Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette (2022)

Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette (1)

The USA is a real patchwork of cultures, languages, identities and customs. What actually is "American" culture?

What will you Learn?

You will gain an understanding of a number of key areas including:

  • Language
  • Religion and beliefs
  • Culture and society
  • Social etiquette and customs
  • Business culture and etiquette

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  • Facts and Statistics
  • Language in the USA
  • Quiz

STEREOTYPING

Remember this is only a very basic level introduction to American culture and the people; it can not account for the diversity within US society and is not meant in any way to stereotype all American people you may meet!

FACTS AND STATISTICS

  • Location: North America, bordering both the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Pacific Ocean, between Canada and Mexico
  • Capital: Washington, DC
  • National anthem: The Star-Spangled Banner
  • Nationality: American
  • Ethnic Make-up: White American (72.4%), African American (12.6%), Native American (0.9%), Asian American (4.8%) (2010 Census)
  • Population: 328+ million (2019)
  • Population growth rate: 0.75%
  • Climate: mostly temperate, but tropical in Hawaii and Florida, arctic in Alaska, semiarid in the great plains west of the Mississippi River, and arid in the Great Basin of the southwest.
  • Time Zone: There are 4 standard times zones as follows - Pacific Time UTC -8:00 / -7:00 : Mountain Time UTC -7:00 / -6:00 : Central Time UTC -6:00 / -5:00 : Eastern Time UTC -5:00 / -4:00
  • Currency: US Dollar
  • Government: Constitution-based federal republic
  • Internet penetration: 84.2%
  • Business Culture: Ranked 19th by the Business Culture Complexity Index™

LANGUAGE IN AMERICA

There is no official language in the USA although English (specifically American English) is the primary language used for legislation, regulations, executive orders, treaties, federal court rulings, and all other official pronouncements.

Out of 50 states, 30 have established English as the only official language, while Hawaii recognizes both English and Hawaiian as official and Alaska has made some 20 Native languages official, along with English.

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Due to the large number of immigrants that make up the population America is very much a multilingual nation. Per the American Community Survey 2011, endorsed by the United States Census Bureau, the top 5 spoken languages in America are:

  1. English – 230 million
  2. Spanish – 37.58 million
  3. Chinese – 2.88 million
  4. French – 2.05 million
  5. Tagalog – 1.59 million

There are laws requiring documents such as ballots to be printed in multiple languages when there are large numbers of non-English speakers in an area.

American Sign Language (ASL) is the most common sign language in the United States.

Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette (3)

The rodeo is synonymous with the American spirit - brave, skillful and daring. Photo by Daniel Lloyd Blunk-Fernández on Unsplash

AMERICAN CULTURE & SOCIETY

Religion & Beliefs

  • The vast majority of people in the USA are Christian – around 70-78%.
  • Catholicism is the largest single denomination however Protestants of all denominations (i.e. Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc) outnumber Catholics.
  • Judaism is the largest non-Christian faith (around 1.6%) , followed by Islam (0.5%) as well as all other major faiths such as Buddhism, Sikhism, etc.
  • The USA has also produced its own Christian movements such as the Mormons and Shakers.
  • Around 15% of Americans consider themselves atheists.
  • Although a secular country, religion plays a large role in politics especially at Presidential level.

Major Celebrations/Secular Celebrations

There are many holidays and celebrations in the USA both as national and state level.

The federal holidays are:

  1. January 1 New Year's Day
  2. January 15–21 (Floating Monday) Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  3. February 15–21 (Floating Monday) Washington's Birthday
  4. March 29 National Vietnam War Veterans Day
  5. May 25–31 (Floating Monday) Memorial Day
  6. July 4 Independence Day
  7. September 1–7 (Floating Monday) Labor Day
  8. October 8–14 (Floating Monday) Columbus Day
  9. November 11 Veterans Day
  10. November 22–28 (Floating Thursday) Thanksgiving Day
  11. December 25 Christmas Day

Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette (4)

Pumpkin Pie is a Thanksgiving favourite in the USA. Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

The Family

  • The family unit is generally considered the nuclear family, and is typically small (with exceptions among certain ethnic groups).
  • Extended family relatives live in their own homes, often at great distances from their children.
  • Individualism is prized, and this is reflected in the family unit.
  • People are proud of their individual accomplishments, initiative and success, and may, or may not, share those sources of pride with their elders.

