Guide to American Culture and Etiquette

Guide to American Culture and Etiquette

Welcome to the USA!

This guide has been prepared for International students to read and refer to during your time here. It gives you information about American customs and describes some points that may be different from your culture.

What makes studying abroad fun and interesting is the opportunity to observe and learn about the culture and traditions of people on your campus and in your community. It can also be helpful to know how other people will expect you to behave, and will behave toward you while you’re away from home. Having a basic understanding of culture and etiquette can help avoid awkward misunderstandings for you, the people you meet, and the new friends you’ll make!

We’re very pleased that you’ve chosen to study in the USA, here at Penn State Harrisburg in Middletown, Pennsylvania, and we wish you many good experiences while you’re here with us!

Thank you to our Global Ambassadors who shared their insights and experiences in this guide. Thanks also to Wendy Moynihan, the coordinator of the International Student Support Services, who put together this much-needed resource.

Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs

  • Drinking under the age of 21 is illegal.

  • It is a crime to serve alcohol to someone under age 21.

  • Smoking isn’t allowed in most public places. There are typically designated “smoking areas”.

  • Buying and selling illicit drugs is illegal in the U.S. If you are found with these drugs, you may be arrested.

Animals and Pets

Animals/Pets

  • Americans tend to love their pets and see them as “part of the family”.

  • For the better or for the worse, Americans will spend a lot of their time and money on pets.

  • There are animal protection laws to prevent animal cruelty.

  • The most popular pets in the U.S. are dogs, cats, hamsters, and fish.

 

Classroom Etiquette

  • Class discussion and participation are HIGHLY encouraged and may contribute to the overall grade.

  • Students remain seated when the professor arrives or when the student’s name is called.

  • Attendance is expected and critical.

  • Understanding, not just memorizing class material is important.

  • Classroom EtiquetteSome professors allow eating and chewing gum in class. Check with your faculty or follow syllabus regulations.

“Since I did not come to the United States until last summer, everything for me was new at the very beginning. First, I think people here are welcoming. Usually when people in China see strangers, they ignore them and keep doing what they are doing. Things are different here, however. When I’m walking on campus, people I don’t even know say hello or smile at me all the time. Now, when I see them, I will do the same thing. But in China, I don’t think I would ever do that. People in China might think you are creepy or strange. They would ask, “I do not even know her, why is she smiling at me?” I always pay attention to those little things. Maybe some international students will not regard it as a big deal, but this makes me feel like Penn State Harrisburg is a big family.

Secondly, almost every professor allows us to eat during class. If eating can help students concentrate better in class, why not? It differs from my hometown, since eating in class is totally banned. One day, I did not have enough time to have lunch, so I brought some cookies to class. I didn’t know students could take a bite of food here, so I grabbed the cookie quickly into my month when the professor turned back to write on the board. My friend sitting next to me wrote “What R U DOING” on her notebook, and I wrote “EATING” back. She laughed out loud after class and told me that I did not have to act like this, because most professors allow us to do so.

Also, the relationship between professors and students is more like friendship. In China, we have been told that it is necessary to show respect to our teachers. We have to be serious and there is almost no joking in the classroom. Everything in class is formal. However, I experienced something totally different here. My English teacher sometimes brought homemade desserts to us. I still remember when she knew my birthday was coming, she baked a special kind of cookies for all of my classmates and they sang the Happy Birthday song to me. I was touched by this and I will never forget it, since I would never have this experience if I still studied in my home country.” (Ziyuhan "Ariel" Wang, China)

“A funny story that happened to me during my second week in the US happened when I was in my first class. All the students had gotten to the class before the professor did and some of them were chatting and a couple of them were eating. One student behind me was eating peppers or something and the professor walked in and said, “Hey Peter, the pepper smells good” and just continued on with the class. This was different from back home where we were not even allowed to chew gum, let alone eating anything in class.

During our classes back in India we had to stand up whenever we were addressed by the professor or whenever they walked in. In India, we could not use our cell phones during class. We would have to learn everything by heart instead of understanding the whole thing as opposed to here where the learning methods are more logical and practical. Class participation is important back home, but doesn’t count as much as the final exams which pretty much decide our grades for a semester. Assignments and homework do not contribute to a major part of our grade like they do here.” (Adi Divakar Venu, India)

Dating Etiquette

  • When a person says, “no”, he/she means “no”.

