Local Etiquette In America

Local Etiquette In America
America’s devotion to freedom is both its greatest asset and occasionally a sore spot with visitors from other cultures. On the plus side, it’s hard to say or do anything in particular that will offend an American. But it’s this very brash openness of speech and action that can often offend people who aren’t used to American freedom of speech.

Nevertheless, it’s easier for new arrivals to integrate into American society because most of their foreign habits will be tolerated, if not actually respected. From religion to sexual preference, the United States generally has an open attitude towards every lifestyle.

Of course, it helps to keep in mind that America is overwhelmingly a conservative Christian society. It’s easy to find pockets of deep liberalism in places like San Francisco and Aspen, but overall this is a country that believes in the Christian God and frowns upon things like homosexuality and abortions.

A few common pieces of etiquette will help smooth the way as you feel your way into American society. Whenever greeting someone for the first time, it’s common protocol to shake their hand. This is true for both genders, as well as when a woman meets a man. A firm handshake is a sign of strength and confidence, so try and put some exertion into it. A kiss on the cheek or a hug is reserved for family and close friends.

It is impolite to release bodily functions in public such as burping, passing gas or coughing without covering your mouth. Spitting in public or slurping bowls of soup in a restaurant is considered bad form. Smoking is also a major issue in American society these days, so be sure and smoke away from other people unless you want glares.

In general, Americans are tolerant of each other’s habits, so avoid criticising. Don’t offer advise on baby care or suggest that someone’s appearance is bad. Basically, keep your comments to yourself. It’s common to ask about someone’s employment when you first meet, but stay away from the topic of salary and other money-related questions.

Americans are also sensitive about their personal space. An arm’s length is considered the right amount of space to keep between yourself and another person during a conversation. If you need to excuse yourself, a simple “Excuse me” or “I’m sorry” will suffice. When speaking to someone of authority or seniority it’s wise to address them as Mr. or Ms., and answer them with some deference.