Texas Tech University

Guide to American Culture for Intl. Students

Images of the USA

Welcome to the United States of America. Adjusting to a new culture can be a great challenge. No matter how prepared you are there will always be something that can catch you off guard. That is why we have listed this helpful resource guide in the hopes that it might make your transition easier.

Remember to always take any advice with a grain of salt. Not all individuals will fall in line with all cultural "norms" as the USA is a very large country with many types of people and cultures. Peoples cultures can vary from state to state and can also depend on their family background. However we feel that this is the best example of "American" Cultural norms we have come across.

Helpful website for Adjusting to Life in the USA

USAHello Button

Welcome to Lubbock! Downloadable PDF

Food

Food is a big part of culture no matter where you are. It is often something we discuss far before your arrival to the US, as it is very different from the food you might be accustomed to at home. The US is very diverse and food types vary depending on where you are. In Texas, we have a lot of what we call Tex-Mex. A combination of Mexican and Texan cuisine. This usually includes beans, rice, tortillas ( unleavened flatbreads made with corn or wheat flour), pork, beef, chicken, jalapeños, cheese, and avocados combined with a number of chili spices. 

While Tex-Mex is very popular there are still many other things to enjoy! Americans like to get creative with their food and enjoy rich and flavorful meals. The best thing you can do is to try new things! You might be surprised what you end up enjoying. 

  • Serving sizes: You might already know this, but American serving sizes tend to be very large. If you get a meal that is much bigger than you expected, don't worry! No one expects you to eat the entire thing. It is normal to ask for a takeaway box at the end of the meal. Then you have lunch for tomorrow! Think of it as paying for two meals, dinner now and lunch for later. What a deal!
  • Changing the menu: Imagine you are sitting in an American restaurant and nothing on the menu is vegetarian! Now, this won't happen when you arrive, because we won't let it, but for the sake of the story, let us pretend. The waiter comes over and asks if you are ready to order. It is completely normal to ask for something on the menu to be changed slightly. “I would like the pasta, but can I please have it without the meatballs?” Normally they will say sure! “No problem” I often do this for mushrooms as I don't like them. Sometimes depending on how the meal is prepared, they may not be able to do this, but usually, they can and it is not impolite to ask. 
No meat please


Foods that are hard to find or avoid in Lubbock:

While it is not impossible to find these foods in Lubbock, we do want to give you a fair warning before you arrive. Beef is a popular staple in the West Texas diet, but it doesn't mean it is impossible to avoid. 

  1. Halal - The majority of meats here are not Halal. There are a few restaurants that follow these regulations. Please check with the local Mosque or the Muslim Student Association for recommendations. 
  2. Vegan (no eggs, dairy or meat)
  3. Eggless - The majority of our breads and pastries are made with eggs. Be sure to ALWAYS ask before eating anything like this if you have an eggless diet. 

American English Vs. other types of English

There may be a good chance you learned British English growing up, and while British and American English are very similar. There may be a few words that are different. Americans also have their own slang depending on the part of the country they live in. Some words in the South might be different than some words in the North. For example the word “Soda”. In Texas, if you want a soda you say “I would like a coke.” to which the waiter would reply, “Ok, what type.” We use the word Coke as a general phrase for all types of soda. In other parts of the country, people ask for a “Pop” or a “Cola”. Here are some other fun differences you might notice. 

British English American English
Trousers Pants
Flat Apartment
Biscuit Cookie


To learn more visit the British Councils website at: https://www.britishcouncilfoundation.id/en/english/articles/british-and-american-english

American Slang

Slang can vary depending on the region of the US you are in. The USA is a very LARGE country and this makes language differ sometimes from state to state. We have complied a list of general US slag terms. 

American Slang Word

Definition

Ya'll

"You All" - Typically used in Southern States liked Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and so on.

Example: "Where are ya'll going for dinner?"

You're Good

"It's okay" or "don't worry about it"

Example: Person 1 "Im sorry I dropped your bag"

Person 2 "You're good!"

What's Up

This word has many meanings, but is typically used to ask how someone is or what they are doing. It dose not always require a response based on how it is used. 

Example: Person 1 "Hey Sam, what's up?"

Sam "Not much, just working on my homework."

Chill

" to Relax"

Example: "You really need to chill!"

Dead

(Such as in a restaurant or bar) no one's there

Example "There was no wait for a table, because the restaurant was dead!"

Hang out

To spend time with people

Example: "Would you like to hang out next weekend?"