Social Stratification

  • America in theory is not a ‘class’ based society.
  • ‘The American Dream’ is based on the premise that anyone, from any background can achieve anything.
  • ‘Rags to riches’ stories are very popular in the US as a result.
  • In reality some social stratification does exist mainly based on economics and ethnicity.
  • Poor areas are clearly visible in the US as are distinctions between where people of a certain colour or race might live.
  • Although ‘class’ per se does not exist, elements of it can be seen through discrimination over accents, clothing, manners, etc.

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Gender Roles

  • In theory genders are equal within American society and law.
  • Women as a whole however do not receive the same social and economic status or benefits as men.
  • Although most women do work, they are also generally still responsible for areas such as child-rearing, cooking and housecleaning.
  • Occupations tend to be defined along gender lines with secretarial or low-level administrative jobs overwhelmingly staffed by women.
  • Within the blue-collar sector, women are underrepresented in jobs considered to require physical strength, such as the construction industries and firefighting.
  • Women are greatly underrepresented in elected political offices and are statistically more likely to live in poverty.


Socialization

  • Infant care depends on economic status first and foremost.
  • Less affluent families rely on the mother or extended family to look after and raise children.
  • Wealthier families will often have nannies or use day care centres.
  • Children can attend school from the age of age five to eighteen, with it being compulsory until the age of sixteen.

Economy

  • The United States has an advanced industrialised economy with the largest GNP in the world.
  • Most business activity takes places within the service industry including finance, advertising and tourism.
  • Manufacturing industries include petroleum, steel, motor vehicles, aerospace, telecommunications, food processing, lumber and mining.
  • The country is more than self-sufficient in terms of its economic needs and is the world's leading exporter of food.

Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette (6)

The drive-through (drive-thru) is a perfect illustration of American culture in practice - convenience, speed, efficiency. Photo by Eric Mclean on Pexels.

Food

  • Americans as a nation eat a lot of food.
  • They consume large amounts of processed and fast foods such as hamburgers, hot dogs, subs, etc.
  • As a result, the diet is one that is high in fat, salt, sugars, preservatives and refined carbohydrates.
  • 60% percent of Americans are considered to be obese.
  • The tendency towards ‘junk foods’ is cultural – convenience/processed food is quicker, cheaper, larger, cleaner, tastier and therefore better.
  • Healthy-eating of course does exist across the States with a liking for local produce, fine teas and quality breads not uncommon in most cities.
  • Cuisines can differ from region to region. Cheese steaks are synonymous with Philadelphia whereas fajitas and chili stews are much more New Mexico.
  • Within cities it is also possible to find food from around the world as well as representative of the many immigrant communities from Europe, Africa and Asia.

Arts, Humanities & Popular Culture

  • America’s contribution to the world through its arts, humanities and pop culture cannot be summarised in a few sentences.
  • American literature very much came to the fore in the nineteenth century and continued ever since. Famous American writers include Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.
  • Sport is very popular in the USA with American football, baseball, basketball and ice- hockey being the most popular.
  • The USA traditionally does very well in the Olympics.
  • Jazz, Rock, Grunge, Country, Hip-Hop, RnB are but some of the many genres of music created in the USA and still listened to today.
  • Art is very popular in the US with galleries to be found nationwide. Jackson Pollack and Andy Warhol are two of the country’s globally recognised artists.

AMERICAN SOCIAL CUSTOMS & ETIQUETTE

Naming conventions

  • Family, friends and colleagues use first names.
  • Nicknames are also common.
  • In formal situations you would use your name & surname or that of the person you are introducing, for example, “Please meet Jane Doe.” Mr or Mrs may also be used in more conservative states.
  • Within work situations use professional titles when addressing others, i.e. “Nice to meet you Professor Lacey.”
  • Do not use professional titles when introducing yourself.

