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Understanding American Culture

Understanding American Culture

Before you pack your bags and move to the United States, it’ll be good to do your research so you can get to know American culture.

Getting familiar with the culture even before you reach your new country will help with your adjustment. It will also help you understand why people in America act and think the way they do, and it will help you spot similarities and points of connection between your home culture and American culture, as well as differences that you may want to incorporate into your own way of life.

American Culture examples

When you move to the U.S., here are some cultural norms you may notice during your first interactions with Americans:

  • Greetings – Americans greet each other with a “How are you”; remember that this is a greeting and not an actual question about how you are
  • Friendliness – Americans are generally friendly and are open to small talk
  • Candour – Americans are frank, which may surprise you if you are used to being more subtle with your comments
  • Sports culture – Americans socialize around sports, with American football, basketball, baseball, and hockey being the top four sports they get the most excited about

When you start working in the U.S., you’ll have 10 public holidays. You can use this time to plan dinner with friends or to gather and watch the big game:

  • New Year’s Day (Jan. 1)
  • Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Third Monday in January)
  • President’s Day (Third Monday in February)
  • Memorial Day (Last Monday in May)
  • Independence Day (July 4)
  • Labour Day (First Monday in September)
  • Columbus Day (Second Monday in October)
  • Veterans Day (Nov. 11)
  • Thanksgiving Day (Fourth Thursday in November)
  • Christmas Day (Dec. 25)

Tipping in America

When you’re out having fun, remember that the American culture is a tipping culture. Most service workers expect you to add 15% to 20% of your total bill for their efforts.

Depending on a business’s policy, you can tip at:

  • Restaurants
  • Cab rides
  • Barbers
  • Hotels
  • Car valets
  • Moving companies
  • Food deliveries
  • Tattoo parlours

Living on your own in the U.S.

Though there will be time to make friends and socialize, moving to America also means being independent. It will be good to know what to do when you’re in an emergency alone. So, when you start living on your own in the U.S., remember the following:

  • Call 911 – A dispatcher will get your location, number, and details about your emergency so they can send someone to help you
  • Keep emergency numbers on hand – Make sure to record the numbers of the nearest police department, fire department, hospital, and poison control centre just in case; post them on your refrigerator so you don’t forget

Dimensions of American culture

Now that we’ve covered American culture on the surface, let us go deeper and gain a better understanding of why Americans behave the way they do. This will help us shed our preconceived notions toward and gain an appreciation of the country where we will be living.

First, let’s talk about the word “culture.” According to the U.S. Department of State, culture is “a collection of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, behaviours, rituals, and religions, [sic] of a certain group.”

In other words, culture goes beyond what you first encounter when you arrive in a new country; because, at the heart of a country’s customs, are what the people hold dear—their values and beliefs.

This can be better observed in the dimensions of culture, which is defined by a spectrum with two opposing poles. Your home culture and American culture can fall at any point between these poles. They may be in the exact same spot, or they may be in opposite sides of the spectrum.

At each side of the spectrum are two opposing beliefs; these are:

  • Individualism – Collectivism: American culture is focused on independence and self-reliance, while other cultures give importance to group harmony and belonging
  • Egalitarianism – Hierarchy: American culture asserts that everyone is equal, so there is this relaxed way of interacting where colleagues are on a first-name basis and are open to debate; meanwhile, other cultures have a level of formality that recognizes someone’s seniority and people defer to the decisions of someone of a higher rank
  • Direct Communication – Indirect Communication: American culture prefers more upfront ways of speaking, where people say what they mean to get the work done; in other cultures, people prefer to avoid conflict, opting for context and subtler language to give feedback
  • Tasks – Relationships: American culture separates work from personal life, while other cultures focus on creating good relationships at work to foster collaboration
  • Private Space – Public Space: In American culture, people like to have both a figurative and literal boundary that only lets in immediate family and close friends; in other countries, people expand these boundaries to extended family or their community

These beliefs also reflect a culture’s values, so let’s talk about those too.

American culture values

When you talk about American culture, you must understand its values. These are what drive Americans’ behaviours and what attracts people to move to America.

According to the U.S. Department of State, America has these 11 values:

  • Independence – Americans believe that you can shape your own destiny and that you can decide who you are and who you want to be; this belief is also seen in their Declaration of Independence
  • Equality – Americans believe that everyone is equal regardless of who they are and what they believe in
  • Individualism – Americans believe that you can do and live the way you want if it makes you happy and if it does not hurt others
  • Democracy – Americans choose their leaders and believe that public servants answer to the people who voted them into office
  • Nationalism – Americans are loyal to their country and show it in different ways, including reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in schools, singing the national anthem, and waving the American flag in front of their homes
  • Meritocracy – Americans want to live in a society where your hard work and skills reap equivalent rewards; they value the self-made person who works toward a good life
  • Directness – Americans don’t beat around the bush; they value candour so that nothing is misunderstood, and they can complete the tasks at hand
  • Innovation – Americans want to shape a better future by creating new and better ways of doing things in the present
  • Consumerism – Americans like to acquire things as a sign that they are doing well; these things may include homes, cars, and gadgets that a person has worked hard and saved up for
  • Informality – Americans assert that everyone is equal, and this shows in the way they dress, speak, and carry themselves; for people coming from more formal cultures, this relaxed way of life may require some adjustment
  • Effective use of time – Americans put importance to every second and see punctuality and getting things done in a timely manner as a sign of respect

American culture shock

Now that you have an idea of American culture, you can build your new life in the States with a better understanding of the people around you. You may even want to incorporate some American values into your own life as you continue to grow into the person you are meant to be.

However, you should remember that adjusting to a new culture takes time. Do not rush yourself; everyone grows at their own pace.

If you’re experiencing culture shock in America, here are some activities that can help you:

  • Read up on American culture – Doing more research on American culture can help you when you interact with your new co-workers and friends; it can also prepare you to deal with new situations rather than always being surprised by the cultural differences
  • Stay healthy – Get some exercise, eat healthy food, and get enough sleep so that you can have enough energy to learn more about your new country
  • Find happiness in small things – Going for a walk, listening to your favourite songs from home, and trying new food are small acts that may bring you joy as you are adjusting to American culture
  • Talk to someone – You may know someone who has been in your position; talk to them and listen to how they’ve adapted to life in America
  • Write down your thoughts – Keeping a diary is one way to help you sort out your thoughts as you manoeuvre the ups and downs of learning about American culture

Sending money to the Philippines from the U.S.A.

You may have goals of building a better life for your loved ones in the Philippines, and this may be why you wanted to work in America.

Save up for those dreams by using a secure money transfer platform that lets you deposit to major Philippine banks, pay government contributions, and invest in real estate.

For more information visit Kabayan Remit’s website here.

Adapting to American culture may be challenging, but we know your inner strength and dreams will push you forward. Kaya mo ‘yan.


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