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Living in the USA


If you’ve just arrived in the United States, you’ve certainly noticed the many ways in which the U.S. differs from your native country. Being a stranger in a strange land can be very difficult, but if you understand the customs and social patterns here, you’ll find it much easier to make it through the day. The following are some helpful suggestion and ideas taken from Alison Lanier’s book. Living in the U.S.A. (Intercultural Press, Inc., Yarmouth Maine, 1988) to help you make your transition smoother and to help you feel more comfortable and more at home in the United States.

Rush, rush, rush… To many newcomers to the United States, everyone seems to be in a hurry and under pressure, especially in the city. People push you out of their way, bus drivers are abrupt, waiters hurry you through your meal, and people are impatient in general. At first this may appear rude and you will miss the little courtesies you took for granted in your home country. But remember not to take any of this personally – Americans will assume you’re “one of them” and that you’re doing fine unless you ask for help, letting them know otherwise. And once they know you’re a stranger, they’ll usually be more than happy to help you out. Keep in mind, however, that you may encounter someone who isn’t very helpful. Don’t get discouraged, just ask someone else. Most Americans enjoy helping a stranger.

Who exactly is the typical American, anyway? Though 310 million people claim the United States as their home, their national origins span the globe, which is why America has been called “the melting pot”. But the “melting pot” idea is largely a myth, for while these diverse ethnic groups do blend in certain areas of life such as school, sports, and business to name a few, they generally keep their own customs at home. This makes it a little bit easier for a new arrival in the U.S. to find a niche here, whether it’s with a church, national group, or cultural center. Local cultural organizations are always looking for new members, especially ones directly from that specific culture.

In the beginning, you may find the informality, which is a characteristic of American society, to be disrespectful. However, like the fast pace aspect, this is simply another quality of daily life in the United States. Some things you may find striking and perhaps even rude are the almost immediate use of first names, the fact that many Americans do not shake hands but rather nod or wave or sometimes smile and say hello, and the informality of dress, even in the office. None of these things are meant to be rude, it’s just that when Americans get out of the tense, hurried city streets, they are a loose-jointed, informal, relaxed people.

In general, it’s a good thing to remember that in the United States, it’s generally one extreme or another. Pace is total – either totally hurried and competitive (in work as well as in play) or totally laid-back and at ease. Americans tend to swing between these extremes. This is the pendulum you need to understand if you are to understand America and its people.

Excerpted from Living in the USA by Alison R. Lanier.

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Last Updated: 2/4/13