Moving to another country is a BIG change, especially when that change is from East to West or vice versa. With culture and customs being so different, preparation for the new culture is highly recommended.
I, however, didn’t follow the recommendation when I came to the U.S. from Brazil; I thought I’d do well since the U.S. and Brazil are on the same side of the world and American culture is somewhat copied in Brazil. Turns out I overestimated myself! I was confused and made lots of mistakes along the way, including talking and relating to Americans. 🙉🙈🙊
I now sympathize with international students who are making this same transition to the U.S., and I’d like to give you some tips and be by your side to guide you on this journey! Viviane Kirezi (IFI National Training Assistant), some other IFI staff, and I have written a considerable amount of material with tips for people of different cultures coming to America.
This is the launch of our THRIVING IN THE U.S.A. series, where we’ll have articles with specific tips for students coming to America from African, Chinese, Indian, Latin American, and Middle Eastern backgrounds.
Today, we’re starting off with some basic information about American culture 🇺🇲
The Basics 🤓
- Independence: July 4th, 1776
- First president: George Washington, 1789
- Current president: Joe Biden, 2021
- Population 2022: 332.4 million
- Number of states: 50
General Characteristics of American Culture 😎
🌍 Diversity: The U.S. is often called a “melting pot” because its people come from different backgrounds and cultures, and there are a variety of beliefs, values, and traditions.
🔍 Political correctness: Since the U.S. is so diverse, there’s a goal of always respecting other cultures and people’s differences, especially when communicating and expressing your ideas.
🗽 Freedom: Americans desire the right for all individuals to control their own destiny without outside interference from the government, a ruling noble class, the church, or any other organized authority.
💫 The American dream: This is rooted in the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims that “all men are created equal with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Americans generally believe they can do anything to achieve their dreams if they work hard enough.
🕊️ Independence: The idea of being self-sufficient is valued highly in the U.S.; Americans value their privacy and tend to be more individualistic. Learn more about this in our cross-cultural series here.
🚫 Personal space: Americans value their personal space, both in terms of physical boundaries and personal belongings; they tend to require more personal space than other cultures. Learn more about this in our cross-cultural series here.
🤝 Greetings: Because Americans value personal space, greetings are generally quite formal. Handshakes are usually brief and professional titles are often used in introductions.
👔 Dress code: Americans are generally casual about how they dress. Be prepared for informality in class and some workplaces, while also realizing there are certain events and situations that are expected to be more formal.
🗣️ Small talk: Lots of Americans participate in “small talk”, where you make conversation with strangers or acquaintances about non-substantive topics, like the weather or sports.
🎯 Directness: Americans tend to be very direct when communicating. They’re known for speaking up and wanting to know what people mean; they can also be more assertive than most international visitors. Learn more about this in our cross-cultural series here.
⏰ Attention to time: Americans are task-oriented and they tend to dislike the idea of wasting time. This makes them prioritize punctuality. Learn more about this in our cross-cultural series here.
🚗 “To-go” concept: Most Americans are on the go. Out of their busyness, they eat out for time and convenience, often ordering takeout or going through drive-thrus. Mobile ordering and store pickups are popular, too.
💰 Tipping: Extra payment for some services is expected; it’s a way of helping workers to supplement their wages.
🏀 Sports: Many Americans love and follow sports, the most popular being American football, baseball, and basketball.
🏆 Competition: Like many other cultures, Americans thrive on competition.
🐘 Think Big: Houses, cars, products, and even portions at restaurants are generally larger in the U.S. than in other countries.
I have some funny stories that display cultural differences…
😅 I once made a friend very uncomfortable because I hugged him; he didn’t know what to do! In Brazil, we usually hug and kiss people on the cheek. I understood the need to respect his personal space and moderate my Brazilian greetings!
😅 Another time, an American friend spoke very directly to me; she was frank about a certain situation in my life and I was shocked by her attitude. In my culture, we tend to be careful with our words so as to not hurt people; on the other hand, Americans are straightforward in their communication. I came to realize her distinct form of expression and understood she didn’t mean harm when sharing her thoughts with me.
I hope these initial tips help you in your transition to the States in some shape or form and give you familiarity with American culture; however, keep in mind that these are generalizations and can be dependent on each individual!
Stay tuned for more tips in upcoming posts and we’ll see you later, friends! 🤗🧡