It’s been several years since I last lived in the US now. From my first extended stay abroad (in Germany), I began to take notice of the little things that are uniquely American, but that, as Americans, many of us never think twice about. Here are the ones that continue to strike me the most now, even so many years later:
Reflexive friendliness, greetings, smiling (among strangers)
Americans have customary greetings: “how is it going”, “how are you doing”, or “how is your day”. The customary response is “good”. To say anything else would be strange, unless you were being asked the question by an intimate friend, staring deep into your eyes.
When traveling abroad, you can typically distinguish Americans by their outward friendliness and readiness to smile or laugh. For some people from other cultures it comes across as disingenuous. Being myself American, I spent a lifetime reading these behaviors and I know that they are just reflexive, and not intended to be disingenuous or fake. I don’t think much about it one way or the other, but it is often noted – even misunderstood – by people from other cultures.
Americans tip heavily compared to anywhere else in the world. In US restaurants, 15% is widely understood to be the bare minimum, and 20% is very typical. We also customarily tip for a whole host of other services: delivery, hair dressing, taxis, doormen. Tipping is so ingrained in the US that restaurants are allowed to pay staff below the legal minimum wage because it is wholly expected that tips will make up the rest. Read more