  • If a women is dressed immodestly, it is NOT an invitation for men.

“If you ask many Nigerian young adults or teenagers, the dating culture is not as prominent in Nigeria as it is in many Western cultures. However, when we do date, we have some rules that guide how we date. Similarly, in the United States there are some unwritten rules or social laws that people are expected to know when dating. So I have summed up in this short piece a couple that I have learned here:

  1. It is not always the man who asks: In some cultures, women are seen as promiscuous if they ask a man on a date, however, in the United States, the “asker” is not limited by gender. Women can freely initiate the dating process without being seen as committing a taboo.
  2. A date is a planned activity: If you watch some American romantic comedies, you would notice that when a couple goes out on a date, they actually put effort into planning an activity that they could term as a date. Activities could include but are not limited to: going out for dinner/lunch/breakfast, going to watch a movie, playing golf, or even going to a theme park. The point is, there should be some sort of effort in planning the date, especially on the part of the person who asked the other on a date.
  3. Dates do not always go well, and that is alright: A date is a chance for you to get to know someone more, and many times on dates, you find that both of you are not exactly compatible and that is ok. You are not bound to continue seeing a person because you went on a date. You can always end a relationship after a date. However, it is advisable to wait a few days and explain it in person, not by phone or by text or by email, (or for some, by a note through a pigeon) some things are better done in person.
  4. A date is not an invitation for sex: A date is not a gateway for sex. A person is not obligated to have sexual relations with you just because you went on a date. Be aware that in the United States having sex without the consent of the other person is considered as rape and is an offense punishable by law. Also know that consent cannot be giving while a person is intoxicated or in an unstable state, and you should never presume a person has given consent unless the person clearly states it.
  5. Have fun: Remember that the point of a date is not only to get to know a person a little better but also to have fun while doing so. A date does not always lead to a full-on relationship and is not a marriage proposal. So do not stress it, have fun and be yourself; if all else fails, you can always say that you had a good time.” (Temi Famadewa, Nigeria)

Dress and Modesty Standards

  • Students tend to dress casually during the daytime at school.

  • Most Americans have no problem shopping in their sweatpants!

  • Women may dress immodestly, but it is NOT an invitation for men.

“People are able to wear different types of clothes as long as they don’t violate rules, but each organization, gathering, party, etc., has different dress codes. So before going anywhere make sure you know their dress code, otherwise, you can wear whatever you want. For example, when you go for an interview you need to wear a formal suit. Clothes should be neat and you need to change them every day. People don’t judge others by their appearance and dress.

Women may dress immodestly (in your opinion and in comparison with women in your country), but it is not a signal or an invitation for men. For example, my aunt went to New York City couple of weeks ago and saw some young and beautiful girls who didn’t wear bras. She asked one police officer about it and he told her it is not illegal in New York.

For students from Islamic countries, it may be weird to see men/women with shorts but after a while it will be normal. Also, Muslim women can wear scarves without any restriction.” (Amir Sodeifi, Iran)

Driving Laws and Etiquette

  • Always wear your seat belt when driving and require your passengers to wear seatbelts, too.

  • Honking your horn means a lot in America and can make drivers angry if it seems unnecessary. Limit how often you honk your horn.

  • Texting while driving is illegal.

  • It is important to have cash with you when driving to pay for tolls that are required. Credit cards are not acceptable. 

  • In the States, you must STOP at least 10 feet away from a school bus when you see it stopped with its lights on or its sign extended. You must stay at a stop until the lights are off, the sign is retracted, and the bus begins to move.

“People here always wear their seat belts even when they sit in the back seat. I know in most countries, such as China, only the driver and front seat passenger wear their seat belts.

People here prefer long distance driving rather than taking a train or flight.

