U.S. Culture

Informality

Americans are often very informal in both their dress and interactions with others. People frequently call each other by their first names, which should not be seen as a lack of respect. You may call persons your own age and your colleagues by their first names. It is best, however, to address professors and older persons with their title (Dr., Professor, Mr., Mrs., or Ms.) unless they ask you to do otherwise.

Time

Despite their informality in other aspects of life, Americans are very concerned about time. Punctuality is very important, and it is considered rude to be late. Classes, meetings, and appointments generally start within a few minutes of their set time. If you know you are going to be late for an appointment, you should call and give an explanation.

Personal Space

Unlike many other cultures, Americans tend to stand about two or three feet apart when talking to one another, and often feel crowded when closer. If a person feels uncomfortable, he or she may move away to create more distance. This should not be seen as a sign of rudeness, as they are just re-establishing their personal space. Americans also like to make eye contact when talking to each other.

Greetings and Invitations

When meeting someone for the first time, Americans usually shake hands and say "Hi," "Pleased to meet you" or "How do you do?" When greeting someone you are already acquainted with, you may smile or wave. A common greeting is "How are you?" The usual response to this question is "I'm fine, thanks"; the person asking generally does not expect a detailed response. Similarly, phrases such as "See you later" are just ways of saying goodbye, and do not imply an invitation.

When receiving an invitation, it is polite to respond as soon as possible to let your host or hostess know whether or not you are able to accept. If you are invited to dinner, you should arrive on time. You are not expected to bring a gift, but if you wish to show your appreciation, flowers or other small items are appropriate. It is not as important to be on time to events such as parties; guests are often late, as no one wants to be the first to arrive.

Friendships

International students often experience frustration in making friends with Americans. While Americans are very friendly, it may be difficult to develop a close personal relationship with them. Americans have many casual acquaintances, but very few close friends. Be persistent in your attempts to interact with people and share your ideas and interests. The more people you meet, the more likely you will find someone who will become a close friend. Becoming a member of a club or organization on or off campus is a good way to meet others. Consider joining a club (ISA) to meet other international students along with Americans interested in other cultures and international issues. Try not to let any insecurity about your language ability prevent you from engaging in conversations.

Dating

Dating is prevalent in the United States, often beginning in the early teenage years. Going to movies, dinner, or to sporting events are popular date activities. Dating in the U.S. is more casual than in some other parts of the world. While a man and a woman may go on several dates, this does not indicate any serious commitment, unless they decide they will only date each other. In the past the man usually paid for the date, although this is changing. Now it is not uncommon for the woman to pay or for the man and woman to share the cost of the date. Nor is it very unusual for a woman to invite a man for a date or to initiate a get-together.

When dating, do not allow yourself to be pressured into engaging in any intimate act that you are uncomfortable with. Be clear about what you consider appropriate and inappropriate behavior.

Tipping

When you receive certain types of services in the United States, you are expected to leave a tip. Waiters and waitresses are given an amount equal to 15-20 % of the total bill. Bartenders are given a tip 10-15 % of the total bill. People who carry your luggage, whether in a hotel or airport, are usually given a tip of $1 per bag. Taxi drivers are given 15 % of the fare, or 50c minimum. Barbers or beauticians are usually given a tip that is 15 % of the bill, or $1.00 minimum. If you are given excellent service, you may want to leave a larger tip. For poor service, you may leave a smaller tip.

Hygiene 

While Americans are very casual in their dress, they are preoccupied with cleanliness. Men and women bathe frequently, particularly in the summer, and use a great deal of soap, deodorant, and cologne. While this may seem excessive to those from other cultures, it is important to remember that personal hygiene can play a major role in professional and social success in the United States.

Office of International Student Programs

Kanbar Campus Center, Suite 102 
Office hours: 9am to 5pm
Phone: 215.951.2660
Fax: 215.951.2770
Email: international@philau.edu

Hannah Bar-Giora,
Director of International Student Programs
Email: bargiorah@philau.edu