 

 For a really good list of slang and phrases visit Berlitz.com and read

" 321 colorful, odd and unique American slang words and phrases".

Being on time is a VERY BIG Deal!

Americans have it instilled in them from a very young age to be on time for things. In fact when I was in college, if I was one minute late for class the professor would shut the door and lock it. If anyone was late, too bad! You would miss the class and be counted absent. Being late is considered disrespectful to the person you are meeting. It's almost like saying that their time isn't important to you. We have a saying here, “If you are early you are on time and if you are on time you are late.” 

Informality

Americans are rather informal. Once we get to know someone, we tend to call them by their first name, even our superiors. We will still be respectful, but for example, I call my director Dr. Richard Porter, just Richard. However, he has given me permission to call him by his first name, so this is ok. Some Americans may prefer the more formal names, they will tell you what they prefer to be called. We also tend to dress a bit more casually, and eating while walking or drinking coffee in a meeting is normal. 

  • Using Yes Sir and Yes Ma'am is polite. 
  • Most Americans, even in a business setting, will prefer to be called by their first name. However, it is good principle to address them by their title (Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., or Professor) and last name unless you are invited to do otherwise.
  • Americans may call you by your first name once they're introduced to you. This is not considered rude, but may reflect a casual setting upon which you are introduced. 
  • In general, it is polite to initially call a woman Miss (Ms.) until you're invited to do otherwise.

Dress and Modesty Standards for Americans

Through out my years working at TTU and with international students i general, many of my students are often surprised by how very casual Americans dress. Americans tend to choose comfort when picking a outfit for the day. While you might be surprised at first to see people wearing their pajamas at the grocery store or wearing workout clothing outside of the gym please keep in mind this is normal everyday where for many Americans. Casual style

  • Students tend to dress casually during the daytime at school.
  • Women may dress immodestly, but it is NOT an invitation for men. 
  • Showing skin is common for men and women and can be considered a relief from the heat as well as fashion. 

“People are able to wear different types of clothes as long as they don't violate rules, but each organization, gathering, party, etc., has different dress codes. So before going anywhere make sure you know their dress code, otherwise, you can wear whatever you want. For example, when you go for an interview you need to wear a formal suit. Clothes should be neat and you need to change them every day. People don't judge others by their appearance and dress.

Women may dress immodestly (in your opinion and in comparison with women in your country), but it is not a signal or an invitation for men. For example, my aunt went to New York City a couple of weeks ago and saw some young and beautiful girls who didn't wear bras. She asked one police officer about it and he told her it is not illegal in New York.

For students from Islamic countries, it may be weird to see men/women in shorts but after a while, it will become normal. Also, Muslim women can wear scarves without any restriction.” (Amir Sodeifi, Iran) (harrisburg.psu.edu)

Some Important American Laws

  • Seat belts are required by law for EVERY passenger in the car. 
  • The drinking age in the USA is 21. Providing alcohol to a person under 21 is illegal. 
  • You cannot have open containers of alcohol in a car, even if you are not driving. 
  • Smoking is not allowed in most public places or indoors. The only areas that allow indoor smoking are typically bars or dance clubs. Smoking on the TTU campus is permitted outside only and you must stay at least 25ft from buildings. 
  • Throwing cigarette butts on the ground is considered littering. If caught you can be fined. 
"What International Students Need to Know About Drugs and Alcohol"

 

Social Taboos in the USA

  • Cover your mouth when you yawn, sneeze or cough. Americans are careful not to spread germs. It is considered unsanitary to not cover one's mouth.
  • Americans are offended by strong odors, and normally bathe daily (sometimes twice daily in hot weather) and use underarm deodorant. Strong-smelling perfumes or colognes are applied sparingly because they may not be pleasant to others.
  • Do not belch loudly in public.
  • Do not spit. You may see people spitting on the streets, but it is considered very rude.
  • Do not pick your teeth or nose in public.
  • It is good to look people in the eye when you talk to them, but be careful not to stare (gaze continuously) at someone you are talking to.
  • Do not whistle at women.  This is sexual harassment.
  • Do not litter. This is also considered very rude. High winds in Lubbock blow trash out of bins and we do not want to add to that!