People prefer to drive fast, and they regularly exceed the speed limit by 10 miles per hour. Once, I asked my classmate to practice driving with me, because I had not passed the road test the first time. He asked me to speed up all the time on the way to PennDot. Finally he said, “Calida, you drive like an old person, like my mum! That is the main reason you failed the test. Do not worry, drive like Americans!” Last month, I went to downtown Philadelphia for an interview. I drove uphill, stopped at a crossing, and then I began going across the street. When I was at the top of the hill, I saw a car passing me quickly. At the same time, a voice said to me, “It is all over, because neither of you see each other and you are so close to him.” But, I fortunately survived! You know why? I learned to drive like an American!” (Chao "Calida" Gao, China)

“If you are a driver, make sure your car has all the inspections, registration, and insurance. DO NOT drive without insurance and have all documents with you. Wearing seat belts is mandatory, no matter what seat you are using. Driving in the lanes is mandatory and for changing lanes you must use turn signals. In big cities, people often use the car horn and rarely drive politely. You have to open the lane for emergency vehicles. When the police want you to stop, pull over in a safe zone, leave your seat belt on, open your window, put your hands on the steering wheel, and don’t make any suspicious movement (such as opening the glove box, etc.). Since people may have guns, police stop behind the car.

One of my friends came here a few years ago and when he was driving, he saw a police car behind his car. He continued driving but the police car was still following him. He was thinking the police officer wanted to pass, so he reduced his speed but the officer continued to follow him. After a while, he pulled over and saw other officers who came toward him. It took a while until the police officer checked his information and asked him why he didn’t pull over right away. He was lucky that the officer realized he was an international student and new driver, so the officer allowed him to continue driving. In my country, when the police want to stop you, they stop in front of your car.

Extra activities (e.g. texting, eating, putting on makeup, shaving, etc.) while driving are illegal and may cause accidents. You should pay attention to all signs especially in construction zones.

It is illegal to drive less than 15 mph below the posted speed limit, so try to drive with the flow. If not, use your flashers.

People on bikes are required to follow the same laws as other drivers.

In yielding and merging pay attention to other drivers (especially the absent-minded ones) and keep your distance with other vehicles.

The link below can help you to learn more about different traffic laws.” (Amir Sodeifi, Iran) http://teendriving.aaa.com/PA/going-solo/

“After only being in America for 3 months and driving with my international license, I came to an intersection with a school bus that had its stop sign extended. I came to a complete stop and then proceeded. However, the school bus was still there. I received a $368 fine in the mail!” (Ana Patricia Aguilera Hermida, Mexico)

Eating Culture and Etiquette

  • In general, Americans eat quietly with their mouths closed.

  • Burping is seen as rude, not as a compliment to the cook.

  • Americans like sweets!

  • Generally, Americans have a more casual form of hospitality.

  • Burgers, sandwiches, and pizza are eaten with hands, instead of utensils.

  • Americans tend to value convenience when it comes to food. They don’t spend as much time cooking and savoring their food. The pace of life has lent itself to the success of fast food restaurants, convenience stores, pizza delivery, and “carry out” options.

  • Most Americans eat three times a day. Cold cereal with milk is common. However, toast, fruit, bagels, yogurt, and eggs are common breakfast options too. People in U.S. usually eat a light lunch and typically eat it “on-the-go”. Lunch possibilities include soup, sandwiches, or a salad. This is normally eaten between 12 and 2pm. The evening meal is the largest of the three meals and is typically eaten between 5:30pm and 7:00pm. This meal is called “supper” or “dinner”. Common meals include meat or fish and vegetables, pasta, or pizza.

“There are a lot of cultural differences between India and the U.S. eating habits are so different from back home. When you eat a meal at home, we usually eat using our hands. We don’t usually burp unless it’s with a family member, but still ask to be excused. Because India is so culturally diverse, eating habits also vary a lot within the country itself. We usually tend to cook meals for guests instead of take out options. Now more and more families are moving toward buying food from outside to save time to do other things, but primarily, we still cook and savor food. Eating etiquette among friends is also different here. In the U.S., friends usually eat their own meals and rarely share water bottles or cups, whereas in India, you could just pick up your friend’s water bottle and drink from it or eat from his/ her plate.” (Adi Divakar Venu, India)

“The daily dishes in America are always very simple. Salad, sandwiches, and hamburgers are very common.

