US social customs | American cultural Norms

US social customs

Like many other countries, America often falls victim to stereotypes. However, the US is vast and incredibly diverse. It consists of 50 states which often feel like entirely different countries. American cultural practices differ between them.

Travelers should understand that the image of the ‘typical American’ doesn’t exist. 350 million people simply cannot be put into a single bracket. At the same time, there are some American customs and US social norms which people should be aware of before heading to the States.

By knowing certain social rules in the United States it is much easier to avoid problems and complications, understand the culture, and get along with people.

US social customs to be aware of

There are certain US laws and American cultural rules which come as a shock for many visitors. For Europeans especially, it is surprising that under 21s cannot buy alcohol and that you only need to be 16 to drive. It is also alarms many visitors that firearms are legal and relatively accessible.

Another US rule which visitors need to be aware of is the strict laws about crossing the street. In the cities, you cannot cross where you like and have to use a zebra crossing. You can be fined if the police catch you breaking this rule.

Each state has the power to make its own laws which is why the law differs between them. Visitor should familiarize themselves with any unusual or important state-specific laws.

Tipping in the US

One of the most important cultural norms in the United States to quickly get to grips with is tipping. Large tips are expected even if the service isn’t fantastic. The recommended tip is between 18 and 25%, though a 15% tip is acceptable.

In many countries, customers have the choice whether to tip or not. The basic salaries of waiters and waitresses in the US are very low and they rely on tips. It is therefore considered a social norm in the US to leave a tip.

The other big hidden cost is the taxes. Most prices are shown pre-tax which means that you often get a shock when you get to the counter as what you’re charged is more than you expected.

Meals in the United States

In the US it’s typical to eat three meals a day at the following times:

  • Breakfast (between 7:00 and 08:00 AM)
  • Lunch (between 11:00 and 12:00 AM)
  • Dinner (between 6:00 and 8:00 PM)

Breakfast in the US is normally a light meal which may include: breakfast cereals, orange juice, donuts, muffins, slices of bread with jam and butter, scrambled eggs, hash browns,bacon or sausage. There aren’t really typical lunch and dinner meals as they vary so greatly. Lunch is generally light and dinner is the main meal of the day.

At weekends people often have brunch between 10:00 and 12:00. It is a cross between breakfast and lunch.

US traditions

Although the USA is a relatively young country, it has a rich history which comprises of its own unique traditions and those of all the immigrants who settled there. As a visitor it is important to be aware of the public holidays in the United States as they can affect opening times and services.

There are 10 federal holidays though each state has the power to decide if the holiday is observed or not. There are famous holidays such as Halloween, St. Valentine’s Day, and Easter which are not observed and there are also lesser known days which are, such as Veteran’s Day in the US.

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