The Little Things

As in every other country, there are small, but important aspects to living in the U.S. that international visitors should know during their stay, including time zones, holidays that may affect work, and linguistic nuances.


There are 4 time zones in the U.S. (If it’s 10:00 am in Texas, the other time zones are illustrated below accordingly):

  • 11:00 am – Eastern Standard Time (EST)
  • 10:00 am – Central Standard Time (CST) -The majority of Texas resides in this time zone
  • 9:00 am – Mountain Standard Time (MST)
  • 8:00 am – Pacific Standard Time (PST)

Daylight Savings Time is a time adjustment to achieve longer evening daylight, especially in summer, by setting the clocks an hour ahead of the standard time. It occurs on the second Sunday in March, and ends on the first Sunday in November, where the clocks are set back one hour to standard time. Smart phones and computers will usually make this switch automatically, but you will have to adjust watches, alarm clocks, kitchen appliances, and vehicle clocks.

National Holidays

  • New Year’s Day – January 1st
  • Martin Luther King (Jr.) Day – 3rd Monday in January
  • Valentine’s Day – February 14th (not observed by taking off work or school)
  • President’s Day – 3rd Monday in February
  • Memorial Day – Last Monday in May
  • Independence Day – 4th of July
  • Labor Day – 1st Monday in September
  • Halloween – October 31st (not observed by taking off work or school)
  • Veteran Day – November 11th, observed on the following Monday
  • Thanksgiving – 4th Thursday of November
  • Christmas Eve – December 24th
  • Christmas Day – December 25th
  • New Year’s Eve – December 31st

Selective Service

All males between ages 18 and 25 must register with the Selective Service System (SSS) within 30 days of arriving in the U.S. This includes born and naturalized citizens, parolees, undocumented immigrants, legal permanent residents, asylum seekers, refugees, and all males with visas of any kind which expired more than 30 days ago. The few individuals who are exempt from this requirement are those on current non-immigrant visas. 


In the U.S., signatures are a common requirement of official and unofficial documents, receipts, and other various paperwork. Usually, you will be asked to print your name (in clear, legible script), and then provide a signature, which is usually written in cursive.

Initials are another way that you may be asked to acknowledge a document or statement. Your initials are the first letter of your first name and the first letter of your last name (ex. Jane Doe = J.D.).


The order in which we write the date is unique to the U.S. Unless prompted otherwise, the date will always be written in the order of month, day, year (12/24/2019, 12-24-19, 12.24.2019).

If you want ensure the date is written correctly, you can also write out the month instead of using numbers.

American Idioms

  • Letting the cat out of the bag. – Telling a secret. (My sister let the cat out of the bag about our new baby.)
  • Raining cats and dogs. – Heavy rain, pouring. (Wow, it’s raining cats and dogs out there!)
  • Couch potato – A lazy, inactive person that typically spends a lot of time on the couch watching television. (My teenage son has turned into such a couch potato!)
  • Hold your horses. – To wait. (Hold your horses! We aren’t ready to leave yet.)
  • Don’t judge a book by its cover. – Advice to not judge someone or something based on their outward appearance. (Blake didn’t think he liked peaches because the skin was fuzzy, but once he tried a piece, he learned not to judge a book by its cover.)
  • Biting off more than you can chew. – Trying to do too much, or attempt more than you are capable of. (At 13, Alex thought she could easily babysit 4 young boys by herself, but after the first hour, she realized that she had bitten off more than she could chew.)
  • Hitting the nail on the head. – Doing or saying something that is exactly right. (When my car didn’t start, my neighbor said it had a dead battery. He hit the nail on the head!)
  • To cost an arm and a leg – To be extremely expensive. (Rachel loved the designer boots in the window, but she only had $50 and the shoes cost an arm and a leg!)
  • Hit the books. – To study, usually with intensity. (Tammy left the party early to hit the books before her final exam the next morning.)
  • Sit tight. – To stay in one’s place, to remain firmly. (“Your mother has a flat tire, so sit tight until I get back.”)
  • Going cold turkey. – To quit something suddenly and abruptly, not gradually. (John tried to quit smoking cold turkey, even though there could be serious health risks.)
  • Blow off steam – To get rid of built up emotions or energy. (After the fight with his wife, Aaron when for a run to blow off steam.)
  • Cut to the chase. – To get to the point, usually quickly or frankly. (After a long introduction, the speaker said, “Let’s cut to the chase. There will be no holiday bonuses this year.”)
  • Up in the air – Undecided, unresolved. (The time for your final exam is up in the air right now, because of the construction on the lecture hall.)
  • Rule of thumb – A general rule or way of doing something that is practical but not precise, something done commonly and often, but not in every situation. (A good rule of thumb is to get 30 minutes of exercise every day.)
  • Piece of cake! – Very easy, easily done. (Derek had studied very well, so his final exam was a piece of cake!)
  • Cup of tea – Something one likes, enjoys, or is good at. (As a painter, writing and storytelling wasn’t Rick’s cup of tea.)
  • Under the weather – To be sick. (After hanging out with her nephew while he was sick, Lauren started to feel under the weather.)
  • Down to earth – Used to describe someone who is practical, sensible, humble. (Even with all her fame and success on Broadway, Karen was surprisingly down to earth.)
  • To beat around the bush – To talk about something, while avoiding or delaying the main point. (I asked Timothy whether he knew who had taken the files from my desk, but he started beating around the bush and would not give me a direct answer.)