Cultural Norms and Behavior
Use of Names
First or given names are used in the U.S. more frequently than anywhere else. The last name is the family name. If they are about the same age or status, people may call each other by their first names immediately after they meet.
A few tips for learning what to call someone:
- Address people of your own approximate age and status by their first name.
- If the person is older, use Mr., Mrs., Miss or Ms. and the last name. Ask them "What shall I call you?" or "How shall I address you?"
- If someone appears uncertain about how to address you, say "You can call me..."
Be patient with people in terms of helping them pronounce your name. Just like some sounds are new to you, there will be sounds that are new to others.
A U.S. student many consider you as a friend, but he or she may only invite you to do something only once or twice a quarter. This is not because he or she does not like you. It simply means that life in the United States is very busy and U.S. students tend to have many commitments (work and family, for instance, in addition to their studies) and not much free time.
Sometimes, international students feel that U.S. students are superficial because they act very friendly but do not wish to build a friendship. Acting friendly is a U.S. custom. It is intended to create positive feelings. Some new international students feel confused when someone they do not know says hello to them in the street. This casual greeting is not intended to encourage a conversation or express a romantic interest. It is just another form of American friendliness.
"Hi, how are you?" is a common greeting in the United States, but very often, the person who asks the question does not wait for a response. Some international students think this is very rude, but it is not indented to be. It is not customary for the person asking this question to wait for a deep answer. It is customary to reply, "Fine" or "Okay." You may also want to ask how the other person is. She or he will most likely answer with the same brief response.
Minnesotans are generally very friendly, so do not be alarmed when a stranger passing by either smiles or greets you. Beyond this, in passing by someone you do know, most likely they will not stop and talk, but rather will give a greeting as they pass. this greeting may be " how are you?". Do not be shocked when they do not stay and listen to how you are. They are not being rude, it's just a cultural norm to ask how you are doing while passing without hearing the answer.
A handshake is the typical gesture in meeting someone. Occasionally, people may hug as a greeting instead, but you can always just shake hands to be on the safe side. With closer more personal friends, a hug may be more appropriate. Overall though, hugs are more common among women than men.
Humor: Some American enjoy sarcasm and a dry sense of humor. Sometimes affection can be expressed through humor or by teasing another. This can be hurtful or confusing to people who do not understand.
Directness: Depending on where you come from, Americans can seem very direct (interrupting professors) or very indirect (Minnesota nice). In the Midwest, people tend to avoid conflict and argumentation.
Emotion: The dominant style of American communication expects people to hold in their emotions. Displaying too much emotion can make one seem irrational or out-of-control. Some cultures that value passion and see loudness as a strength may see Americans as cold.
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