Animals and Pets

  • Americans tend to love their pets and see them as “part of the family”.  Today, more and more young people are choosing to keep pets rather than have children in the US due to the high cost of childcare.
  • There are animal protection laws to prevent animal cruelty. There is now a Federal law, signedGirl takes photo with dog in 2019 that makes animal cruelty a felony crime. “Studies repeatedly show that there is a close link between extreme animal cruelty and violence toward people. By bringing charges against perpetrators of animal cruelty, we may be able to prevent individuals with a propensity for harming people from acting on those impulses.” (Humansociety.org) The penalty for violating the law can include a fine, a prison term of up to seven years, or both. (NPR)

Social and Public Culture

Greetings
  • Most people shake hands firmly and briefly when they meet for the first time or in a formal situation.
  • When people are good friends or family, they will sometimes hug each other to say hello, goodbye, or thank you.
  • Kissing as a greeting, however, is usually only done between relatives and close friends (on the cheek) or between lovers (on the lips). Sometimes parents will kiss their children on the lips when they are very small (usually from age 1-4). Kissing on the cheek as a greeting is not common in the US.
  • Americans like their personal space and stand about 2 feet apart when talking. Physical touching when in a conversation usually makes Americans uncomfortable. If someone backs away from you they might be doing it subconsciously and not to be rude. Please do not take offense. A funny example of this you will see is if you go to a movie theater people try to sit far away from each other unless they absolutely have to sit close. Americans love SPACE!
  • Public physical affection is acceptable. Hugging and holding hands is common between couples and is seen as sweet.
  • While potentially offensive in many cultures, giving the “thumbs up” can mean, “Good!”, “That's cool!”, “Congratulations!”, or “Good job!” in the USA.
  • Pointing at people is seen as rude.
  • “Small talk” is acceptable & is considered “nice”. For example, when you are at the check-out in a store the cashier will start talking to you. They are encouraged to do this as part of our customer service culture.

Smiles are basic signals of politeness, a non-verbal way of being friendly. We smile A LOT! 

Getting in Lines (we say lines in the USA not queues)
  • If you have to wait in a line for something such as the bathroom, tickets, or the bus wait patiently for your turn. Do not ever ask to step in front of someone simply because you are in a hurry. This could anger people, who might perceive this as you suggesting your time is more important than theirs. Just wait.
  • It is considered rude to cut in line or push your way through.
  • If you're not sure whether there is one line or several lines, you should still wait your turn and simply get behind everyone who arrived before you. You can also just ask someone.
 
Visiting an American Household
  • It is not common to take off your shoes when you enter a home. This isn't always true for everyone.
    "In my home, I do ask people to take off their shoes.I studied abroad in Japan and my host parents explained to me why wearing your shoes in the house was so unhygienic. Once I explained to my parents back in Texas why I started requiring this rule in my house, they also began this practice" - Kat
  • It is appropriate and kind to bring a small gift to the hostess of the home you're visiting.
  • Americans expect guests to come punctually at the agreed time. If you must be late, it is considerate to let them know before the time has passed that you were meant to arrive.
  • In homes, food is usually passed around the table and each person serves themselves. If you don't want one of the dishes being passed, simply don't take any and pass it to the next person. You do not have to take everything that is passed to you.
  • Most American families in Texas are Christian. not all Texans are Christians, but it is the most prevalent religion in the state. This means that your host family might want to pray before they eat. If this is the case don't feel pressured to also pray. You can close your eyes (if you want to) and wait until the prayer is finished, then you can begin eating! 

Women, Gender and Relationships

In the US women and men are considered equal. We treat each other with respect and courtesy. In Southern States like Texas especially women as very friendly which might be confusing if you are from a country where this is not common or is seen as flirting. If a woman is friendly and helpful to you that does not mean she is flirting with you, but simply being polite and welcoming. In Texas, people are known for going out of their way to help one another. We are nicknamed “the friendly state” because of our kind and welcoming nature!

  • In the States, women are seen as equal to men and expect to be treated fairly. It is normal forDifferent Styles of the American Woman both men and women to share the responsibilities of the home and children.
  • Safety for women: It is not a good idea for women to walk around on their own at night. It is better to stay as part of a group.
  • Do not propose marriage to a woman you have just met. This is not a normal thing in the US. Women are very independent and want to get to know someone usually for at least a year or more before considering marriage. It is also not polite to assume she is attracted to men.
Friendships & Relationships
  • The LGBT Community - Being part of the LGBTQ+ community is normal in the USA and it is common to seeDifferent Types of Couples couples together in public. Yelling at someone who is LGBT or using slurs is considered hate speech. Gay marriage has been legal in the USA since 2015. 
  • Public physical affection is acceptable. Hugging and holding hands is common between couples and is seen as sweet. 
  • No means no.
  • Women often ask men on dates just as men often ask women on dates. It is not considered taboo here. It is also common for the bill to be shared on dates between the couple.  
  • America is known as the Melting Pot. This is because we have many different types of people here! There are people from all types of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Intercultural & interracial dating are normal. People from all type of various religious, cultural, and racial backgrounds are free to marry and date whomever they want to here. You will see many different types of couples. 
  • TTU has an LGBTQ Office if you ever feel the need to get in contact with anyone for help or would like to get involved or volunteer. To learn more or get help and resources visit their page here

