Life in the U.S.

This information is meant to provide some, but not all generalities about people in the U.S.

Many people in the U.S. have a number of friends with whom they share something in common. A U.S. student might consider you a friend, but he or she might only invite you to do something once or twice a semester. This is not because he or she doesn’t like you. It simply means that life in the U.S. is very busy and U.S. students tend to have many commitments (work, community activities, and family) in addition to their studies.

Americans generally prefer to avoid elaborate social rituals. If the meeting involves more than just socializing, it may be somewhat formal (like a job interview), but Americans generally like to treat everyone similarly with little concern for title or status. That is why people with “important” positions may invite you to call them by their first name. Americans prefer an atmosphere, in which all are considered equal.

Greetings – How are you?
This is a common greeting in the U.S., but very often the person who asks the question “how are you?” does not wait for a response. Some international students think this is very rude, but it is not intended to be. It is not customary for the person asking this question to wait for a long answer. It is customary to reply, “fine” or “okay.” You might also reciprocate the question. He or she will most likely answer with the same brief response.

People in the U.S. have “sensitive” noses that do not like the smell of the human body. There are entire stores devoted to selling sweet-smelling soaps, deodorants, and lotions. Most people shower at least once a day, and tend to change/wash clothes a lot. You may notice that most students will not wear the same shirt for more than one day at a time – even if it is still clean!

Time and Appointments
The American lifestyle can be very rushed because Americans value their time and try to use it efficiently. They often schedule their days in advance and plan appointments when they need to take some “time” from another person. Since time is valuable, Americans are normally very punctual for appointments. To avoid misusing the valuable time of another person, Americans demonstrate respect for the other individuals by calling to inform them if they will be late or must cancel an appointment. There is a well-known statement that time is money, which is often associated with Americans’ perception of the value of the time.

Although Americans are informal, they generally are conscious of time. Appointments are expected to begin promptly. Guests invited to a home for dinner should arrive on time because the meal is often served first. Hospitality takes many forms: a formal dinner served on fine dishes, an outdoor barbecue with paper plates, or a leisurely visit with no refreshments. Hosts generally want guests to feel at ease, sit where they like, and enjoy themselves. It is not unusual for either guests or hosts to agree on a reasonable limit of time for the visit if schedules are pressing. Guests are not expected to bring gifts, but a small token such as wine or flowers might be appreciated. Hosts inviting close friends to dinner may ask them to bring a food item to be served with the meal. Americans enjoy socializing; they gather in small and large groups for nearly any occasion, and they enjoy talking, watching television or a movie, eating, and relaxing together. (Taken from

Americans typically keep at least 1 ½ to 2 feet of distance between themselves and others when they are talking. They may stand closer when speaking to family members or intimate friends. Personal space is important, as is minimizing physical contact with others. As friendly gestures, though, they may pat others on the upper back or shoulder, or they might briefly touch another person’s arm. Only close friends may hug or embrace.

Eating styles and habits vary among people of different backgrounds, but Americans generally eat with a fork in the hand with which they write. They use a knife for cutting and spreading, setting it down as they begin to eat. When a knife is used for cutting, the fork is switched to the other hand. People eat foods such as french fries, fried chicken, hamburgers, pizza, and tacos with the hands. They generally place napkins in the lap. Resting elbows on the table is often considered impolite. After-dinner refreshments such as dessert or coffee are frequently served away from the dining table. Guests are expected to stay a while after the meal to visit with the hosts. In restaurants, the bill usually does not include a service charge; leaving a tip of 15 percent is customary. (Taken from


There are a number of circumstances when tipping/gratuity/voluntary extra payment is expected.  Many service personnel depend on tips for the majority of their income.  For example:
Waitresses or waiters in restaurants (15% of the bill)
Hairdressers or barbers (10-15% of the bill)
Taxi drivers (15% of the fair)
Bellhops in hotels ($1 per piece of luggage min)
Porters in airports ($1 per piece of luggage min)  
Never tip public officials, including police officers. 

Arabic Culture Video on Tipping