First-time visitors to the US are often oblivious to things that are standard practice for Americans. After learning you should stay in your vehicle when pulled over by a cop, one visitor asked the internet to share other unspoken social rules that aren’t obvious to non-Americans.
Note: Some quotes in this piece have been lightly edited for grammar.
1: Up Close and Personal
In some countries, personal space doesn’t exist. America isn’t one of them. “Don’t stand so close that I can feel your breath,” an American cautioned. A Texan agreed. “If you’re less than an arm’s length away in a non-crowded space, you’re too close to me.”
2: Eyes on the Prize
“Stop staring at me,” one American advised. “This is one of the most important ones,” another American said. “Staring at the wrong person in some areas could end very badly.”
3: Careful With Cops
In addition to not getting out of your car when pulled over by police, one American advises visitors, “Do NOT attempt to give them money. Bribes are a serious offense.” Another adds, “If you drive an older car and get pulled over at night in a city, Turn OFF your engine, turn ON your interior lights, and put BOTH hands on your steering wheel so they’re visible.”
4: Eagle Eyes
Another American said their husband is from a culture that stares at people even after you look at them. “He still does it occasionally, and I have to remind him that it makes Americans terribly uncomfortable.”
5: Oh Snap
A South Carolina resident has advice that applies to any business, but primarily restaurants. “Do not snap your fingers or whistle to get the attention of an employee,” they said. “That is considered to be extremely rude here.”
6: Sticker Shock
For the most part, Americans don’t barter prices like other countries do. “You can haggle at a garage sale or a flea market, but otherwise, the price is the price,” they said. Another commenter made a couple of exceptions, “You can haggle over the price of a home or a car.”
7: Fake Farewells
An American wants visitors to understand that “See you later” is more of a formality. “It does not mean you will see them later,” they said. Another added that the phrase “We should get together sometime” rarely means you’re making plans. “You might eventually do that, but, likely, you will not,” they said.
8: Move Over
In some spots, it’s okay to mosey around. But try to avoid walking slowly or standing in the middle of the sidewalk in busy cities, one American says, especially in New York City. “It’s just straight up unacceptable to them,” they said. “People will just walk through you if you’re in the way.”
9: Casually Concerned
A Virginia resident said that asking Americans, “You alright?” or “You okay?” isn’t as casual as visitors think. “We will believe you are expressing concern for us. It’s not a greeting like it is for the British.” They added, “On the other hand, ‘How ya doing?’ is a greeting.”
10: Helping Hands
“Assume most people are nice but don’t want anything more than a perfunctory greeting,” one American advised foreigners. They added that most Americans will help if you’re lost or confused, though. “Despite what people might say on the internet – we want you to like our country on your visit.”
11: Time Will Tell
A Massachusetts resident said that Americans measure distance in time. “You should fully expect to be told how long it will take you to get someplace instead of how far away it is.”
12: Don’t Forget the Tax
A Floridian warned visitors that prices on store shelves and restaurant menus rarely include the tax, so expect a surcharge of about 6-10% depending on where you are. They added that some states and local counties have different rates. “Some places like Delaware don’t have sales tax.”
13: Hands to Yourself
“Don’t touch us if you don’t know us,” one American said. “Handshakes are allowed if the situation calls for it, but you’ll freak out people if you just go up and touch them.”
14: Don’t Discriminate
It may seem obvious, but a Chicagoan says that caste-based discrimination is a no-no when working with American clients. “I used to work at a huge retail store where the employees were VERY diverse, and the amount of discrimination was appalling,” they said. “Clients from other countries cannot discriminate against employees because of their race or ethnicity.”
15: Wait Your Turn
“Never, ever cut in line,” an American warns. “I’m an otherwise nonconfrontational person, but [line] cutters have made me nuts since childhood.” Another said in the US, we value our time. “It’s so disrespectful of my existence as a human being to cut in line to make me spend more of it waiting longer.”
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