Standard Norms of Behavior and Etiquette in the USA
The history of the United States is defined by its cultural and regional diversity. Immigrant groups over the centuries brought with them particular sets of behaviors and beliefs and these have shaped the now accepted norms of etiquette and acceptable behaviour in America.
Meeting And Greeting
- The American greeting is seen by other nations as very informal. This should not be read as a sign of disrespect but a rather a reflection of the American philosophy that everyone is equal.
- In keeping with this casual approach to greeting, you may find that an American will not shake your hand at a social encounter. In a work or business related context, they will, but otherwise expect a simple “hello’ or “how are you?”
- Also remember that the line “See you later” is only an expression used instead of “Good-bye.” People will say this even if they don’t plan to see you again!
- It is regarded as polite to stand when introductions are taking place. Only the elderly, ill or otherwise physically challenged person remain seated on these occasions.
- Eye contact is important when you are shaking someone’s hand. Always keep eye contact.
- Keep your distance when conversing. If someone feels you’re standing too close, they may step back. Never step toward them when they do this.
- Some Americans may be uncomfortable with same-sex touching. Males are especially uncomfortable about this.
- Holding your middle finger up is considered vulgar and insulting.
- Americans tend to smile a lot when greeting people and like to have their smile returned.
- Some Americans may slap your back gently. This is a show of friendship.
- Business cards are seen as a source of future information and people will trade cards casually with one another.
- Direct communication is preferred with Americans. They like to get straight to the point, and this is not considered inappropriate.
- It’s considered rude to interrupt someone who is talking. If you have to interrupt say ‘excuse me’ during a pause.
- Always hire a lawyer before signing a business contract.
- Americans pride themselves on being on time for their jobs or for an appointment. It’s considered lazy when you’re late.
Dining And Entertainment
- Americans often ‘toast’ the guest of honor during meals to show respect.
- When Americans dine at home this is usually an informal and relaxed occasion unless you are informed to the contrary.
- Don’t begin eating your meal until your host has finished serving and has invited everyone to enjoy their meal.
- If you are offered more to eat, don’t feel shy about taking some more – like most cultures around the world, the host is flattered when you enjoy their food!
- If you are invited to a home between a given time-frame, make sure you leave at the time that the invitation says the event is over.