Social Norms

American Attitudes About Time

Americans are usually very punctual, and adhere strictly to appointment, event, schedule times. In some cases, if you are several minutes late, your meeting or appointment may be rescheduled or canceled. It is considered rude to show up late in professional settings. For social gatherings, there is often a little more flexibility.


Tipping in the U.S. is not just suggested, but practically mandatory by social standards. While there are many professions that accept tips, tipping is most common when paying for sit-down meals (it is not customary to tip at fast food places). The majority of food service workers are paid under minimum wage and rely on tips to make up the difference. The average tipping percentage is 15-20% of your meal price. However, many restaurants will add gratuity (a tip already included on the bill) if you have a large party. Other professions that commonly accept tips are

  • Valet parking officials
  • Hair, nail, and personal beauty professionals
  • Doormen who carry your luggage
  • Food delivery

Greetings and Communication

Americans are less inclined to speak to strangers when out and about than perhaps some other cultures, however a smile, nod, or “hello” when passing a stranger is normal. In Texas, you might hear a “Howdy!”. In the workplace or in social situations, often times people will greet each other by saying “Hi, how are you?”, with the usual response being “Good, and you?”. This is another way to simply say hello, and often not an actual inquiry, especially if you do not have a close relationship with this person.

Americans are also accustomed to more personal space than some other cultures. The usual amount of personal space is about one arm’s length away. Hugs are common between friends and family, but holding hands and kissing is usually reserved for close family or sometimes strictly romantic partners.

“Small talk” is a term often used for conversations about things like the weather, sports, movies, current events, etc., and usually occurs among coworkers or people with whom you do not have a close relationship.