So, you are moving to the US and you need some heads up of the cultural differences? You are in the right place, so read on!
Directness vs. politeness
Given the US view, that time is limited and deadlines must be fulfilled, people favor direct, clear communication. Basically, while European people generally like to explain things, give more details, Americans usually think of it like this: Just get to the bottom line, we don’t need all the details! Too often, conversations in the US tend to be a search for particular information. They won’t ask you something unless it’s very important and they may answer in an abrupt manner. They do not feel like they owe you an explanation for anything and they do not bother to be polite, so no means no and that’s it. It can be unusual for all of us used to be subtle in our style of communication. Do not try to send them some subtle clues or indirect messages because you won’t get an answer to it. They usually won’t get it because they don’t expect it and are not accustomed to them. Always look people in the eyes while talking to them, since looking away, at the floor, etc. can be interpreted as a lack of interest in what is being said. Do not interpret this behavior as a sign of disrespect or lack of interest. It is just a cultural difference, nothing more than that.
Informality vs. formality
In the US it is extremely important to extend the same courtesies and respect to all individuals, regardless of their race, gender, national origin, etc. The idea rests in one of the founding US values that all people are created equal. The style of communication in the US tends to be informal and it is more casual than in many other countries, reinforcing feelings of equality. So, it doesn’t matter if someone is older than you, has more money, comes from a better neighborhood, you are regarded as equal. This applied to both college and noncollege activities.
Individual vs. group
People in the US tend to be very friendly on a casual basis and they are open to interactions, but usually, that is limited to a certain type of friendships. That type is a niche friendship. You may wonder how do these friendships come to be? Well, let’s say you have tennis practices twice a week and you always see a guy you know from your neighborhood. You will get into a light conversation so next time you go to your tennis practice you don’t go by yourself. This kind of niche friendships usually doesn’t become anything more than a casual, shallow relationship based on mutual interest. This isn’t necessarily bad, neither it means that you won’t find true friends in the US. It is simply one more cultural difference. Also, it doesn’t matter how close you think you are with some of your American friends, they usually won’t call you to their homes. The best advice here is to actually join some student organizations or a club where you can find people who share the same interest as you. It will certainly make gaining new friendships easier.
This is also a result of individualistic philosophy. While Europeans focus more on group welfare, Americans tend to pay more attention to their own welfare.
Time vs. politeness
Although time is simply an idea- an intellectual concept- people talk about time as it were a commodity. People see time as something that can be spent, used wisely, or wasted. Many in the US not only speak of time as something tangible but, more importantly, they believe it is scarce. It is considered both a valuable and limited resource.
For people whose concept of time is that it is abundant and on-going, this demand for strict adherence can be frustrating. One asks what is the difference in a few minutes or why are these people so upset. This also means that an unexpected visitor or neighbor won’t be received, a conversation won’t run on for a few extra minutes and arriving on a meeting a couple of minutes earlier is fundamental.
The decision to study in the US is an important one, requiring both commitment and purpose. The educational opportunities and life-enhancing experiences will be tremendous, but it is not easy for anyone to leave family and friends to undertake such a challenge. So, take time do decide whether this is for you or not. It will make great sacrifices, courage, and motivation to pull everything off. Good luck!