Restaurant Etiquette

  • Tipping your server 15%-20% is expected. Servers are typically paid less than minimum wage (which in Texas is $7.25 USD). They depend on tips for their pay which is why tipping is important!
  • No tips are needed at fast-food restaurants or for “carry out”.
  • “Doggie bags” are a common way to package leftovers and take them home.
  • Burgers, sandwiches, and pizza are often eaten with hands, instead of utensils.
  • Do not talk with food in your mouth. 
  • Eat quietly with your mouth closed. Eating loudly is seen as bad manners. Finishing a meal shows the chef you enjoyed it. 

 

Bartering/Haggling Prices

Haggling occurs when two parties involved in a transaction negotiate until a common ground is met. Common ground is met when the two parties involved make back-and-forth offers until a price is agreed upon. The price agreed upon is generally fair and equitable for both parties involved. Haggling is another word for negotiating, bartering, and bargaining.

Haggling is not something you will see in everyday life in the United States. Haggling is socially acceptable in specific situations such as purchasing a car, real estate, and flea markets. It is not socially acceptable in commercialized businesses, such as retailers, restaurants, and supermarkets.

In other situations, haggling is considered rude and is not socially acceptable. Listed below are situations where haggling is not socially acceptable.

  • Retailers
  • Restaurants
  • Supermarkets
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Special events
  • Commercialized businesses

Haggling is not considered socially acceptable in larger markets. A consumer would not walk into Cabela's and try to haggle down the price of a crossbow.

This is because the prices are set by the company and the employees do not have the ability to change to cost. Trying to barter the cost down will only lead to the salesperson feeling very uncomfortable and still haveing to say no. 

However, in American society, there are certain times when it is acceptable to try and haggle. These include,

  • Business-to-business commerce
  • Suppliers
  • Manufacturing and production negotiations
  • Transportation of goods
  • Loans
  • Real estate negotiations
  • Salary negotiations
  • Car purchases
  • Private lessons
  • Flea markets
  • Uncommercialized food markets
Source: https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/valuation/haggling/

Emails to Professors or Staff/Faculty at the University

How to begin:

"First impressions count. How you greet others affects other people's impressions of you, and the same can be said about email salutations.

Using salutations such as “Dear” or “Hello” followed by the academic's name and/or title (eg. Dr. AAA) can be a good way to start an email and conveys respect. You can crosscheck their names in the class syllabus." (studyinternational.com)

We do not recommend assuming the person's gender if you do not know it. So it is best not to start an email with Dear sir if the person you are emailing ends up being a woman. This could come across as rude because you are assuming that the person working at the University must be male. use a gender-natural term such as "to whom it may concern" if you aren't sure. 

Introduce yourself

"
How well do you know your professor? If the answer is “not well”, start your email by introducing yourself, including your name and course.

Your professor probably has many other students from different courses or classes emailing them throughout the week — a brief introduction of yourself can go a long way towards helping them place you and respond to your email with what you need." (studyinternational.com)

Why are you emailing them?

"Keep your email short, simple, and to the point. Most importantly, state your question or request politely. If you have numerous requests or questions, list them out clearly so that your professor can read them easily. 

You don't want to send numerous emails about several issues when you can organize your questions or requests in one, organized email. Remember: not everyone has the time (or the patience) to go through long or unclear copies of emails. 

The worst-case scenario? Your email may go unread." (studyinternational.com)

Signing off

Thank you is a safe sign-off, but you can also consider others such as “Best”, “Best regards” or “Sincerely”, followed by a signature or your name.

Your email signature can include your full name and, major" (studyinternational.com)

 



What are American Values?

Individualism


"The most important thing to understand about US Americans is probably their devotion to "individualism." They have been trained from early in their lives to consider themselves separate individuals who are responsible for their own situations in life and their own destinies. They have not been trained to see themselves as members of a close-knit, tightly interdependent family, religious group, tribe, nation, or other group." (universityofportland)

Sometimes this can be challenging for students who come from cultures that are the opposite; communal cultures, where living with many family members or close together is the norm. In the USA is is common to move out of the family home at 18. Staying too long in the family home can be seen in a negative light. People who do this, especially men, are often seen as lazy and unmotivated to become independent and start their own life away from their parents. 

