5 American Norms Every Foreigner Should Know About

Whether you’re traveling for pleasure, work, or study, going to a new country can be rather intimidating. You may have studied the language for years, but being immersed in a foreign culture can be overwhelming. 

There are more than 1 million international exchange students who study in the United States every year. The feeling of missing home and being lost, also known as “culture shock,” is a universal one. 

If you’re thinking of coming for a visit or extended stay, this article’s for you. We’ll help you get your bearings and figure out some common American norms. 

1. Tipping is Expected

One of the characteristics of American culture is that tipping is expected. It can be confusing because tipping is not always required. 

In general, fast food establishments don’t require tips. If you go to a restaurant and there’s a waiter taking your order, you will be expected to leave a 15% tip at the minimum.

Read this article to learn all about the common American norms!
Read this article to learn all about the common American norms!

2. Money Can Be Confusing

In the United States, all the bills are the same color: green. The amount of the bill is written in the corners, and different historical figures are on each bill. 

To deal with American money, take the time to arrange it in your wallet by denomination. If you don’t feel comfortable carrying cash, you should know that almost every store accepts credit or debit cards. 

3. Sales Tax is the Norm

In most countries, the price on the item is what you end up paying. American cultural norms, however, dictate that an additional tax is added at the register. 

Tax laws vary by state, so it’s worth doing some research. Some states tax the food you buy in supermarkets, while others tax clothing and products you purchase in stores. 

4. People Speak Quickly

While movies may not be the best examples of American culture, it is true that some regions of the country speak very quickly. 

Larger cities tend to be fast-paced, and you might not understand people very well at first. 

Take the time to work on your pronunciation. You may find that people have a much easier time understanding you, which can be a big plus in the workplace. 

5. Alcohol-Related Laws are Strict

One of the most interesting points of American culture and lifestyle is the fact that drinking is strictly regulated. There are some parts of the country where the sale of alcohol is forbidden, and the legal drinking age is 21. 

American culture and lifestyle may seem freewheeling in the movies, but visitors and residents can go to jail if they provide alcohol to minors.  

American Norms Can Vary By State

If you’ve just arrived in the United States, give yourself some time to adjust. America is a vast country and American norms vary somewhat by state. 

In the South, for example, if someone asks you how you’re doing, they really want a full answer. In the Northeast, you should just respond with a quick “fine” or “okay.”

We offer pronunciation improvement programs that can help you improve your English and even help you get a better job! Contact us directly for more information. 


English Pronunciation & Fluency Expert
Annie Ruden M.S.CCC-SLP
CEO | Accent Reduction Trainer

[email protected]

Be Understood. Be Confident.