The United States, spanning from coast to coast, is a country renowned for its diverse landscapes, people, and traditions. With each state boasting its own unique culture, it’s a melting pot where world cultures converge. Although many U.S. customs are well-known globally, some practices can come as a surprise to visitors. If you’re planning a trip or relocating to the U.S., here are 18 things you might want to keep in mind.
Forget to Tip
Gratuity isn’t just a mere gesture in the U.S.; it’s a cultural norm deeply rooted in its service industry. If you’re dining out, hailing a cab, or enjoying a night at a hotel, it’s an unspoken rule to tip service providers like waitstaff, taxi drivers, and bellhops. Typically, a tip of 15% to 20% of the total bill is expected, indicating appreciation for good service.
Discuss Religion and Politics Casually
Freedom of expression is a cherished right in America, yet it comes with its nuances. Conversations around religion and politics, given their personal and potentially divisive nature, can be tricky territory. When broaching these topics, especially in unfamiliar company, it’s wise to tread lightly and be considerate of diverse perspectives.
Disregard Traffic Laws
While jaywalking or speeding may be common practices in some nations, in the U.S., traffic laws are to be followed diligently. In many cities, you could receive a citation for jaywalking, and speeding can lead to hefty fines. So, whether you’re on foot or behind the wheel, adhere to local traffic regulations.
Ignore Queue Etiquette
In the U.S., there’s a structured way to wait, be it at a coffee shop, post office, or bus terminal. People value the principle of “first come, first served,” respecting the order in which individuals arrive. Jumping the queue isn’t just frowned upon; it’s considered quite rude. Maintain personal space and wait your turn.
Use Derogatory Slang
American pop culture, especially movies and TV series, might showcase various slang terms that seem casual or even comical. However, in real-life interactions, using derogatory or potentially offensive slang can be disrespectful. Always prioritize kind, inclusive language.
Make Assumptions Based on Appearance
America’s rich history of immigration has fostered a society with a broad spectrum of backgrounds, beliefs, and traditions. Thus, it’s vital to approach individuals without preconceived notions or biases based on their looks or the way they speak. Embrace the diversity and avoid making snap judgments.
Overstay Your Visa
Navigating U.S. immigration can be complex, but it’s crucial to be meticulous about visa regulations and expiration dates. U.S. authorities are rigorous in enforcing visa rules. Overstepping your visa duration or violating its terms, even unintentionally, can have long-lasting repercussions on future visits or immigration prospects.
Snap Photos Without Permission
Whether you’re wandering through bustling city streets or tranquil countryside, always be conscientious about where and whom you’re photographing. Taking photos of private properties, restricted buildings, or even individuals without their consent isn’t just a breach of etiquette; it can sometimes have legal consequences. Always prioritize courtesy and respect when capturing moments.
Neglect Regional Etiquette
The vastness of the U.S. means a rich diversity of regional customs. For instance, the fast-paced lifestyle of New York might starkly contrast with the laid-back vibes of the South. Before embarking on a trip within the States, take a moment to research the local customs and etiquettes to ensure you blend in seamlessly.
Disrespect National Symbols
Symbols like the American flag and the national anthem are deep-seated representations of national pride and history. During events like sports games or ceremonies where the national anthem is played, it’s customary to stand in respect. Similarly, when handling the flag, there are traditional protocols to follow, emphasizing its revered status.
Assume Everywhere Is Casual
The U.S. might have a global reputation for its casual approach to dress codes, but this isn’t universal. Upscale restaurants in cities like Los Angeles or New York might have a stricter dress policy, and certain events or theaters might expect patrons to dress formally. When in doubt, a quick online search or phone call can clarify dress expectations.
Forget Sales Tax
Shopping in the U.S. can sometimes offer surprises at the checkout counter. This is because, in many states, the sales tax isn’t included in the listed price of an item. Instead, it’s added when you pay. To avoid any unexpected expenses, always factor in potential sales tax when budgeting for shopping.
Decline Invitations Abruptly
American hospitality is renowned, and invitations to homes or events are a testament to this. If for some reason you can’t make it to an event or gathering, ensure your response is gracious. A courteous decline, with a brief reason or a rain check, is always appreciated.
Assume Everything Is Open 24/7
It’s true that cities like New York boast of a “city that never sleeps” status, but this isn’t the norm everywhere. While some services, like diners or pharmacies, might operate round the clock, many establishments don’t. Checking operating hours online can save you potential disappointment.
Mock Accents or Local Traditions
From the Southern drawl to the Bostonian accent, the U.S. is a linguistic treasure trove. Similarly, local festivals, customs, and traditions vary widely. Embrace and enjoy these differences, but avoid poking fun or mimicking them, as it can come off as insincere or even offensive.
Avoid Public Transportation
Though the U.S. does have a strong car-centric culture, cities like San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Chicago have robust public transportation networks. Not only are they often more economical, but they also provide an authentic experience of daily life in American cities.
Think Only in Stereotypes
It’s easy to fall back on stereotypical notions of Americans, many of which are perpetuated by movies or popular media. However, the real U.S. is a mosaic of cultures, beliefs, and lifestyles. Approach each interaction with an open mind and avoid painting everyone with the same brush.
From high-end boutiques in Beverly Hills to quirky thrift stores in Portland, shopping in the U.S. caters to every taste and budget. Instead of cramming your suitcase full before you leave, consider packing lighter. This leaves ample space for the eclectic and unique items you might discover during your American adventure.