American Culture

Etiquette

Basic Etiquette
  • It is often considered impolite to ask a direct question about someone’s salary, wealth, weight or age.
  • People do not generally wait to be introduced and will begin speaking with strangers as they stand in a queue or sit next to each other at an event. Non-Americans can interpret this informality as too direct or even rude, but it’s simply the level of friendliness that they’re comfortable with.
  • If someone coughs while you are smoking, it is an indication that you should extinguish the cigarette.
  • It is impolite to pick your teeth without using a toothpick in public.
  • It is acceptable to be a ‘fussy eater’ in America and refuse some foods without explanation.
  • Americans place a big importance on time, often saying, “time is money” to be spent and saved like a commodity. Thus, punctuality is particularly important to them. Delay is not easily tolerated in a country where everything is tailored to convenience as much as possible.

Tipping
  • Hospitality wages in America are much lower than those in Australia, so waiters, waitresses and service attendants depend on tips to make their living. Accordingly, restaurants that offer table service do not include the service charge in the cost of the bill.
  • Americans usually tip 15-20% of the cost of the meal as a general standard. Less or more can be tipped depending on the quality of the service; if it was so awful that you would never eat there again, you may leave a tip of 2 cents. Doing so shows that you did not forget to tip and were bitterly unimpressed.
  • Taxi drivers, hairdressers and barbers also expect similar tip percentages.
  • Bell hops or valet parkers only expect about $1 as a tip.

Gifts
  • Gifts are usually only given on special occasions and are almost always accompanied by a card.
  • People tend to open gifts in front of the giver, either upon receiving them or later along with other presents.
  • For occasions that require a gift (e.g. birthday, wedding, baby shower), a modest value of about $25 is acceptable unless you know the recipient very well.
  • Gifts that are given as a personal gesture outside of special occasions are often grander or more heartfelt. For example, to reflect deep gratitude for a favour someone has done for you, you may give them sports tickets or take them to an expensive restaurant.
  • Token gifts may be given when visiting a house (e.g. wine, chocolate).

Visiting
  • Arrange a visit before going to an American’s house. Do not arrive unannounced or bring friends and family with you unless you’ve asked them beforehand.
  • Call ahead if you will be arriving more than 10 minutes late to a small gathering of people. 
  • People are generally expected to arrive to large parties 30 minutes to an hour late, especially if they don't know the host well. It can be considered socially awkward to arrive on-time to a large party where many people do not know each other.
  • Being late is more acceptable to parties and large social gatherings.
  • Avoid overstaying your welcome by remaining at an American’s home longer than expected unless they urge you to stay.
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