U.S. Culture

U.S. Cultures & Customs

American culture, customs and traditions reflect the diversity of the United States. Immigrants from African, Asia, Europe, Oceania and South and North America brought many indigenous traditions with them to America.  America is so much richer because these immigrants were willingly to share indigenous traditions. Every aspect of American life has been influenced in some way by the global community we live in.   The food we eat, the music we hear and sing, the thoughts we think, the languages we speak, and the art we see are all interrelated into a harmonious blend of cultures and traditions.

America has accepted, modified and absorbed “bits and pieces” of other cultures and has added them to our repertoire of life. American culture is constantly evolving, hopefully improving with each new ingredient that is added to the mix.  Just think in terms of food, how America has integrated culinary delights into our menus: Japanese Sushi, Mexican Tacos, Italian Ravioli, Jamaican patties, and Korean Kimchi are just some examples of world’s cuisine that we enjoy.

Every country has a different set of values, norms and etiquette. It is extremely impossible to understand every nuisance, meaning of words and non-verbal language that is transmitted when we communicate. Adjustment to life in a new culture is very difficult, especially if you do not know what the expectations are.  Orientation to the American way of life is an on-going process.

The International Center staff is keenly aware that a two hour cultural presentation at the beginning of a semester is not sufficient enough for our international visitors to absorb the “ins and outs” of American culture. With this in mind, the lessons of the week were developed to provide our international visitors weekly doses of American Culture. The spectrum of topics covers a wide range of topics from dating Americans to non-verbal communications to tipping to death.

You will find an archival listing of topics arranged alphabetically below on the “Lesson of the Week Archives” tab

Cultural Adjustment & Cultural Shock

Adjusting to a new environment is a very challenging experience for anymore trying to understand the new world they are living in. The new language, food, friendships, education system, classroom expectations, etiquette and general living arrangements all contribute to a period of frustration and a firm denial that problems exists.

This cultural adjustment to a new life style plays a critical role in your success. There will be days when it seems nothing is going right and there will be days when nothing can go wrong for you. Living in a new culture is an educational experience as you try to weather storms that pass you along the way.

Our responsibility in the International Center is to make sure that you accomplish your educational goals and to provide you opportunities to maintain a balance approach to life in America. The International Center has a dedicated staff that is willing and able to facilitate your transition to live in America. The University of Connecticut has other helpful offices that can assist you with any adjustment issues that you are encounter.

If you feel you are experiencing any transition difficulties, please contact the International Center immediately. We are here to help you succeed.

Living & Working with Americans

To help you gain a better understanding of the American way of life, we have prepared a list of some of the general characteristics of U.S. American social relations. Please remember these are generalizations and will vary from person to person.

GIFT GIVING – Americans usually only give gifts on special occasions such as Christmas, birthdays, or anniversaries. Gift giving should not be thought of as a bribe (seeking special favors) or as requiring a gift in return.

EQUALITY – Americans work better when they are in an atmosphere in which all are considered equal. While equality includes the equal right to seek the “good life,” it does not guarantee equality of talent or ability.

CONFRONTATION – Discussing issues or ideas openly with other individuals is considered not only proper, but often a responsibility as well. Americans, particularly in a business situation, do not spend the time on polite social talk that many other nationalities do. You may be surprised to find the briefest of introductions is immediately followed by getting right to the point.

INFORMALITY AND FORMALITY – In most cases American avoid elaborate social rituals. If, however, the interaction has other than just social importance (e.g., job possibility, admission interview), then actions frequently become somewhat more formal. Most of the time, however, Americans tend to treat everyone similarly with little concern given to titles or status.

COMPETITION – The high value placed on achievement and equality leads Americans to compete with each other, and you’ll find both friendly and not so friendly competition everywhere. The American style of friendly joking, getting the last word in, and the quick reply are subtle forms of competition in America. Although such behavior is natural for Americans, it may appear quite overbearing to others.

TIME AND APPOINTMENTS – the saying that “time is money” perhaps best expresses the American concept of time; it exemplifies the work ethic. Generally Americans, like people in more industrial nations, are highly conscious of the value of time and use it quite efficiently. The American attitude toward appointments is indicative of this philosophy. Since most of their daily activities are well planned, it is customary to make advance appointments for any visits to business or professional offices or to meet with most faculty or university administrators. Once you have made an appointment, punctuality is essential. If you fail to keep an appointment or are late for it, it is extremely important for you to call and give an appropriate explanation. In addition, if you know you are going to be late, it is a good idea to call and inform the person you are meeting with that you are going to be delayed. If you are late, and have not called ahead, you may find the person you are meeting with to be abrupt and even unpleasant. Some faculty, administrators, and doctors will cancel an appointment if you fail to be on time, and dentists have been known to charge a patient for a missed appointment. Finally, since public lecture begin on time, it is good to be punctual for these events as well.

COOPERATION – Americans, although competitive, also engage in cooperative behavior. Though a large part of cooperation stems from liking and wishing to help others, it may also be a way of obtaining a goal. The idea behind this is to help the entire group accomplish its task. While this may appear opportunistic, the goal is to get things done and learn in the process so that in the future the individual may achieve on his or her own.

INVITATIONS – Americans believe that invitations should be answered as soon as possible. Whenever an invitation is extended to you, formally through a note or informally by telephone or text, you will be expected to respond quickly and candidly. When accepting an invitation, make sure you have the correct time and place. It is also wise to have the host family’s phone number in order to call and notify them in the event you must change your plans or are delayed by some unforeseen circumstances. While appointment times for social affairs are more flexible than business appointments, you should try to arrive as close to the scheduled time as possible, particularly if you are invited to dinner. Nothing annoys a host or hostess more than having food all ready to serve and finding that some of the guests have not yet arrived.

It is normal to thank a person or family for this hospitality by a telephone call or by mailing them a brief note after the visit. If you are invited to stay in an American home for a few days, giving a small gift to your host or hostess is greatly appreciated. An inexpensive gift from your own country is particularly nice. An expensive gift is not necessary and often tends to embarrass your hosts.

Under normal circumstances, a person who extends an invitation to you and takes you to a restaurant or theater takes care of the charges (bill) including the tip. You may wish to offer to pay but don’t expect your offer to be accepted. However, since students are often short of money, an invitation may merely mean “we’d enjoy it if you joined us.” If you are not sure, just ask. By the way, the term “Dutch Threat” or “Dutch” means that each person pays his or her own way.

TECHNOLOGY – The use of social media, cell phones and other various technologies, such as video games, are popular in the United States. Websites, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, can all be useful networking tools in the U.S. or can create harmful situations and create bad personal images. It is important to be mindful of what is being posted on social networking sites. Employers, university staff and even family members, could see certain pictures and information that you would not otherwise like those people to see. Many Americans get sucked into the different types of technology, but it is important to establish actual friendships, past the ones made by clicking a button on Facebook. Monitor your various profiles and use the recommended privacy settings. Above all, post responsibly.

CONVERSATION – For most Americans silence is discomforting. Small talk or superficial conversations are usually preferable to quiet. It is, therefore, common to hear people casually talking about the weather, sports, parties, food, clothing, tests, etc.

While talking, Americans are often made uncomfortable by extreme physical closeness. Eighteen inches is the minimum closeness they will usually tolerate, so don’t stand very close to people when you are talking with them. Informal physical contact during conversation is also not encouraged by most Americans.