People do not share dishes together although they may have food at the same time around a table. Everyone has their own plates or packages of food even when they hang out together. This is very different from the custom in many other countries such as China. A funny story happened to me 3 years ago. This was the first time I hung out with my American friends. I was the only Chinese student among them. I assumed we would share the dishes. After others ordered their food, I thought the food they chose was too much for all of us. So, I just picked a small desert. My friends were surprised and asked me why. They told me I couldn't be full by only eating this. I said the desert was enough and explained my reason. They all laughed and told me Americans are not used to sharing dishes together.

Another thing is you can find napkins on nearly every table which is very convenient.” (Yu "Ellie" Fu, China)

Etiquette when visiting a home or party

Etiquette When Visiting a Home or at a Party

  • Generally, Americans don’t take off their shoes when entering a home. 

"In Saudi Arabia and in a lot of Eastern countries, it is considered so rude to walk into a host's home with your shoes on. I felt uncomfortable at first when I visited one of my American friends. Sometimes, it is easy to forget to keep your shoes on. If that happens, apologize respectfully and put your shoes back on. If you're instructed to take them off, then you may." (Bassam Alshammari, Saudi Arabia)

  • It is appropriate and kind to bring a small gift to the hostess of the home you’re visiting.

  • Americans expect guests to come punctually at the agreed time. If you must be late, it is considerate to let them know.

  • In homes, food is usually passed around the table and each person serves themselves. If you don’t want one of the dishes being passed, simply don’t take any and pass it to the next person.

"In China, people usually follow a strict seating rule during a family dinner. If all family members are seated at a rectangular table, the hosts/hostesses and/or the senior members of the family usually sit at the far edges of the table in order to show their respected identity. Also, nobody should start eating before the senior members do. However, when I came to the United States three years ago, I found out that people here do not follow a specific set of seating rules at all. Most of the dining tables here are round and dinner participants can sit wherever they want to regardless of their identities or the shape of tables. When the hosts announce the beginning of the dinner, people start to pass the food containers around the circle. In this way, regardless of age, everybody sitting on the table can get their food whenever the container is passed to their hands. Whenever the person has food in his/her plate, he/she can start eating without having to wait until everyone gets their food.

Adjusting to this part of American culture always seems hard to me. Now, when I come over to someone’s house for a dinner, I usually observe how other people act on the table before taking actions. Since different households run under different rules, being an observant guest really helps you fit into a new environment and gain respect from others". (Chubo "Tony" Peng, China)

Eye Contact

  • Mandatory

  • In public, and particularly on public transportation, people avoid making eye contact with strangers.

"Eye contact is very important here, especially in a formal setting. It shows that you are paying attention to a speaker or to your speaking partner. I went to an internship fair at the main campus a month after I began my study here. It was a very big fair and of course, it was very formal. I talked to many recruiters. At first, I felt uncomfortable as they opened their eyes widely and stared into my eyes while I was talking. After a few conversations, I felt better because it was common. Another time while I was giving a presentation, many people stared at me; but this time it felt good, as I now knew they were paying attention to me." (Orn Ngarmcroh, Thailand)

“I think eye contact etiquette here in the U.S. is much different than back home in Pakistan. Here you have to make eye contact with the person if you’re talking to him/her, but back home different genders don’t make a lot of eye contact." (Ali Ayub, Pakistan)

Gender Etiquette

Gender Issues, Interactions, and Perceptions

  • The PERCEPTION of same-sex physical touch (hand- holding, arms locked, etc.) is that the couple is homosexual.

  • Public physical affection is acceptable.

  • In the States, women are seen as equal to men and expect to be treated fairly. It is normal for both men and women to share the responsibilities of the home and children.

  • Safety for women: It is not a good idea for women to walk around on their own at night. It is better to stay as part of a group.


