Living in a new country can be fun and exciting but it’s also going to be an adjustment. You might find yourself asking “What does this phrase mean?” or “Why do Americans do that?” Every culture has its own set of rules and guidelines, and in the US it’s no different.
Learning about American culture can give you a sense of what to expect while studying or working in the US, and also prepare you for possible culture shock.
Generally speaking, people in the US align with the values stated in the Declaration of Independence: that all are created equal, with unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For Americans, equality means everyone is born equal and no one is inferior or superior to the other.
The US has a racially and ethnically diverse population. People come from many different backgrounds and cultures, and there are a wide variety of beliefs, values, and traditions. There is no such thing as the typical American - that’s part of what makes it such an interesting place! With an open mind, you can meet people from all walks of life, learn from their diverse perspectives, and explore new ideas.
Americans love their personal space. Whether you are in the grocery store or standing in line for coffee, be sure not to get into someone’s ‘personal bubble and make them uncomfortable. This includes touching beyond a handshake. When speaking to someone, it’s best practice to give them about 3 feet of space.
From a young age, Americans are taught to be self-sufficient and independent. The idea of being self-sufficient is highly valued in the U.S. After 17 or 18 years, most Americans no longer live at home with their families, do their own shopping, laundry, cooking, and pursue careers or studies on their own. For internationals who come from a culture where everything is done collectively as a family, this emphasis on individualism and autonomy could take some getting used to.
Americans are very proud and are known for their competitive attitude in all aspects of life. Like many other cultures, Americans thrive on competition. From a young age, children are encouraged to work hard and try their best to succeed, especially in academics, sports, and other hobbies. They are proactive and if they want to accomplish something, they go for it. They don’t tend to sit back and wait for others to catch up.
When being introduced to or speaking to someone, you should always maintain eye contact. Even when passing people, it’s important to acknowledge their presence with a minimum of eye contact and a smile. It is recommended to say hello and ask how they are doing, but each interaction may require more or less. Don’t ignore people. These small non-verbal cues go a long way in being perceived as friendly and easy to work with.
Yes, Americans love their food, but they are sensitive to strong food smells and body smells. Be mindful of what food you bring to work with you. Workplace kitchens are often small and foods with a strong smell can spread easily.
When it comes to body smells, take caution when spraying cologne that could be overpowering. On the other hand, it is ideal to keep deodorant in your car or bag in case you forget to put it on. Keeping gum or breath mints with you is also advised when having close encounters with people.
Arriving to work and meetings on time should be standard. In America, it is best practice to arrive early. Showing up late, it communicates that your job or meeting isn’t a priority.
No matter if you are a nurse, telephone agent, or business person, American workers operate with the mindset that the customer is always right. Even if they are not right, it is our job is to make the customers' experience as pleasant as possible. This means you will need to accept criticism and accept their frustration in order to learn their needs. The more you focus on listening and understanding the customers' perspective, the more likely you will be able to make an angry customer happy.
Your cultural experience is bound to differ depending on where in the US you will be studying or working. Living away from your home country can be challenging, but there are so many new experiences and adventures waiting for you
At Greenstaff Medical, we are here to help if you ever need support with adjusting to your life in the US. From tips for preparing for your flight to managing accommodation, we are with you every step of the way to help you succeed and thrive.