Meeting & Greeting

  • American greetings are generally quite informal and casual.
  • It is becoming more common in social situations not to shake hands upon meeting and simply smile or nod.
  • When people are introduced handshakes are common accompanied with a “How d’ya do?”, “How you doing?” or “How are you”? depending on where in the US you are.
  • Within business handshakes are generally expected when meeting and leaving.
  • Pleasantries are exchanged out of courtesy rather than being genuine.
  • Rather than say “bye” Americans may also use terms such as “call me some time,” “let’s do lunch” or “see you around” as politer ways of departing.
  • If introducing someone, use their full name and a bit of information about them, for example, “This is Larry Whyte; he works at the local school as a science teacher.”

Communication style

  • Americans can come across as self-interested, aggressive and rude to some outsiders.
  • This is down to the US communication style which is influenced by the need to be direct, clear, transparent and open about matters.
  • Plain and simple talk is very much valued in America.
  • Americans see coded, indirect communication which relies on body language as confusing and unnecessary.
  • The emphasis within communication is on the facts at hand and not the relationships – thus the term, “It’s just business.”
  • Americans are much more open in conversation about private affairs than many other cultures and do not shy away from asking direct questions.

Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette (7)

The American communication style is heavily influenced by the pursuit of freedom and liberty. Photo by Reno Laithienne on Unsplash

Personal Space

  • Americans do not tend to like close contact with others.
  • 2-3 feet of personal space during conversations is the norm.
  • For most Americans there is little or no touching ever with others although within some communities this may be much more common within the community itself. This will also be different between good friends and family.
  • In public, such as in parks or on the bus, people try to give one another space.

Gift Giving

  • Americans do not really have any customs or taboos concerning gifts.
  • Gifts are usually given for special occasions or between friends and family.
  • Gifts within business are generally discouraged due to anti-bribery policies.
  • Cash should never be given as a gift.
  • If visiting a house, bring flowers, a potted plant, a fruit basket, chocolate, wine, a book or a small household ornament like a vase.

Dining & Food

  • Americans socialise and do business over breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • If business is the goal, then socializing is kept to a minimum at the start and end.
  • Social meals are more about eating that chatting and taking hours over the food.
  • If you invite someone to a restaurant, you should pay.
  • The fork is held in the left hand facing down with the knife is held in the right hand.
  • Napkins if provided are placed on the lap.
  • A toast might take place at the start of a formal meal or for a special occasion/guest.
  • Feel free to refuse specific foods or drinks without offering an explanation.
  • Many foods are eaten by hand.
  • Food is often served family-style, which means that it is in large serving dishes and passed around the table for everyone to serve themselves.
  • Do not begin eating until the hostess starts or says to begin.
  • Remain standing until invited to sit down.
  • Do not rest your elbows on the table.

Visiting a home

  • Being invited to an American’s home can be fairly informal.
  • One should dress casually but also smart and arrive no later than 10-15 minutes late without notifying your host that you will be late.
  • If an invite says 6pm-8pm it is polite to leave as close to 8pm as possible.
  • It is a good idea to bring a gift or if there is going to be some food, then some drinks.
  • Send a note of thanks after the occasion to your host.

Taboos

In public:

  • Do not spit.
  • Do not discuss race, religion, politics or sex.
  • Do not swear.
  • Do not discuss the wrong/rights of abortion.
  • Do not assume you can smoke anywhere, even outside.

Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette (8)

Much of what you experience in America is determined by where in the country you are. If you are dealing with a New Yorker you are going to hear a very different accent and witness a very different approach to say, a Californian. Regional differences can sometimes be very acute. Photo by Anelale Nájera on Unsplash

AMERICAN BUSINESS CULTURE, PRACTICES & ETIQUETTE

Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette (9)

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What to wear

  • Dress code depends on where in the USA you are doing business. The weather and local culture will determine what is appropriate or not.
  • In general, people in the East dress more formally, while people in the West are known for being a bit more casual.
  • It is best to always dress conservatively until it is clear what the accepted dress code is.
  • Men should wear shirts with suits and shoes. Ties are generally worn but not in all States. Colours should be traditional such as black, blue, grey, etc.
  • Women should wear modestly with not too much make-up or jewellery. Low-cut blouses, short skirts and tight clothing are not appropriate.
  • ‘Casual Friday’ is common in many companies. High technology companies often wear casual clothes every day.

