Social etiquette
When moving abroad, one of the first things you will need to think about is adapting to a new culture. Source: Frederic J. Brown / AFP

Wherever you choose to study abroad, you’ll likely notice differences in culture and social etiquette. One of the first things you’ll need to think about is adapting to a new culture. You might be a bit unsure at first, but it can help you to develop a global outlook and appreciate other cultures. Adapting to a new culture does take time, and it’s not something you can expect to adapt overnight.

For instance, what sort of compliments are appropriate in the workplace or to a classmate? What language, mode of dressing or eye contact can one adopt without offending others? How does one successfully go about accepting, rejecting or proposing a date from a prospective partner? These questions might seem trivial, but they’re important to help you understand the culture better.  

Learning about social etiquette — good manners — is important to anyone travelling to a new country. Here are four areas of daily life in which you’ll want to learn more about American social etiquette:

Social etiquette

Learning about social etiquette — good manners — is important to anyone travelling to a new country. Source: Mannie Garcia / AFP


  • Drinking under the age of 21 is illegal, and it’s a crime to serve alcohol to someone under the age 21
  • Smoking isn’t allowed in most public places, but you can likely find designated “smoking areas”
  • Not unlike many other countries, buying and selling illicit drugs is illegal in the US
  • Not all states in the US have legalised marijuana for recreational use

Classroom social etiquette

  • In American universities, classroom discussions and participation are highly encouraged. It may also contribute to your overall grade, so don’t be shy about asking questions or sharing your opinions or thoughts about the subject of discussion 
  • Some lecturers or professors may allow students to eat in class, but never assume that it’s allowed without first checking 

Restaurant social etiquette and eating culture 

  • Tipping your server 15%-20% is recommended. 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
  • Burping is seen as rude, not as a compliment to the cook
  • Burgers, sandwiches, and pizza are eaten with hands, instead of utensils
  • Don’t talk with your mouthful as it’s seen as rude
  • If you get invited to eat at someone’s home, don’t be shy to ask if you should bring something as there are not always a set of rules to follow

Usage of first name, last name, and title

  • Culturally appropriate forms of address can be tricky as customs may vary across different parts of the US, but in general, it’s good practice to address a person of authority by their title (Mr, Mrs, Ms, Dr, or Professor) and last name unless invited to do otherwise
  • In most instances, you could just address someone by their first name and expect to be addressed the same way
  • If you’re addressing someone you don’t know, you could use miss, maam, or sir (e.g., Miss, you dropped something!)