US Culture Guide for Exchange Students (Part I)

US Culture Guide for Exchange Students (Part I)

Is America like what you’ve seen on TV?

No…and, yes.

Many students come to the United States expecting the United States to be like MTV, or Survivor, or another television show that’s been exported to his or her country.

Some of that is what America is like. But, some of it is exaggerated, or only represents one aspect of American life.

As a whole, Americans love food. U.S. consumers spend millions of dollars every year on purchasing food ingredients or prepared foods. Food accompanies the majority of events, gatherings, parties and even meetings in the United States. It often gives people something to do and can help to eliminate awkwardness in social gatherings. From ball games to board meetings, food has a place at them all.

The U.S. has released a Federal Food Guide Pyramid to help Americans make healthy choices when selecting what to eat. However, most Americans do not meet the requirements set forth by these dietary guidelines. The daily intake of fats and sugars often exceed the recommendations while the fruit, vegetable, dairy, whole grain and lean meat intake generally falls below the recommended amount.

The dictionary defines customs as traditions or habits for the particular way people behave in a situation. Every culture has customs unique to it. While we could never attempt to cover all American customs on one page, this will give you a brief summary of some of the U.S. customs you might encounter in day-to-day interactions while living in the United States.

Meeting someone:

When meeting someone for the first time, men and women both usually shake hands. Only close friends exchange hugs and/or kisses, although men seldom do more than shake hands with other men. Americans usually exchange names by means of introduction; either first name only, or first and last name. Everyone expects you to call them by their first name unless they specify otherwise.


Americans acquaintances have a very casual manner for the most part. They consider “Hey,” “How’s it going?” and “What’s up?” equal to “Hello.” They don’t necessarily expect an answer, so don’t take exception if they move on without your having replied. Expected replies include saying the same phrase back to them or just a smile and wave.

Answering the phone:

Most Americans answer the phone by saying “Hello?” The caller then identifies him/herself and asks to speak to the person they have called. Businesses answer the phone with the name of the business, sometimes followed by the name of the person answering the phone.

Most homes, as well as businesses use answering machines to take their calls when unavailable. To leave a message, state your name clearly and leave a brief message and your phone number.