     

Types of Interactions Female to Female Male to Male Male to Female
Hugs Yes, in casual settings Mostly in casual settings In Casual settings only
Hand Shakes Sometimes yes, in both casual and business settings Yes, in both casual and business settings In formal settings and sometimes in informal settings
Greeting Kisses Yes, in casual settings No  Sometimes in casual settings
Holding of Hands Sometimes, in casual settings No Yes, only in casual settings
Eye Contact Yes, both in casual and business settings Yes, both in casual and business settings Yes, both in casual and business settings
Fist Bump No  Yes, between friends in a casual setting Rare

                      (Table: Compliments of Anubha Gupta, India and Janose Osedeme, Nigeria)

“It is not unusual for young Americans to hug you when you greet them. In my home country (South Korea) hugging friends of the same gender means good friendship, but hugging friends with the other gender tends to mean more than friendship. The first time when my male American friend tried to hug me, I got a little surprised, but now I like to hug my friends.

In South Korea, female friends (high school or college) used to walk arm in arm with each other, and it means a close friendship (nothing more than that). Now I realize that in the United States, walking arm in arm with friends can mean more than friendship. We don’t need to confuse our American friends by walking arm in arm with each other.” (Kyungha "Katie" Kim, South Korea)

Gestures

  • While potentially offensive in many cultures, giving the “thumbs up” can mean, “Good!”, “That’s cool!”, “Congratulations!”, or “Good job!” in the USA.

  • Pointing at people is seen as rude.

“In Japan, people do not use so many kinds of gestures, so I was surprised that American people move their hands so aggressively when they talk. The only movements Japanese people make in conversations are nodding and shaking the head. So at first I couldn't focus on the conversations because I was worried that their hands would accidentally hit me.

One more thing that I had to spend some time getting used to about conversations were facial expressions. American people often frown their faces when they say "no" or "I don't know" or " excuse me?" in any normal conversation. When I was not yet good at speaking English, I often said "excuse me?" to repeat my word again, and I was scared every time I was said it because I thought the person was angry at my bad English pronunciation.

Another difference in gestures I find is with the beckoning sign. In American culture, people move one or two fingers with their palms up when they want to say "come here," and move four fingers together with turning the palm down when they want to say "go away". However, in Japan, both "come here" and "go away" signs are with down-turning palm. When one wants to tell "come here," he moves the four fingers together from up to down, and when he wants to tell "go away," he moves his four fingers together from down to up. The American beckoning sign with moving one or two fingers looks impolite to me because it is similar to a Japanese gesture when they order a dog to come. And my Japanese beckoning sign confused my friends many times because I say "come here!" with waving my hand palm down which was a "go away" sign in American culture.” (Akiho Suzuki, Japan)

Getting in Line

  • In the U.S., people get in line and wait for their turn when buying tickets, shopping, using the restroom, or waiting for a bus, etc.

  • It is considered rude to cut in line or push your way through.

  • If you’re not sure whether there is one line or several lines, you should still wait your turn and simply get behind everyone who arrived before you.

Matters of Religion

“The American culture as it relates to religion differs slightly to the culture surrounding religion in the Caribbean. Being a catholic Christian makes it difficult for me to talk about other religions so I’ll speak more about the things I have observed in the churches I have attended in the US and compare them to the Caribbean.

In the Caribbean, the way in which one would dress to attend church is always formal, despite your religion or denomination. The first time I went to church in PA, I realized that most people took a more casual approach as it relates to the way in which they dressed to attend church. Attending church in America was the first time I’ve ever seen someone wear slippers and shorts to a church service. This doesn’t happen in the Caribbean culture. It was the first time I’ve ever felt overdressed in any church.

It seems to me also that time is the most important thing in America. I was amazed by how short the very same service was in America, compared to the Caribbean. It is almost impossible to find a church in Grenada that would finish in 45 minutes. I was rather surprised when the priest gave the final blessing 40 minutes into the service. The services that I know, last 2 hours minimum. I wasn’t upset, however, because I was happy to come home from church early.

Most of the churches in America have many different masses, in different languages, in order to accommodate the different groups of people present in America. In the West Indies each church would have one service mainly in the language of that particular country.

I think many people take their religion seriously in America especially the people that come from different countries. Many people use religion as a way to stick together in America since many churches are formed to cater to specific groups of people. For instance, the Haitians have their own church services, as well as the Africans and the Spaniards. Despite all the new things that are happening in America, many are strong in their faith and religious belief.” (Sean Horsford, Grenada)

Money

  • American appreciate their privacy, especially when it comes to matters of money. They would not like to be asked how much things cost or how much money they make. This is seen as an invasion of privacy and very rude.

