Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

7 Things That You MUST Know If You Move to the USA

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Mon, Jul 15, 2013 @ 08:45 AM

life in the USA - cultural differencesAre you planning to move to the United States anytime soon? If so, today's article is for you!

Our guest author, Alastair Kane, is going to let you know about the important things that you need to keep in mind when you begin your life here in the United States. Enjoy the article!

Moving to America for any length of time can be a bit of a culture-shock, even for those moving from English-speaking countries.

If you are from a non-English speaking country, this culture-shock will be more pronounced.

To counteract this, it helps to be aware of as many cultural differences as possible in advance of your trip. So what typical differences might you need to know?


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#1) Americans communicate differently

New Yorkers in Bryant Park  American communication styleAmericans are likely to be quite bold so don’t be offended or alarmed if your new American friends seem almost ‘overly friendly’ or interested in your life and background! It’s just normal curiosity!

Feel free to ask questions back.

Many Americans are quite driven and organised, and know what they want to achieve in their lives, so expect them to ask questions about your own plans and goals.





#2) Cultures and comedy - humour doesn’t always translate

comedy and communication in US culture‘Dry’ humour, surreal humour and sarcasm don’t always do well in America.

You may be easily misunderstood.

Don’t worry if your jokes are missed at first!

It’ll take you and your American neighbours time to adjust to each others’ comedic styles – but you’ll be laughing along together soon enough!





#3) Distances are perceived differently


driving long distances in the USBecause of the sheer size of their country, Americans view distance and travel in a different context to people from other places such as Europe or smaller countries such as Japan.

A few hours drive might be a long way to a European, but an American may not bat an eyelid at that.

Because there’s so much space, getting about (to the shops, around town, to the next town over) may be a little different to what you’re used to – it tends to require some form of transportation.

If you can, it’s wise to learn to drive before visiting the States, then you can hire or purchase a car there. American cars are normally automatic, not manual as they are in most other countries, and you’ll most likely need to get an International Driving Licence. Legal driving ages vary between states, so check this if you’re unsure. Just don’t expect too many roundabouts!



#4) Here's what to do if the police pull you over...

police in the USAThis might seem a strange one, but it’s very useful to know!

Unlike in other countries, if pulled over you should NOT get out of the car.

Stay where you are, keep your hands in sight, and wait for the officer to come to you.

Roll down your window, move slowly so you don’t look threatening and do as you are asked.



#5) Attitudes toward alcohol are strict

attitudes towards drinking in the USAThe legal drinking age in America is 21.

Most bars, clubs and other such establishments will ask you for identification before you can enter – and if you’re underage, even if you don’t plan to drink, they may not let you in.

Be aware of the drinking laws for the specific state you are in.

Federal laws regarding possession, purchase and consumption vary nationwide, so always check to avoid problems!




#6) There is a strong religious influence

 church in USAAmerica is a predominantly Christian country. Religious visibility in everyday life varies between regions, and is more prominent in particular areas.

States such as Utah, Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama (among others) are well known for their beliefs. Your experience will vary depending on whereabouts in the USA you stay.

Should you stay in more religious states you may find faiths have an influence on local laws and cultural attitudes towards activities such as drinking or certain lifestyle choices. Be aware of this if you want to fit in well!



#7) Don't forget about tipping and in-store taxes

tipSome of the more noticeable everyday differences, in America tipping is common, and taxes are not added to goods ahead of purchase.

Not tipping (waiters, taxi drivers, bartenders, hairdressers etc) is considered very rude in the USA – many people in these roles rely on tips to survive, so show your appreciation of their services through tips.

Find out typical rates for different jobs to know how much to give. Regarding in-store taxes an additional clothing tax will be added during the final transaction. For example if you want to buy a pair of jeans and the label in the shop reads $40, you should remember that this is the pre-tax price.



To help you adjust to basic cultural differences during your stay in the States, it can help if you aim to socialise with Americans, as you’ll get a much better sense of what it’s like to live there day to day.

Try to learn as much as you can about the local area, typical customs, traditions, pastimes, and who knows? You might be asked along to the next potluck if you show an interest in finding out what it is!!




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Alastair Kane is a freelance writer working for Communicaid a culture and business communication skills consultancy based in the UK.




Photo credits:alberth, "Mike" Michael L. Baird,  (Young man on unicycle with American flag), Ed Yourdon, STEVENJOHNSELLER, Oakely Originals, Highway Patrol Images, sashimomura, -mvi-(warped),

Topics: Daily Life in the US, Cultural Competence, Cross Cultural Coaching

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