INTRODUCTION TO GOOD AMERICAN WAYS
For any stay in the United States, the emphasis is generally placed on security and the formalities of travel to be completed before departure. Of course, it is essential to be in possession of an adequate travel authorization, ESTA or visa, to go to the USA, but it is also good to familiarize yourself a little with American society. To avoid possible missteps, find below a little highlight of American good manners.
POLITICS, AMERICAN VERSION
The rules of politeness are ingrained in each culture and can strongly influence the perception that we have of each other. It is, in fact, considered that being polite is the least of things, an etiquette that everyone must have. The problem arises during stays abroad since the habits and customs vary from one culture to another. What about American politeness?
The USA is not to be outdone and knowing American good manners is a great help for any trip to the USA. Besides, there are even a large number of institutes for the learning of decency; the courses relating to different fields and in particular the good manners in company or in the restaurant. In the case of a course at an American university , there is a good chance that the establishment will send an introduction to American culture, including the rules of decency. Making a good impression is important in the USA and it requires knowing good manners culture and culture in general. The good impression passes by the respect, the civility but also the respect of the dress codes (in particular in company).
As French, the first rule of American politeness to respect is not to kiss to greet someone. For people you know little or nothing about, the same goes for your work colleagues, opt for the handshake (preferably firm) or the combination of smile and nod. With your friends, it is customary to make a “hug” which is a brief hug. This hug may make you think that Americans have easy contact, but this is completely false, however. Physical contact is very limited in the United States and is definitely to be avoided at work, otherwise the wrong message will get through.
Even if physical contact is to be avoided, be aware that Americans are very outgoing in speaking. Do not be surprised that strangers smile or greet you on the street, that the supermarket cashier thinks about your purchases, etc. Again pay attention to the invisible line. All the subjects covered are superficial and short-lived, so there is no point in thinking that you have just found a friend in your contact. The “small talk” is very developed on American soil and not to submit to it is clearly perceived as rudeness and an attack on American good manners.
The use of first names is common in the USA. It is however recommended to use a polite form the first time you meet your director, professor or any other person exercising a position of authority. Note that the verb does not exist in English so the tu is necessary and is not considered disrespectful.
As French, you don’t have to worry about good American manners in restaurants. The Americans are much more relaxed than us at the table and if the food requires it, do not hesitate to eat with your fingers (note that the American cuisine is more varied than it seems). Rotating at the table is to be avoided at all costs, as is blowing your nose and talking with your mouth full. The golden rule to remember is tip. The tip culture is very strong in the United States and not to submit to it is extremely frowned upon. Allow between 15 and 20% for good service, 10% if you are only moderately satisfied. If you can’t finish your plate, don’t hesitate to ask for a “doggy bag” to take the food with you. This is a convenience in the USA and is absolutely not seen as rude.
Be careful not to arrive late, whether at the restaurant, with friends and of course at work. Punctuality is a rule of American decency.
Several French rules of politeness apply in the USA: the polite formulas – say hello, say thank you and goodbye – are essential. Avoid interrupting someone, raising your voice, sneezing in your hands, smoking outside of authorized areas (which can also cause you to get in trouble with the American authorities), etc., are also considered rules of American politeness. Respect for others is, in general, to be kept in mind: keep the door open for the person who follows, help the elders, do not pass in a queue, etc.
GOOD AMERICAN WAYS FROM STATE TO STATE
The United States of America is the fourth largest country. The American territory spans 4 time zones. Such an area leads to significant differences both in the landscape and in the way of behaving. Thus, although there are American manners recognized throughout the territory, some differences should be noted from one American state to another, or at least from one coast to another. A Canadian company has established a classification of American politeness by state: Tennessee is the most rude state, Louisiana and New Mexico are not far behind, halfway we find Florida, Hawaii, the Alaska, Arkansas. The most polite state is Oklahoma, far ahead of Alabama.
New York City is the largest American city in terms of inhabitants. It has a faster pace of life than many other American cities, hence its nickname of city that never sleeps. As a result, she has developed certain rules of her own and not wasting a New Yorker’s time is probably the golden rule of courtesy. In general, be efficient in NYC: if you need information, get straight to the point (no need for “small talk” here, but ask politely), walk on the right of the sidewalk if you are slower, know in advance what you will order if you eat on the go (street food), etc.
In California, the pace is slower which may be due to the proximity of the ocean and nature in general. Californians are known for having an open mind and are defenders of the environment and human rights. That said, northern and southern California are different from each other. Just watch American movies, you can already see different lifestyles in San Francisco and Las Vegas , for example. Californians are certainly more relaxed, but it is no less important to respect the rules of politeness. A competitive spirit will not be badly perceived in the north (notably Silicon Valley), or even for that matter to exhibit external signs of wealth. Both are less popular in cities where nature and the beach predominate. In these places, acting without respecting the environment will earn you a lot of thoughts.
In Texas, and in the South of the USA in general, old-fashioned politeness is in order with a very developed use of “Sir” and “Ma’am”. Hospitality is a virtue here, gallantry is a sign of good education in social relations and politeness reigns supreme. The Catholic religion is very important there and a lack of respect for this religion is certainly an affront.
To sum up, note that interpersonal skills are the key to not making mistakes. This rule is, moreover, to apply everywhere in the world and in all circumstances. Be sure to observe the people around you and determine your environment and respect customs.