“I know Americans do not like to talk about money, because of privacy. Sometimes, they even think it is impolite. So I barely do that. But I found an interesting phenomena, which is totally different from what I knew about America before I came here. In my old perspective, Americans always pay their own bills when they hang out together, even if they are best friends or in a relationship. Actually, they sometimes treat their friends without any special reason, the same as we do in China. Additionally, if they invite you to their home and you order food together, they will treat you as well.” (Chao "Calida" Gao, China)

Personal Hygiene

  • In restrooms, it is expected to flush the toilet after use and to dispose of toilet paper in the toilet. Please ensure to wash hands after using the toilet.  Ladies’ sanitary items should be put in the provided trash can.

  • Women shave their legs and underarms.

  • Americans typically shower every day and wear deodorant.

  • Americans blow their noses with tissues and dispose of them in a trash can.

  • Tap water is clean enough to drink and to brush your teeth with. Some people prefer to drink bottled and/or filtered water.

  • In the U.S., it is rude to spit in public.

Restaurant Etiquette

  • Tipping your server 15%-20% is required.

  • No tips are needed at fast food restaurants or for “carry out”.

  • “Doggie bags” are a common way to package leftovers and take them home.

  • Burgers, sandwiches, and pizza are eaten with hands, instead of utensils.

"Sharing food at dinner is not proper in the USA. Chinese people like to share food at the table, especially among family, relatives, or friends. Americans usually prefer to split the bill when having dinner together." (Liping "Cindy" Qin, China)

"In my country, Brazil, we can go to a restaurant and not order anything or take a long time to order. In the end we always stay after eating to talk to whoever is with us and it may sometimes last for hours. You pay for your check whenever you want. In the U.S. you are expected to enter the restaurant, order, eat, pay and leave. Sometimes you don’t even need to ask for the check, and when you eat the last bite of food, the server may bring the check for you. In the beginning it was very weird and stressful to me, but I got used to it. If you do not want to eat, but just want to have drinks, you should ask the host/hostess of the restaurant if you can get a table or if you may go to the bar inside the restaurant. Some American restaurants are more relaxed and waiter/waitress will not pressure you so much to order, slowly we find the places that we feel more comfortable in." (Patricia Flecha Amarante, Brazil)

Social Courtesies

  • Social CourtesiesSmiles are basic signals of politeness, a non-verbal way of being friendly.

  • “Small talk” is acceptable & is considered “nice”.

  • Americans like their personal space and stand about 2 feet apart when talking. Physical touching when in a conversation usually makes Americans uncomfortable.

"In America, personal space is needed when accidentally bumping into someone. If this happens, you may simply say, "Sorry". When needing to get by someone, always say, "Excuse me" loud enough for the person to hear and then wait for them to move over." (Agnesa Cherepanova, Ukraine)

  • Most people shake hands firmly and briefly when they meet for the first time or in a formal situation.

  • When people are good friends or family, they will sometimes hug each other to say hello, goodbye or thank you.

  • Kissing as a greeting, however, is usually only done between relatives and close friends (on the cheek) or between lovers (on the lips).

  • Displays of affection are acceptable in public.

  • If an American offers you something, they will understand your “yes” to really mean “yes” and your “no” to literally mean “no”.

“Something that I noticed here was that people are very friendly and sociable. You can greet any random stranger on the street and they will respond with the same enthusiasm. People appreciate it when you hold a door open for someone, and maybe these things might go un-noticed back in India. Back home I’ve never seen anyone look at another stranger and greet them randomly.

To students who are new to the US, some people here may seem rude because of the things they say, but they don’t say such things thinking that they are rude. I had an incident where I was out with my cousin and his friends who were all Americans. I was sitting in the back of my cousin’s friend’s car, and I asked him if I should wear the seatbelt sitting in the back seat and he said “I don’t care”. What I didn’t realize at that time was that he just meant he didn’t mind if I did or I didn’t, and I thought he was being rude. Over time, I realized that that is the way they usually talk to each other and that there is nothing rude about it.” (Adi Divakar Venu, India)

“In my opinion, Americans are used to having more personal space compared to Asians. It is often said that they prefer to talk with someone about two feet away. Please don’t be disappointed when your American classmates move back from you during a conversation.” (Kyungha "Katie" Kim, South Korea)

Standards of Safety

  • Americans value safety!

