Every country has its customs and peculiarities. Many social customs are unique to each country and America is no exception. Politeness, good manners and being considerate are very important to them. Americans are a very informal people and very forgiving if you inadvertently break social rules – unless someone behaves very outrageously. People in the South are known to be especially cordial and friendly – in states like Alabama.
As a foreigner, you are forgiven many social gaffes and on the rare occasion may not get invited back. Here are some customs to get familiar with before you move to the US.
Americans always greet every one when they meet to acknowledge their presence. It could be “Good Morning” or “Hi” and it is polite to respond in a similar fashion. Out of politeness when you are asked “How are you?” people generally reply “Fine thanks”. Watch people and follow their lead in social situations.
People generally call each other by their first name, except if the person happens to be very senior or the President of the company or country. People don’t consider this a lack of respect. Older people are called Ms. Annette or Mr. Blake by children.
Family takes precedence and in the South most families live close to each other so everyone is familiar with cousins, aunts and uncles and grandparents.
If you are invited to dinner, it is a good idea to take a present like flowers or wine – nothing too showy. Make sure to check with the florist which flowers are appropriate for the occasion as this can get a bit tricky. If you are staying at someone’s house, it is a nice idea to give your host a small parting gift.
Americans are generally relaxed and casual about what they wear but it varies across the country. In the northern states, people are more conservative and formal in their clothes. In the East, people dress more casually – but in restaurants and a few other locations, formality is demanded. In the South and West people dress quite casually and only in the most upscale restaurants is formal attire a must.
Always check invitations for dress code to make sure that you are dressed appropriately for the occasion. It is always a good idea to check with the organizer about what to wear. Weddings and funerals require formal attire and black is the color for funerals.
Guests are expected to arrive on time and if you have a formal invitation, it is always expected that you respond to the “rsvp” to let them know your participation or lack thereof.
Some families say grace before dinner and it is good to follow their lead. As far as cutlery is concerned, watch your neighbor and copy them. The rule generally is to start from the outside and work your way in with forks and knives.
Don’t overstay your invitation. Keep in mind that people may have other things to take care of the next day and also go to work, so leave at a reasonable time.