American Classroom Culture and Social Life
The United States is a very large country, and Americans come from many cultural backgrounds. International students will especially see this diversity in large metropolitan areas. While in the United States, students will probably meet people from many different places, of many different races and ethnicities, and with many different religions and belief systems. However, here are some basic cultural traits shared by most Americans:
Due to the friendly nature of most Americans, they are quick to use first names. Although this may make those who are accustomed to a more formal social environment somewhat uncomfortable, it is the norm for American culture.
Punctuality is highly valued in the U.S. and is considered a sign of respect toward the person whom you are to meet. Students are expected to be on time for class and appointments with instructors. Your grade may be affected if you are late multiple times. Punctuality for private parties and casual events is more flexible; however, always inform the host of a dinner or formal occasion if you will be late or must cancel.
Many instructors and administrators welcome personal interactions with individual students. Students are encouraged to ask questions and express their opinions in the classroom. Observe the American students' actions to identify what is acceptable behavior.
Politeness and patience will serve you well in the United States. This includes remembering to say "please" and "thank you". This common form of respect is not reserved for those in a position of authority, but for each and every person that you meet in a store, on the street, in class, or in an office. If you need a favor or have a simple request, saying "please" will be much more effective than if you are simply demanding. Provided that you are kind, the person with whom you are speaking will likely return your kindness.
Americans prefer to maintain about 18 inches (46cm) of space between themselves and the person with whom they are speaking. This personal space is very important and, if limited, the individual may become uncomfortable.
Typically, Americans do not hug or kiss an acquaintance upon greeting, but rather shake hands or nod their heads. They also do not touch while speaking, although a brief touch on the arm or shoulder might indicate sympathy or concern to someone they know well. Once a friendship has developed, women may greet each other with a hug or embrace.
Privacy and personal possessions are important to Americans. People work hard to have a car, house, clothes, and other belongings. Be sure to ask how someone feels about sharing his or her space and belongings.
The English Language can be difficult to learn. One area of the English language that can be especially difficult for non-native speakers is the use of idioms. Idioms are a group of words that have a figurative meaning that is separate from the literal meaning. For a list of commonly used idioms in the English language, click here.
For useful information about social customs, practices, and etiquette in the United States, you can visit edupass.org. This website is designed for visitors from abroad who are new to American society.