Social Customs In The Us
Traditions and habits
All countries have their social customs and peculiarities, and the US is no exception. Good manners, politeness and consideration for others are considered important by most people. Americans are generally informal in their relationships and won’t be too upset if you break the social rules, provided your behaviour isn’t outrageous.
As aforeigner you may be forgiven if you accidentally insult your host (although you may not be invited again). On the other hand, you may consider normal American behaviour occasionally shocking. Here are a few American customs you may like to familiarise yourself with:
* Americans often greet total strangers, particularly in small towns and communities. This may vary from a formal ‘good morning’ to amore casual ‘Hi!’; it’s considered polite to respond likewise. On parting, it’s customary to say ‘Have a nice day’ (don’t, however, say it to the bereaved at a funeral), although this habit is reportedly dying out as Americans become weary of ritual insincerity. Americans often reply ‘You’re Welcome’ or something similar when somebody thanks them, and they may think you’re impolite if you don’t dolikewise. If someone asks ‘How are you?’, it’s usual to reply ‘Fine thanks’ (even if you feel dreadful).
* When introduced to someone, it’s common to follow the cue of the person performing the introduction, e.g. if someone is introduced as George, you can usually call him George (although it might not be such a good idea if his last name is Bush and he happens to be the President, when Mr.President would be more appropriate). Americans generally dislike formality or any sort of social deference due to age or position, and most quickly say ‘Please call me Rick (or Rita)’. To Americans, informality shows no lack of respect. Because of the rise of women’s liberation in America, women may be introduced with the title ‘Ms’ (pronounced ‘mizz’) and some women object to being addressed as‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’. In some social circles, women are introduced after their husbands, e.g. Mrs Chuck Whizzkid, in which case you shouldn’t address her as Chuck! Some American women retain their maiden (family) names after marriage. Many American first names can be confusing and it’s often difficult to know whether a name refers to a man or a woman.
* After you’ve been introduced to someone, youusually say something like, ‘Pleased to meet you’ or ‘My pleasure’ and shake hands with a firm grip (although more common among men). When saying goodbye, it isn’t customary to shake hands again, although some people do. Among friends, it’s common for men to kiss ladies on one or both cheeks. Men don’t usually kiss or embrace each other, although this depends on their nationality or ethnic origin (orsexual proclivity).
* Americans don’t have status or inherited titles (e.g. Sir or Lord) but do defer to people with a professional title which has been earned. These include foreign diplomats (e.g. Sir), members of the Senate (Senator) or Congress (Congressman/Congresswoman), judges, medical doctors and others with a doctorate, military officers (e.g. General, Colonel), professors, priestsand other religious ministers (e.g. Father, Rabbi, Reverend).
* If you’re invited to dinner, it’s customary to take along a small present, e.g. flowers, a plant, chocolates or a bottle of wine (but nothing extravagant or ostentatious). Flowers can be tricky, as to some people carnations mean bad luck, chrysanthemums are for cemeteries and roses signify love. Maybe you should stick to plastic,silk or dried flowers (or a nice bunch of weeds). Wine can also be a problem, particularly if you bring a bottle of Italian plonk and your hosts are wine connoisseurs or members of a religious group that considers alcohol consumption a sin. If you stay with someone as a guest for a few days, it’s customary to give your host or hostess a small gift when you leave.
* A wedding or baby ‘shower’...
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