Customs and Culture in the U.S.

As you know, the United States is considered by many to be the biggest “melting pot” in the world; that is, we are made up of people from every nation, with countless customs, cultural differences and languages. Your U.S. cultural experience will differ significantly depending upon where you spend your time; the people living in the hills of Kentucky are much different than the people living in Los Angeles, California. And the people in Los Angeles are often very different than the people living in Miami, Florida, etc.

Therefore, it is somewhat difficult to make a list of common American traits, but what follows are some generally accepted characteristics that you will encounter in many Americans that may different than what you have previously experienced.

Directness
In a discussion or social encounter, Americans tend to get to the point directly without beginning a conversation with polite social talk. Americans may also talk about topics which may be offensive or embarrassing to you.
Doing rather then being
Americans consider activity a good thing, and they use expressions like “keeping busy” and, “getting things done.” Rather than simply getting together with friends to spend time together, Americans frequently will plan an activity and will tend not to get together without some focus to the time spent with friends.
Friendliness and Openness
Americans often smile, talk and joke easily. But this does not necessary imply a commitment to long-term friendship. Americans often have many friendships on a casual occasional basis but only a very few key, meaningful relationship that would last throughout life. Do not mistake casual friendliness for intimate friendships, which are developed over a period of time. As you participate in residence hall, social, sport activities you will begin to recognize the somewhat differing expectations of friendship in another culture. Put forth effort to make friends. Be flexible and don’t let some disappointment discourage you.
Greetings
In a business setting, men and women normally meet by shaking hands and greeting one another verbally. At more informal settings, men and women often simply acknowledge one another with a nod and/or verbal greeting. When friends have been separated for a while (i.e. over vacation times) it is common to greet one another with a hug.
Hygiene
Mouth and body odors are considered unpleasant in the U.S. Therefore, Americans generally bathe at least once a day and use deodorant. Teeth are brushed at least twice daily and chewing gum or breath mints are often used between brushings. Mouth washes may also be used, especially following a meal with strong smelling spices and/or vegetables.
Individualism
In American culture, there is a great emphasis on the individual, who for the most part is responsible for making the decisions which affect his/her own life. This is in contrast to some cultures in which decisions are often made by a family, clan, group or someone in authority.
Informality
Americans students tend to be casual and informal. The use of first names is normal with acquaintances your own age and younger. Those older or with status should be addresses as Professor, Doctor, Mr., Ms., and last name until they indicate that using their first name is appropriate, or you observe first names are being used by others. Most professors at EMU want students to call them by their first name.
Punctuality
Americans are usually very time-conscious, treating time as a material thing that should be used to the best advantage. Therefore, when a specific time is set for meetings, classes, dinners, and other appointments, you are expected to arrive at the time. Anyone who arrives after the time is considered late. If you know that you will not be able to arrive at the expected time, it is a courtesy to call in advance. If you are late for class, you should give an explanation after the class.
Male/Female Relationships
In the U.S., young unmarried people associate with members of the opposite sex more freely and casually than they do in many other countries. In general, young Americans are encouraged to spend time with members of the opposite sex, either with a group of friends or just as a couple. Plans for getting together can be made several days in advance or agreed upon spontaneously. The relationship between the two people might be a casual acquaintance, a brother-sister type of friendship, and acquaintance with romantic overtones, or a passionate involvement. Whether or not a relationship between a particular male or female will include sexual activity depends upon their own feelings about each other and their own values about the propriety of sexual activity outside of marriage. Because relationships can be so varied, it is easy for misunderstandings to happen. It is important for you to be able to talk with your friends, so each of you understands what the other person expects out of the relationship.