US social customs


Good manners, politeness and hospitality are important to most Americans, and as in any country there are certain social norms that should be followed when traveling and doing business in the USA.


When you meet an American for the first time, he or she will shake your hand, but this is not usually repeated when saying goodbye. Men and women may kiss a female friend on the cheek, but social kissing and embraces between men are not the norm.

Greeting people

Americans often greet total strangers, and it is very common to hear “Have a nice day” in shops, restaurants, and in the street. The use of “Please”, “Thank you” and “You’re welcome” is widespread and you may be considered rude if you do not use these expressions.


Americans are informal in their dealings with other people, and this is not considered a lack of respect. They prefer first name terms – “Please call me John” – and are equally polite to everyone whatever their age or position. There are no inherited or given titles like Lord or Sir in US society, but professional titles such as Father, Doctor or General are always used.

Dress codes

Many Americans dress casually, but people in more conservative areas dress more formally, with men being expected to wear a suit and tie, and have short hair. Casual wear is often not accepted in good restaurants. Casual wear is more acceptable at work and socially in the southern and western states. Many offices have “dress-down Friday”, where casual wear (but not jeans) may be worn. Invitations to special occasions will usually state the required dress code, such as black tie. On the other side of the coin, you may find that everyone is wearing jeans and a T-shirt when you turn up at an informal occasion. Black clothes or suits are required for funerals.


Punctuality is important to Americans, and it is bad form to arrive late for a meeting or special occasion. Invitations often state “dinner at 8pm for 8.30pm”. You should arrive at 8pm and expect dinner to be served at 8.30pm. Neither should you arrive early.

Gifts for hosts

It is considered polite to take a small gift when invited to an American home for dinner or to stay, although bear in mind religious concerns as some American religious groups consider alcohol sinful. Be aware of the language of flowers too if you choose to buy blooms: roses mean love and chrysanthemums are used at funerals.

Saying grace

Many families in America say grace (a special prayer) before eating a meal, so follow your hosts’ example.

Knife and fork

You may notice that most Americans do not use a knife and fork as people in other countries do. They eat with their fork in their right hand, and only use a knife to cut foods that cannot be broken up by the fork. Desserts are eaten with a fork too, and spoons are usually for coffee.


Wedding and baby showers

A baby or wedding shower is a party held for a bride or expectant mother.

If a woman is invited to such an event, she is expected to take a small gift. The type of gift required is often mentioned on the invitation.

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