Some international students struggle adapting to being on their own more often than they are used to. We recommend joining on-campus clubs, especially if you can find one related to your country, culture, or language.

Equality

The United States is a melting pot of many different cultures, religions, sexual orientations, ideas and ethnicity's. This can be a wonderful thing because in the US it is encouraged that everyone speak their mind and that everyone ideas be heard. Discrimination is something many Americans do not believe in and work very hard to prevent in education and in the work place. There are laws that prevent this type of discrimination. For example employers are not allowed to ask you about your age, sexual orientation or religion.

While it still is an very prevalent issue all across the country, the USA was founded on the belief that "all people are created equal" as stated in the Declaration of Independence the founding document of the country. 

Group of diverse people

Informality

"Their notion of equality leads US Americans to be quite informal in their behavior and in their relationships with other people. Store clerks and waiters, for example, may introduce themselves by their first (given) names and treat customers in a casual, friendly manner. This goes for professors as well and other college staff. Do not be surprised when your professor introduces themselves by their first name. 

"This informal behavior can puzzle foreign visitors who hold high stations in countries where it is not assumed that "all [people] are created

"The superficial friendliness for which US Americans are so well known is related to their informal, egalitarian approach to other people. "Hi!" they will say to just about anyone. "How ya doing?" (That is "How are you doing?" or "How are you?") This behavior does not reflect a special interest in the person addressed, but rather a concern for showing that one is a "regular person." equal." (universityofportland)

  • When greeting someone, Americans tend to say, “Hi” or “Hello.” You use the same greeting no matter who you talk to.
  • At home, it is common for pets to live inside the house and sleep on the furniture.
  • In English, there is only one word for “you” and not multiple words for an informal and formal version. (Usahello.org)

Independence and Self Reliance

Americans value their freedom to live their lives with limited intervention and control by the government. This comes from the Declaration of Independence. Various freedoms are also guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, such as the first amendments rights to free speech and the practice of religion. 

This sense of independence motivates the importance of self-determination. Americans are very proud of being self-reliant and able to take care of themselves. They tend to think others should be self-reliant as well. (universityofportland)

Examples:

  • Americans expect anyone who can work to do so to support themselves.
  • American children tend to leave their parent's homes early. After high school, the majority of children move out to go to college or start working. 
  • Americans move away easily. It is common for people to move for work and relocate to a new place away from family and friends.

Girl leaving home

Directness and Assertiveness 

"US Americans generally consider themselves to be frank, open, and direct in their dealings with other people. "Let's lay our cards out on the table," they say. Or, "Let's stop playing games and get to the point." These and many other common phrases convey the US American's idea that people should explicitly state what they think and what they want from other people.

US Americans tend to assume that conflicts or disagreements are best settled by means of forthright discussions among the people involved. If I dislike something you are doing, I should tell you about it directly so you will know, clearly and from me personally, how I feel about it. Bringing other people to mediate a dispute is considered somewhat cowardly, the act of a person without enough courage to speak directly to someone else." (universityofportland)

Friends talking

Time

Americans place a lot of value on their time. Some Americans plan out their time carefully, using calendars for their personal and work lives. Americans may feel frustrated if they think someone or something has wasted their time. 

The famous saying “time is money” describes how Americans like to use their time “efficiently.” They want to get the most done in the shortest amount of time. You might also hear the saying "If you are on time you are late, if you are early you are on time."

Americans find it rude to have their time wasted by someone being late to an appointment. If you are talking to someone and they have to cut the conversation short by saying something like, "I'm sorry to end out chat, but I have an appointment in 10 minutes and need to go." that is considered polite and not unusual to ensure they are not late for another appointment. The person they are talking to will understand and usually respond with "OK, I will talk with you later!" (Usahello.org)

  • It is important to be “on time” and be at a place when you said you would be there. You can get in trouble for being late to school or work.  
  • It is expected that you make an appointment for things like visiting a doctor, teacher, or even a friend. Often being even a little early to an appointment is preferred.
  • If someone is going to be late to an invitation, they will call or text to let the person know they are late, even if it's only a few minutes. (Usahello.org)

 Sources: University of Portland, usahello.org

PennState at Harrisburg, https://harrisburg.psu.edu/international-students-office/guide-american-culture-etiquette