Titles

  • Most Americans move to a first name basis pretty quickly.
  • Always start by addressing people using Mr/Mrs/Miss + surname until you are invited to call them otherwise.
  • Some, such as Doctors, will use their professional titles.

Business cards

  • Americans have no etiquette when it comes to giving and receiving business cards.
  • They are swapped with no fanfare.
  • It is quite common for the recipient to put your card in their wallet, which may then go in the back pocket of their trousers. This is not an insult.

Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette (10)

Depending on where you're doing business, and who with, the USA can be really informal as well as very formal. If you're new to the country, always err on the side of caution and avoid being too casual. Photo by Jeremy McGilvrey on Unsplash

Meetings

  • Arrive on time for meetings since time and punctuality are so important to Americans.
  • In the Northeast and Midwest, people are extremely punctual and view it as a sign of disrespect for someone to be late for a meeting or appointment.
  • In the Southern and Western states, people may be a little more relaxed, but to be safe, always arrive on time, although you may have to wait a little before your meeting begins.
  • Meetings may appear relaxed, but they are taken quite seriously.
    If there is an agenda, it will be followed.
  • At the conclusion of the meeting, there will be a summary of what was decided, a list of who will implement which facets and a list of the next steps to be taken and by whom.
  • If you make a presentation, it should be direct and to the point. Visual aids should further enhance your case.
  • Use statistics to back up your claims, since Americans are impressed by hard data and evidence.
  • With the emphasis on controlling time, business is conducted rapidly.
  • Expect very little small talk before getting down to business. It is common to attempt to reach an oral agreement at the first meeting.
  • The emphasis is on getting a contract signed rather than building a relationship. The relationship may develop once the first contract has been signed.

Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette (11)

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Negotiating

  • Final decisions are usually made from the top down although group consensus is valued.
  • Hard selling tactics are used from time to time.
  • The deal at hand is always more important than then personal relationship.
  • Americans sometimes start negotiations with excessive demands or a low price. They are usually taking a starting position that gives them room to bargain.
  • Negotiations may seem rushed – always remember that "time is money" to Americans.
  • Read more about the Negotiation Style in the USA.

Management

  • In the U.S.A, there is a sense that all people in the organization have an important role to play and all are valued for their input.
  • Employees expect to be consulted on decisions that affect them and the greater good of the organization.
  • American managers are viewed as facilitators--people who help employees do their best work--and not simply decision makers.
  • Missing a deadline is a sign of poor management and inefficiency.
  • Read more about USA Management Culture.

Quiz: Test Your Knowledge of the USA!

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FAQs

What are examples of customs in culture? ›

A custom is defined as a cultural idea that describes a regular, patterned behavior that is considered characteristic of life in a social system. Shaking hands, bowing, and kissing—all customs—are methods of greeting people. The method most commonly used in a given society helps distinguish one culture from another.

What is the cultural language of the USA? ›

English is considered the de facto national language of America, but the country does not have an official language. The dialect of English in the US is also known as American English.

What are etiquette customs? ›

Etiquette is a set of customs and rules for polite behaviour, especially among a particular class of people or in a particular profession.

What are cultural practices and customs? ›

Definition. Culture is a complex whole including beliefs, knowledge, rituals, morals, customs, and other habits and capabilities of people. Custom is a traditional way of behaving or doing something that is specific to a particular place, time or society.

What are 5 examples of customs? ›

11 Surprising Customs from Around the World
  • Pointing with lips in Nicaragua.
  • Kissing in France.
  • Spitting on the bride at weddings in Greece.
  • September 12 is the Day of Conception in Russia.
  • Groundhog Day in the U.S.
  • Tipping in the U.S.
  • Hanging out in cemeteries in Denmark.
  • Pointing with the thumb in Malaysia.

