Anyone arriving in the U.S. from abroad could be in for a bit of a culture shock. Americans are easygoing and not overly rigid about social customs.
While you might know a lot about the American way of life from Hollywood movies or American literature, there are still aspects you will only get to experience once you start living in the U.S.
Here are some social customs you need to know about.
Hugging and kissing on the cheeks
When you first meet someone in America, they will approach you with a professional handshake, especially on formal occasions. Once you get to know the person, he or she may skip that part and (especially if the person is exuberant) give you a hug.
If you become close to the person, he or she might also kiss you on the cheek. This is very common in America and it is their way of being friendly.
You have to remember that, like you, people from all over the world—especially from countries in Europe—have also travelled to the U.S. over the years. They might have an American passport now, but they might have Italian or French origins, and they may be very expressive while they communicate. They will hug you, bend down to kiss a lady’s hand, or give you a friendly pat on the shoulder.
Visiting Someone’s House
While it might be a common practice in your home country to visit your friend or relative’s house whenever you want, it is not so in the U.S. Many families abroad are large, and someone will likely be there to receive you in most cases. But in the U.S., the children move out of their parent’s homes after high school to attend college. After that—if they can secure a job—they live on their own.
With both spouses working, there might be no one home when you arrive. Even if they are home, they might be busy with something else or entertaining other guests. So, do not visit someone’s house unannounced. Always call first if you need something.
In the U.S., even adult children will call their parents before visiting them, as opposed to other countries where children may continue to live with their parents even after they have married and have kids of their own.
Children in the U.S. start moving away from their parents’ house for work or education when they reach the age of eighteen. Living with one’s parents after a certain age in the U.S. is kind of a taboo. It implies that the person is not independent enough to live on his or her own without parental supervision. However, given the recent conflict between staggering student loan debt and low-paying entry-level jobs, it has become more and more common for recent college graduates to move back home until they have secured a stable financial footing.
American parents believe in making their children independent early in life and encouraging them to find their way in the world, as opposed to non-American parents, who often prefer their children and grandchildren to stay with them.
If you are planning to settle in the U.S. and raise your family there, be mindful of the fact that one day, you will have to let go of your children as they try to make their own life.
When you sit at the table, you can help yourself to the trays or bowls around you, but do not reach across the table for anything. Rather, it is polite to ask someone to pass you the bowl.
Make use of the table napkins, and thank the host and hostess for the food.
You can also offer to do the dishes after the meal. This is because most homes in America do not have housekeepers or domestic help.
If you are invited to a housewarming party, bring a housewarming gift. Take some wine or chocolates with you as a kind gesture.
House parties in the U.S. are very informal, and the hosts will let you know if it is a formal event. Otherwise, you can dress well for an evening out.
Only bring a friend or a date with you if the host tells you that you are free to bring someone. This also includes your own family. Outside of the U.S., it is okay for someone to turn up with their spouse or children or someone else, even if they are not invited, but it is not so in the U.S. However, if the host doesn’t volunteer this information, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask if you can bring your spouse or partner. Unless it’s some sort of exclusive function like a business dinner or a bowling league party, the host will almost certainly say yes.
Interactions with Children
In the U.S., children are kept away from gatherings meant for adults. In most American homes, children go to bed at a fixed time. Depending on the child’s age, they may have dinner earlier than their parents. Then, the parents will see them to bed before they enjoy their own time or engage in more serious conversations.
If parents have to go out, they will leave their children at home with a babysitter.
While visiting someone, take your children with you only if you have planned a playdate with your host’s children. Otherwise, you should leave them at home with a babysitter.
In America, it is cautiously acceptable to approach a perfect stranger at a bar or a park and start a conversation.
While you should be on your guard if someone approaches you, you can ask them to sit with you and listen to what they have to say. This is how young people meet in bars and strike up a conversation with each other.
However, you should also ask first whether you can sit with them. If they say no, then you should not insist.
While a few things might surprise you in the beginning, you will soon get used to the American way of life. With the amenities the country provides and the easy way in which most people communicate with each other, you will soon get used to the various aspects of life in the U.S.
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