Get Ready for the Summer Work Travel program: American Customs and Habits

By: Julia Rabin, Greenheart Exchange Cultural Outreach Assistant

Americans have customs and traditions that may seem unusual to you! There are gestures and expressions that may not mean the same thing as they do in your country. Some examples of these customs and habits you will find in a variety of settings include:


  • Friendliness: Most Americans are warm and friendly, and they will be genuinely interested in what you have to say. This is one of the best aspects of our culture – take advantage of it!
  • Greetings: Americans usually shake hands when greeting each other (both men and women). It is unusual for people to kiss hello unless they know each other well. Hugs are common and less personal than a kiss. Americans also use informal expressions to say hello (“How are you?” “Hey!” “What’s going on?”) Most Americans will greet you with a smile, even if they don’t know you!
  • Excuse me, Please, Thank you: These expressions are used very freely in the United States, regardless of your relationship to the other person.

 Going Out

  • Food and drinks “to-go”: Getting a coffee or meal “to-go” is quite common. Many American restaurants are open all day and dining times are very flexible.
  • Eating out with Americans: If an American invites you out to eat, be prepared to pay your share of the bill.
  • Tipping: You should tip 15-20% in restaurants and after every round of drinks in a bar.

American Mentality

  • Time: Generally, Americans feel that time is a commodity. Sometimes it may seem like everyone in the U.S. is in a rush. Waiters may hurry you and people may push past you; do not take this personally.
  • Size: Most participants find that things in the United States are created on a larger scale.
  • Cars: Although public transportation is a great way to save money and the environment, cars are most frequently used here.


Observe others around you. Give people a comfortable distance when you are standing in line or having a conversation.

  • Standing in line: Americans can be very territorial about their place in line. Please respect this and wait your turn.
  • Hygiene: Americans are very sensitive to body odor. Please make sure you bathe and use deodorant daily.
  • Work: In many work environments, Americans are on a first name basis. Americans can work long hours, but they generally have a work hard/play hard attitude.
  • Identification: It is customary to always have identification on you, especially to enter a bar. However, you should leave your passports at home; just carry a copy.
  • Silence: Americans often try to fill silences with simple conversation (we call this “small talk”).

Americans might express themselves differently than what you are used to – but this is a great way to practice cultural exchange! What is similar? What is different? What have you learned about other cultures and traditions based on these interactions? Share with us in the comments!

Excited about your Greenheart Exchange Summer Work Travel experience?! Make sure to read all of the resources available to you and understand the program requirements. We can’t wait to spend the program together!