The Americans

What are they really like?

Like any country, there are some stereotypes and generalisations which are used to label Americans. However, to avoid offence it is best to take time to understand a culture rather than judge it. Lets take a look at and clear up some of these generalisations of American people and prepare you for some American ways.

The Americans

To begin with - that smile. You’re walking down the street, and you catch the eye of a complete stranger who will throw you a beaming smile. This may give you the impression that this grinning American is being fake, making fun or perhaps you would even jump to the conclusion that they are trying to flirt with you. Before you start over thinking - smiling, even at strangers, is just considered to be a basic signal of politeness in the States.

Along with the American smile, eye contact is compulsory in America. If you don’t look at someone in the eye whilst making conversation it is just seen as rude. This may be contradictory to some cultures where it is even disrespectful to make eye contact with an elder.

Americans are far from cold, but do respect their personal space! The average American would be comfortable standing twice as far away from a stranger to what is considered the norm in Arab and Mediterranean countries.

Some may believe that Americans are full of “small talk”, however, you have to take on board that when an American asks you “How are you?” they are not expecting you to give them a detailed analysis on your wellbeing - a quick “fine” in response is sufficient. Nevertheless, Americans can be more sensitive on subjects such as politics and religion than Europeans, refrain from openly bringing up these topics at social events.

Eating habits

Table manners and eating behaviour in the States may differ from what you’re used to. So if you’re French don’t be offended if you’re with an American who puts their hands on their lap during dinner.

Burgers and pizzas are not eaten with a knife and fork...and speaking of knives and forks, don’t expect Americans to use them in conjunction, instead the piercing method is used to eat food with a fork.

Formal dinner parties aren’t the norm either. A more relaxed gathering, whereby you will be handed a paper plate and told to “help yourself to food and drink”, shouldn’t be taken for sloppiness but rather a sign for you to be comfortable and feel at home. And finally - the “doggie bag”- and no, it’s not for your furry friend. Americans eat out a lot, and in addition portion sizes tend to be very large, so it’s considered normal to take home the leftovers from a restaurant for tomorrow’s lunch.

Ignorance?

Ok, it may be that only about 54% of Americans in 2014 don’t own a passport, and some states, such as Alabama, only 22% of the population owned a passport. And it may be that most Americans aren’t so good at pointing to countries on a globe; a recent study shows that despite two-thirds of Americans claiming to be closely following the conflict of Russian troops entering Ukraine in February 2014, and just under half wanting the USA to get involved in the situation, 84% of them were unable to locate Ukraine on the map - but give them some leeway. Realistically it’s not their fault, the media in America very much focused on the US (and not much else).

Pampered pets

Get used to pets being treated as children, in some states such as California, you may find pets being excessively cherished and even fed with an organic diet. Pooches are generally spoilt in the states by their doting owners, in 2013 Americans spent a hefty $55.7 billion on their beloved pets.

Dress code may not be quite what you are used to; low-key, casual and comfortable clothes or in other words tracksuits (sweatpants) are the norm, and are not just worn for exercise or lounging around the house!

Despite their allegedly obsessive behaviour with regards to hair, anti-ageing, fad diets and blindingly white teeth - America is a melting pot of cultures, and with such a diverse mix of countries morphed into one, it’s not really justifiable to paint all Americans with the same brush. America most definitely has its good points, it is generally made up of a very friendly, outgoing and hard working people - so try to reserve your judgement the next time you visit the States.

To begin with - that smile. You’re walking down the street, and you catch the eye of a complete stranger who will throw you a beaming smile. This may give you the impression that this grinning American is being fake, making fun or perhaps you would even jump to the conclusion that they are trying to flirt with you. Before you start over thinking - smiling, even at strangers, is just considered to be a basic signal of politeness in the States.

Along with the American smile, eye contact is compulsory in America. If you don’t look at someone in the eye whilst making conversation it is just seen as rude. This may be contradictory to some cultures where it is even disrespectful to make eye contact with an elder.

Americans are far from cold, but do respect their personal space! The average American would be comfortable standing twice as far away from a stranger to what is considered the norm in Arab and Mediterranean countries.

Some may believe that Americans are full of “small talk”, however, you have to take on board that when an American asks you “How are you?” they are not expecting you to give them a detailed analysis on your wellbeing - a quick “fine” in response is sufficient. Nevertheless, Americans can be more sensitive on subjects such as politics and religion than Europeans, refrain from openly bringing up these topics at social events.

Eating habits

Table manners and eating behaviour in the States may differ from what you’re used to. So if you’re French don’t be offended if you’re with an American who puts their hands on their lap during dinner.

Burgers and pizzas are not eaten with a knife and fork...and speaking of knives and forks, don’t expect Americans to use them in conjunction, instead the piercing method is used to eat food with a fork.

Formal dinner parties aren’t the norm either. A more relaxed gathering, whereby you will be handed a paper plate and told to “help yourself to food and drink”, shouldn’t be taken for sloppiness but rather a sign for you to be comfortable and feel at home. And finally - the “doggie bag”- and no, it’s not for your furry friend. Americans eat out a lot, and in addition portion sizes tend to be very large, so it’s considered normal to take home the leftovers from a restaurant for tomorrow’s lunch.

Ignorance?

Ok, it may be that only about 54% of Americans in 2014 don’t own a passport, and some states, such as Alabama, only 22% of the population owned a passport. And it may be that most Americans aren’t so good at pointing to countries on a globe; a recent study shows that despite two-thirds of Americans claiming to be closely following the conflict of Russian troops entering Ukraine in February 2014, and just under half wanting the USA to get involved in the situation, 84% of them were unable to locate Ukraine on the map - but give them some leeway. Realistically it’s not their fault, the media in America very much focused on the US (and not much else).

Pampered pets

Get used to pets being treated as children, in some states such as California, you may find pets being excessively cherished and even fed with an organic diet. Pooches are generally spoilt in the states by their doting owners, in 2013 Americans spent a hefty $55.7 billion on their beloved pets.

Dress code may not be quite what you are used to; low-key, casual and comfortable clothes or in other words tracksuits (sweatpants) are the norm, and are not just worn for exercise or lounging around the house!

Despite their allegedly obsessive behaviour with regards to hair, anti-ageing, fad diets and blindingly white teeth - America is a melting pot of cultures, and with such a diverse mix of countries morphed into one, it’s not really justifiable to paint all Americans with the same brush. America most definitely has its good points, it is generally made up of a very friendly, outgoing and hard working people - so try to reserve your judgement the next time you visit the States.

Further reading

Does this article help?

Do you have any comments, updates or questions on this topic? Ask them here: