine to ask someone what they do for work, even early in the relationship. In fact, many Americans define themselves by the method that they earn money and are very proud of their work identity, which provides self-worth. Many people live to work and define success by a person's bank account.
  • Americans like their personal space. Get too close and they will back up. One arm's length of space between two people is a good standard.
  • Some Americans like to hug, in certain cultural groups and especially in the southern part of the US. Handshakes are always fine and should be firm, never limp. Women rarely kiss upon meeting, and men never do.
  • Greetings and goodbyes are short and informal and should not be taken literally. The common greeting is "How are you doing?" or "How's it going?" or "What's up?." If you are asked, "How are you?" and reply with a lengthy diatribe on how you really are, you will get a weird look. Just say, "oh, fine." Upon leaving if someone says, "See you later" or "See ya soon," they may or may not. It is just an expression.

For more tips and the lowdown on cultural differences in America's varied regions, check out Culture Shock USA Part II

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