Fitting In With American Culture:
Your guide to the American perspective
- E Pluribus Unum. This is one of the mottos of the United States of America, and it means, "From many, one."
- Founded on July 4, 1776 by the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the saying represents the unification of the 13 colonies into one nation.
- The "Founding Fathers" set forth an idealistic agenda, that all men are created equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is still the standard by which we judge ourselves.
- In 1787, the U.S. Constitution was drafted, which established our system of government. This document consists of a preamble and 7 articles, and is still the basis for our government.
- The first 10 amendments, also known as the Bill of Rights, were ratified in 1791. These 10 amendments give Americans the individual rights and freedoms that are the very foundation of American society.
- More amendments were added over time and today there are 27 amendments.
Freedom Equality Democracy Pluralism Capitalism Individuality
- Americans are accustomed to having many choices.
- Competition is common and generally accepted to be a positive thing. Those in competition with each other are often colleagues and even friends, and the competition does not hinder the personal relationship.
- Americans value their personal space and privacy.
- Many relationships are casual or informal. Even in academic and business settings, it is customary for everyone to address each other by their first names.
- It is acceptable to disagree with others, even those who are in a position of authority.
- People are judged more by what they produce.
- Social, professional, and religious organizations are common.
- Americans believe strongly in Individual responsibility. Each person needs to take care of themselves.
- People are very direct in conversations. It is expected that someone will get right to the point and state their ideas clearly.
- In the U.S., a standard greeting is a smile, often complimented by a nod, wave, or verbal greeting. A nod "yes" consists of shaking your head vertically in agreement.
- A handshake is very common in business and social settings for both men and women. Families and very close friends will often embrace briefly, which is called a hug.
- A common greeting is, "How are you?" This not an inquiry about your health. This greeting is referring to your general well-being. "Fine, thanks," is a common response. Maintaining eye contact is important in greetings and during a conversation.
- In casual situations, a smile and verbal greeting are appropriate.
- The use of first names may be encouraged, even at executive levels. To show respect, use a title (Dr., Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss) and their last name until you are told to do otherwise. If you are not told a last name, use the first name or nickname.
- Be sure your U.S. acquaintances know what you wish to be called. It is not rude to help someone pronounce your name; it is very much appreciated.
- Being on time (punctual) is very important in the U.S. You are expected to arrive promptly at meetings. If you are going to be late, you should call the person with whom you will be meeting to inform them.
- Appointments are most often made via phone or email.
- Scheduling of appointments is expected. It is advisable to arrive at least a 30 minutes prior to the close of the business day if you do not have an appointment in order to assure you can be helped.
- Business is done quickly in the US.
- Intruding into someone's office or work space is considered rude. Be sure to check in at a front desk or knock before entering someone's office.
- Men and women are considered equals and should be treated as such. Personal equality is guaranteed by law. Whether a colleague is a man or woman is not taken into consideration in business matters.
- Meetings often begin with introductions and a brief exchange of "small talk" before getting to the purpose of the meeting.
- Americans see "begging" or "pleading" as a sign of weakness, or a demonstration of lack of trust.
- The use of cell phones is very common in all aspects of life. You should excuse yourself if you need to take a call during a meeting.
- Business cards are often exchanged.
- Business is fast-paced and things change quickly. Individuals are expected to keep up with the pace and any changes.
- Direct eye contact is expected. Avoiding eye contact is often interpreted as disinterest or insincerity.
- Personal space is highly valued. In a conversation, the standard distance between you and another person should be about two feet.
- When sitting, U.S citizens may appear relaxed. They may sit with the ankle of one leg on their knee or prop their feet up on chairs or desks. Please do not take this as a form of disrespect.
- A backslap is a sign of friendship.
- To point, you can use the index finger, although is it not polite to point directly at a person.
- Waving is very common, both to greet someone and to say good-bye.
- Conservative business attire is appropriate, although some offices use a less formal standard of dress that is know as, "business casual" attire.
- Clothing is less formal and relaxed in non-business settings. Jeans, short pants and shirts without sleeves are acceptable in most social settings.
- Common topics of conversation are a person's job, travel, foods, exercise, sports, music, movies, and books.
- Avoid discussing politics, religion or finances. These are sensitive subjects, and people often disagree, which could lead to tension. It is even considered rude to discuss these topics with people you don't know very well.
- When dining out at a "sit-down" restaurant, you are expected to "tip" your server, or pay a gratuity. This means that you provide your server with extra money, typically 15% of your total bill, or 20% if you had a large group (more than 6 people).
Communication is extremely important. We enjoy learning about your culture, as much as we hope you are enjoying learning about American culture. Please feel comfortable sharing your culture with us. In today's global workplace, flexibility and understanding by ALL is vital!
A. Alfred Taubman Student Services Center, C405