  • Bike helmets are worn.

  • Seat belts are necessary.

Time Management

  • Time is an American value. There is an expression that says, “Time is money”. Americans “save” time and “spend” time like money in a bank.

  • The work/class week in America runs Monday-Friday. Saturdays and Sundays are both set apart as the "weekend".

  • It is important to show up to class, meetings, and social gatherings on time.

Trash, Littering, and Recycling

  • In general, littering is greatly frowned upon. It is viewed as being dirty, lazy, irresponsible, and un-cultured.

  • Although the penalties vary greatly, every state has a littering law.

  • The idea of recycling has become very popular among Americans in a collective effort to take care of the environment.

  • Not all Americans recycle, but local governments and organizations have made it an easy responsibility by providing recycling bins to homes, institutions, and public places.

  • Paper, soda cans, plastic, glass and more can all be recycled!

  • Quality products made from recycled materials are available for purchase.

Usage of First Name, Last Name, and Title

  • Most Americans, even in a business setting, will prefer to be called by their first name. However, it is good principle to address them by their title (Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., or Professor) and last name unless you are invited to do otherwise.

  • Americans may call you by your first name once they’re introduced to you. This is not considered rude, but may reflect a casual style.

  • In general, it is polite to initially call a woman Miss (Ms.) until you’re invited to do otherwise.

  • Using “Sir” and “Madam” are not common

“First of all, the first name is the given name, while the last name is the family name. In America, people write their first name before their last name. This is very different from the custom in Eastern countries. For example, Chinese people always write their name last name first.

The First name is used very often in American daily life. When you hang out with your friends, they will only call you by your first name. However, in many other countries, people call others by saying both the first and last name together. Here is a story that happened to one of my Chinese friends. He called his American roommate by using his given name and family name together. This made the roommate feel uncomfortable and think that this Chinese boy was rude.

Another tip is to try to say sorry and explain culture differences when you did something wrong because of misunderstanding about customs. People here are friendly and open. They will understand and forgive you after your explanation. Do not be shy!

The last names always come with titles. Of course, titles are used before the family names. You will use Prof. or Professor XXX as the title before the family to call teachers in college. Doctor or Doc may also be used for your professors based on the actual situations. Nonetheless, some professors prefer students call them by their first name. Professors will explain which way to call them is prefer during the introduction in first class. Hence, be careful to when you in the class. Another thing is about Mrs. / Mr./ Ms. You should use Mr. when you call a man. The other three are used for female. Miss is used for an unmarried female. Whereas, Mrs. should be used if the female is married. In situations which you do not know if the female is married or not, please use Ms.” (Yu "Ellie" Fu, China)

“Some professors do prefer to be called by their title like "Dr." but many of the professors we have met at Penn State Harrisburg do allow you to call them by their first name. It just depends on the person and the environment.

I was raised to always show respect where it is due, which includes referring to people by their title and using their last name. At my internship, every single person that I have been introduced to and work for prefers that I call them by their first name or nickname (even the President of the Company). This honestly is slightly uncomfortable for me because my parents are big on respect.

Although it may be uncomfortable at first, I think using first names with people allows you to build a closer relationship. But like I mentioned before, it all depends if the person allows you as well as your environment.” (Marlene Castillo, Mexico)

“Coming to the USA from the Anglo-oriental cultural background in Pakistan where it is customary to call the seniors or professors in a formal and official way as 'Sir' or 'Madam', It took me quite some time in adjusting to the prevalent norm here in the USA. For instance, in Pakistan I could never think of addressing my professor as 'Dr. Vasavada' or 'Professor Vasavada' as I do here in the USA. In my culture, this way of addressing is considered disrespectful and way too informal. Similarly, in my culture, it is a norm to bend the head a bit while greeting a senior. But when I was new to the USA, whenever I did this gesture, I felt a visible astonishment on the face of my professors.” (Shahinshah Faisal Azim, Pakistan)