Being aware of differences between your culture and the US Culture can often clarify and smooth your adjustment experience. Students and scholars often discover differences in the American culture in issues related to these values:
Friendship - Americans tend to be very friendly on a casual basis. This may result in many casual friendships around specific activities but not always close, lasting friendships. International students and scholars in the United States are often surprised at how friendly Americans are but how difficult it is to develop a friendship with an American. Friendliness is a kind of social ritual in America culture and does necessarily lead to friendship. Some internationals are surprised when Americans walk down the street and say, Hi, how are you? and not wait for an answer. This a typical casual greeting in the U.S. A brief casual response is expected such as - Fine, thanks, how are you?
Time – Americans say “Time is Money!” Don’t waste it. Be on time. Stick to the schedule. You are expected to schedule an appointment with most teachers, advisors and other professionals. It is considered polite to call ahead if you are going to be late or if you must cancel an appointment. Americans get easily annoyed by someone who is consistently late for an appointment or a social meal. Most events begin on time and if you arrive late, you will miss a portion of it. However, arriving late is acceptable for some events such parties, receptions, or open houses.
Communication – Being assertive and direct is a common American value. Most Americans show their likes, dislikes, hatred, love, happiness, and sadness in a very direct way. Saying NO in a direct manner is generally valued and respected. In the U.S., people are expected to have direct eye contact even with people in authority. People who don’t have direct eye contact may be considered dishonest or even weak in the American culture. If Americans make mistakes, they often admit it and try to learn from the mistakes. They consider constructive criticism from teachers and others to be a positive thing and they are not easily embarrassed. They do not usually try to avoid embarrassment. In fact, most Americans believe that it is important to be honest and face the facts rather than save face. People from other countries may find the way in which Americans are assertive and direct in their manner to be rude.
Individualism – Many people feel that the biggest difference between the American cultures and other non-western cultures is the view of the individual. In the United States, Americans place a high value on the individual rather than the group or the family. They want to be self-reliant and independent. They generally expect that they will take care of their problems by themselves and may not depend on a group or family to help them.
Competition - Because Americans are individualists, you will find that they are competitive and are proud of their accomplishments. You may be surprised to hear Americans talk openly about themselves and their accomplishments. You may even find this rude especially if, in your home country, you are used to people being modest about themselves and their accomplishments. Competition is considered by many Americans to bring out the best in people since it is believed to produce progress and success.
Informality - Many visitors to the United States notice how informal Americans are. Although Americans value and respect their teachers, they may call them by their given names and speak to them in a casual informal manner.
Equality - Americans are also most comfortable believing that all people are equal regardless of their job, age, or education level. Unlike many cultures, Americans generally do not value a society that has a proper order or hierarchy with overly harmonious relationships. Rather Americans are brought up to question authority, even their own parents. In fact, American parents generally encourage their children to speak up and ask questions of people in authority, such as teachers and other leaders.
Privacy - Although Americans are informal in their behavior, they still have a few behavioral rules that they follow. Because they are always working and busy doing something, they especially value their time and space. This means they need time to themselves and value spending some time on their own. Therefore, it is good to call ahead or schedule time to visit Americans. Most Americans do not just show up at someone’s home for a visit without calling first. This would be considered an invasion of their privacy.