Basic Characteristics of Americans and American Culture

Because of the widespread and profound influence of American politics and media around the globe many of us native to the United States may think our western ideals and basic cultural norms are understood around the world.  And especially for a person who has never been immersed in another culture it can be hard to understand how varied even simple, everyday interactions can differ from region to region whether they be American or any other nationality. The University of Michigan has composed a list of some of the basic characteristics of American culture in hopes to broaden Americans understanding of their own culture as well as give people of other cultures the opportunity to better understand when and how to react when immersed in the United States and its people.  Here are some of the basic characteristics for understanding Americans and American culture the University of Michigan finds the most essential:

  1. Americans come in all colors, have all types of religions, and speak many languages from all over the world
  2. Americans believe in freedom of choice
  3. Americans need a lot of “elbow room”;  they like personal space around them
  4. Americans and their police follow the law
  5. Littering (throwing garbage on the street), graffiti (writing on walls), and loitering (standing around and doing nothing in public spaces) are against the law and punishable by a fine or jail.
  6. Discriminating against or making any insulting statement about someone else’s religion or ethnicity is against the law and could be punishable, known as a hate crime
  7. Americans are extremely informal and call most people by their first name or nickname
  8. Asking “How are you?” is a simple greeting and is not a question about your health
  9. Americans smile a lot and talk easily to strangers, sometimes sharing personal stories
  10. Americans don’t push or stand too close to anyone in line. They always wait their turn.
  11. When the service is good at a restaurant, tipping is expected to be 15-20% of the total bill
  12. It is polite to eat with one hand while the other is under the table in their lap
  13. When you meet Americans, be sure to look them in the eye, smile, and shake hands
  14. Americans make small talk at the beginning of conversations and will probably ask you “what do you do?” which means what is your job?
  15. Americans open presents and cards in front of people
  16. It is considered rude to ask direct questions about a person’s religion, age, money, salary, weight or clothing size
  17. Men should not make “sexist” remarks to or about women- anything that would suggest women are unequal to men
  18. Americans are extremely punctual, always on time and never late
  19. Some Americans hug a lot. It is okay for women and men to hug even if they aren’t close friends
  20. It is normal for American women to have male friends who are just friends (and vice versa)
  21. American men try to share equally with their wives in parenting and housework
  22. Americans love pets and having a dog or cat in the household is common
  23. Many elderly Americans live in retirement homes rather than with their children or family
  24. Domestic violence is against the law and it is illegal to hit anyone: spouse, child, parent or even a pet
  25. Students are expected to ask questions
  26. Do your own work. Copying from a friend, book, or the internet is called plagiarism and can cause expulsion from school
  27. Americans look for bargains and often by used items
  28. Americans are very careful about not bothering anyone else with their body odor or bad breath and typically take a shower once a day

So what do you think? Are there any basic American cultural norms we missed? What surprised you the most on this list? We want to know!

To view the complete list click here!

By Global Immersions, Inc.

Global Immersions, Inc. specializes in Boston Homestay living for individuals and customized Group Homestay Programs. Global Immersions, Inc. distinguishes itself in the industry with its commitment to building cultural awareness and fostering global understanding. We are dedicated to the advancement of living and learning opportunities that provide an in-depth understanding of U.S. culture. 

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