One of the most important things that you need to learn before you study abroad is the culture and customs of that country. On this page, we’re going to take a brief look at some of the cultural customs in the United States and how you can get adjusted to them as you stay in the country.
Important note: These cultural customs are some of the universal customs you will find across the United States. The region that you are staying in may have some different customs that are not mentioned on this list (for example, in the south, it’s considered impolite if you do not refer to others as “sir” or “ma’am”).
Contrary to the popular belief of most Americans, there is no “official” language of the country. Granted, over 90% of the population speaks and/or understands at least a moderate amount of English. Most classes that you take (unless they focus on another language) will be taught in English. That is why you will be required to take the TOEFL or another English proficiency exam before you are accepted to an American university.
It’s important to realize, however, that this is not the same “English” that is spoken in the United Kingdom. The United States has its own type of English, frequently referred to as “American English” which varies depending on the region that you are living in.
If you decide to study in the United States, make sure to connect with people who are native to the region you are residing in; they can help you learn some of the particular vernaculars of the region.
There are almost as many religions as there are people in the United States. Even though a majority of the country refers to themselves as Christians, there are hundreds of variants of that Christianity in both Protestant and Catholic circles.
Other religions you will see in the United States include the following:
- Mormons (Church of Latter Day Saints)
- Jehovah’s Witnesses
- New Age Religions
20% of Americans do not associate with any particular religion. Certain regions will have higher concentrations of certain religions than others; for example, certain areas of New York have a high population of Jewish persons; Utah, Arizona, and Nevada have high populations of Mormons, and the South has a high population of evangelical and/or fundamentalist Christians.
American cuisine is as varied as the people in the country. Some of the cuisine was influenced by Europeans and Native Americans, but you can get almost any type of food that you want across the country. There are some foods that are “authentically American;” these foods include hamburgers, hot dogs, and apple pie. As with everything else in the United States, there are foods that are “regional specialties,” such as fried chicken (the south), chili (Texas), and barbecue (North Carolina and several other regions).
Holidays are a big deal in the United States, and there are several holidays that are only observed in the United States.
- Martin Luther King Jr. Day – The third Monday in January, celebrates the contributions of Martin Luther King Jr., a prominent Civil Rights leader during the Civil Rights Movement
- President’s Day – The third Monday in February, honors the birthdays of Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
- Memorial Day – The last Monday in May, honors those who died in the military.
- Independence Day – 4th of July, celebrates independence from Britain.
- Labor Day – The first Monday in September, celebrates the workforce.
- Patriot’s Day – 11th of September, commemorates those who died in the September 11th terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and southwestern Pennsylvania.
- Veteran’s Day – 11th of November, Honors living military veterans.
- Thanksgiving – The fourth Thursday in November, celebrates the harvest.
Most of these holidays are commemorated by a day off for the government, which includes most employees and those who work and study at schools and universities. Memorial services and celebrations usually commemorate these days as well.
These are just some of the customs that are celebrated in the United States. As mentioned above, there may be other cultural customs depending on the region that you are studying in, and your international studies office will be able to help you navigate through any concerns you may have.