What are 10 examples of culture? ›

16 Examples of Traditional Culture
  • Norms. Norms are informal, unwritten rules that govern social behaviors. ...
  • Languages. ...
  • Festivals. ...
  • Rituals & Ceremony. ...
  • Holidays. ...
  • Pastimes. ...
  • Food. ...
  • Architecture.
May 10, 2018

Why is culture important? ›

In addition to its intrinsic value, culture provides important social and economic benefits. With improved learning and health, increased tolerance, and opportunities to come together with others, culture enhances our quality of life and increases overall well-being for both individuals and communities.

What are 5 different cultures? ›

Indian, Chinese, Korean, Swiss and American are the 5 different cultures of the world. What are cultural views? Every culture consists of a different view. So as a whole we can say that cultural views vary depending on countries, history, demographic conditions, political views, and ideologies.

What is our culture? ›

Culture is our way of life. It includes our values, beliefs, customs, languages and traditions. Culture is reflected in our history, in our heritage and in how we express ideas and creativity. Our culture measures our quality of life, our vitality and the health of our society.

What are examples of etiquette? ›

50 Etiquette Rules to Live By
  • Hold the door for the person behind you.
  • Never lick your knife.
  • Keep a supply of thank-you notes on hand for those times when someone gives you a gift.
  • Never take a roll from the breadbasket without offering it to your neighbor first.
  • Be punctual.
  • Let someone go in front of you in line.
Mar 23, 2022

Why is etiquette important? ›

Etiquette helps us to be thoughtful about our conduct, it helps us to be aware of the feelings and rights of others. Etiquette helps us to get along with others, it promotes respect. Etiquette promotes respect for people of other cultures, etiquette is culturally bound.

What is language culture? ›

Language is one of the most important parts of any culture. It is the way by which people communicate with one another, build relationships, and create a sense of community. There are roughly 6,500 spoken languages in the world today, and each is unique in a number of ways.

What is custom give example? ›

Custom is defined as a tradition or a usual way to behave. An example of custom is Catholics giving up meat on Fridays during Lent. noun. 1. The definition of custom is made or designed specifically for an individual.

What are examples of culture? ›

Customs, laws, dress, architectural style, social standards and traditions are all examples of cultural elements. Since 2010, Culture is considered the Fourth Pillar of Sustainable Development by UNESCO.

What are the 5 most popular cultures? ›

  • Italy. #1 in Cultural Influence. #16 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • France. #2 in Cultural Influence. ...
  • United States. #3 in Cultural Influence. ...
  • United Kingdom. #4 in Cultural Influence. ...
  • Japan. #5 in Cultural Influence. ...
  • Spain. #6 in Cultural Influence. ...
  • South Korea. #7 in Cultural Influence. ...
  • Switzerland. #8 in Cultural Influence.

What are 7 examples of culture? ›

They are social organization, customs, religion, language, government, economy, and arts.

Is language a culture? ›

Languages and variations within languages play both a unifying and a diversifying role in human society as a whole. Language is a part of culture, but culture is a complex totality containing many different features, and the boundaries between cultural features are not clear-cut, nor do they all coincide.

What are customs of a country? ›

Customs is an authority or agency in a country responsible for collecting tariffs and for controlling the flow of goods, including animals, transports, personal effects, and hazardous items, into and out of a country.

What are 7 examples of culture? ›

They are social organization, customs, religion, language, government, economy, and arts.

What are the customs of Philippines? ›

Thus, it is expected to be open about one's possessions and space. Many Filipinos avoid blasphemy and cursing as it may cause themselves to lose face . Filipinos typically have a relaxed approach towards timekeeping and punctuality. It is common for Filipinos to arrive an hour or two hours after the designated time.

Why is culture important? ›

In addition to its intrinsic value, culture provides important social and economic benefits. With improved learning and health, increased tolerance, and opportunities to come together with others, culture enhances our quality of life and increases overall well-being for both individuals and communities.

What are 5 different cultures? ›

Indian, Chinese, Korean, Swiss and American are the 5 different cultures of the world. What are cultural views? Every culture consists of a different view. So as a whole we can say that cultural views vary depending on countries, history, demographic conditions, political views, and ideologies.

What are examples of culture? ›

Customs, laws, dress, architectural style, social standards and traditions are all examples of cultural elements. Since 2010, Culture is considered the Fourth Pillar of Sustainable Development by UNESCO.

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