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Guide to Cultural Traits for Expats in the United States Of America

Submitted: September 2013

The United States of America is a vast country with over 300 million inhabitants. There are many customs and traditions that are particular to a certain area or state and not at all considered in any other part of the country. This article describes some of the cultural traits that can be observed across the country.

It can be said that generally, Americans are friendly and welcoming. They are regarded as open, polite and with a strong sense of self. From an early age, American children are encouraged to make their own decisions and form opinions about all aspects of life. Individualism is a strong trait found in the American population throughout the country. America is regarded by all who live there as the country of opportunity where everyone can be successful if they put their mind to it and work hard. The issue of equality regardless of background, gender and ethnicity is taken seriously by most Americans. Self-starters and generally successful and affluent individuals are happy to show off their riches and boast about their achievements. Generally, Americans are not considered to be quiet and shy.

The American sense of humour tends to be very direct and slapstick. Jokes are usually easy to understand without any hidden meaning. Often, jokes are a direct result of someone else’s incompetence or misfortune and Americans have been very successful in turning this type of humour into television programmes and films loved throughout the world.

Upon initial introductions, it is common for an American to shake hands.  Direct eye contact during the handshakes conveys the confidence and openness that is a characteristic found in most Americans. It is usual for an individual to call others by their first names, reserving titles and surnames to those of advanced years or professionals.

Americans enjoy celebrations such as Thanksgiving, Halloween and Christmas; not to mention Independence Day, and will observe long held traditions when it comes to the food served on those occasions. When invited for dinner in an American household, it is customary to bring a gift together with a card attached to the gift. There are no particular items that are considered inappropriate or that portend bad luck, so it is really down to the common sense of the gift giver to ensure that their present is considered thoughtful and appropriate. In America, it is considered good manners to open a gift in front of all of the guests present. Table manners should be observed while in company and it is usual to rest one hand on the lap when the food being consumed requires a spoon or fork only.

While Americans generally like their personal space, it is quite usual for individuals to share fairly personal information about themselves within a relatively short time of meeting someone new. Americans are not shy when it comes to talking about their feelings or highlighting their own shortcomings in the hope that voicing them will make it easier to free themselves of a particular ‘hang-up’.  To this extent, a whole industry of self-help gurus, books and the like, together with television talk shows, psychologists and counsellors has been very successful in America for a number of years.

Expats settling into their lives in America might find it a little bewildering at first when their new neighbours or colleagues celebrate their own successes to the limit and at the same time appear reserved when a conversation turns to subjects such as politics or religion. These two topics are usually considered ‘off limits’.

In summary, it has to be said that an expat should find it relatively easy to adapt to the traits individuals may exhibit in the USA as the laid back attitude and respect for personal space gives everyone the opportunity to be themselves.



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