From the US Fulbright Scholar Handbook.

Characteristics of Americans
It is not easy to make generalizations about the United States — above all, it is a land of

diversity. the size of the country, its geographic and climatic differences, and the ethnic mix of its people all contribute to its variety. Still, there are a few characteristics you will encounter in “typical” Americans from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

For example, Americans tend to value their individuality, to think themselves the equal of any other man or woman, and to believe they are masters of their own destiny. they feel free to speak their minds on most subjects and are often astonishingly frank in expressing political opinions, cherishing above all other rights the freedom of speech guaranteed by the United States Constitution. they are direct in their communications; they ask questions when they need information; they say “no” when they mean no. Americans do not commonly exhibit class consciousness or make distinctions amongst themselves along class lines. If anything, the vast majority identify themselves as belonging to the middle class. Except for perhaps the very rich or very poor, Americans do not usually feel that their success in life will be determined by the social class into which they were born and do not usually show excessive deference or superiority to each other in public situations.

Americans appear open and friendly at first meeting, but this means only that they are pleased to make your acquaintance; it may or may not lead to true friendship. they are informal; they often introduce themselves by their first names and call others by their first names on very slight acquaintance. In professional situations, however, it is preferable to address people using their title and last name (e.g., Dr. Smith, Ms. Jones) until they ask you to use their first name. Americans tend to stand at least an arm’s length apart when conversing and are not inclined to touch one another, except to shake hands upon greeting one another. they value their privacy and rarely visit, even good friends, without advance notice.


It is always appropriate to make an appointment before visiting someone, particularly at
an office. It is best to be on time for appointments. For professional appointments—an
appointment with a doctor or a colleague at the university—you should appear within 5
minutes of the time you have agreed upon. on social occasions, especially when the invitation is for a meal, plan to arrive no more than 10 to 15 minutes after the appointed hour (but
never before the hour as the hosts may not be ready). In both cases, be sure to telephone if
you are unavoidably delayed. remember that public events such as concerts and university
classes begin promptly at the scheduled time.

If you accept an invitation or make an appointment, it is very important that you appear as
promised since your hosts will have taken considerable trouble to prepare for your visit,
and professional contacts will have arranged their schedules to accommodate you. It is perfectly acceptable to decline an invitation if it is not convenient for you, but some response
is always required. on a formal, written invitation, “rSvP” means “please reply.” It is not
necessary to bring a gift unless the occasion is a birthday or Christmas party or perhaps if
the invitation is for an entire weekend. In these cases, a simple, inexpensive gift of flowers,
candy, a bottle of wine, or a small souvenir from your own country would be appropriate. A
thank-you note to your host or hostess, especially following an overnight visit, is considerate. If you have been invited to go out for a meal, you should assume that all parties will
pay for themselves, unless the invitation included a specific offer to pay for your food.