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Culture & Customs

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Culture and customs here in the United States may be very different from those to which you are accustomed. You should be prepared for these differences. While you can obtain information about American culture at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Information Service Center, we highly recommend talking to individuals from your home country who have either visited the U.S. or attended school here.

Below are just a few of the things you may encounter in American culture:


Americans tend to dress more casually than individuals in many other cultures. Students at The College at Brockport often dress in pants (slacks, khakis, or jeans) and shirts for class, unless a formal presentation is occurring. T-shirts and jeans are typical for both male and female students. Sweatshirts, shorts and skirts/dresses are frequently worn on campus as well. If you are working or interning, please consult with your employer regarding a dress code.

For some occasions, such as a job interview or a formal presentation in class, you may need to dress more professionally. For men, business suits are preferred. Women can wear business suits -- consisting of a jacket, shirt and either pants or a skirt -- or a nice pair of slacks and professional-looking shirt or sweater. Darker colors -- black, gray, navy, or dark blue -- are often preferred as they are seen as more conservative and professional.

Americans typically do not wear an outfit more than once in a one-week time span. This is partly because most students will wash clothing items after one wear.

Language & Conversation

Like with clothing, Americans are rather casual and informal in their conversation style as well. In the U.S., phrases such as "Hi", "Hello" and "What's up?" are typically used as greetings. Saying "What's up?" or "How's it going?" at the start of a conversation does not require an exhaustive answer; it is used more to break the ice with the person you are greeting. Likewise, Americans often end conversations with "See you later", "Catch you later" or simply "Goodbye." The first two are very common and should not be seen as an invitation to actually visit later; they are more colloquial in nature.

Americans also tend to use slang or common terms. Words that may mean one thing in your culture might mean something very different in the United States. You should become familiar with American terms and slang, which is often referred to as "American English." There is no one resource for learning American slang, and often it is best learned through conversation with Americans. Additionally, there tend to be many regional "oddities" -- words that are only used or mean different things in different regions of the United States. For example, many Americans refer to soft drinks (Coca-Cola or Pepsi) as "soda". In Western New York, however, it is common to call those drinks "pop." Some resources that may be helpful for learning common phrases and words are and PBS's "Do You Speak American?".

Another good thing to know is that most Americans tend to be informal in how they address one another as well. It is typical for Americans to address one another by their first names, even with elders and people in positions of authority. If someone asks you to call them by their first name, you shouldn't feel uncomfortable doing so. On campus and in the classroom is a little different, however. Typically, instructors are referred to by their title (usually professor or doctor) and their last name. Some professors, however, may request that you use their first name, in which case you should abide. If you are ever unsure of how to address someone, it is common to use their formal name (Mr., Mrs., Ms. and their last name) until they invite you to use something different.

Personal Hygiene

Personal hygiene is very important to most Americans. Typically, people here will shower (or bathe) and wash their hair daily. Because American culture teaches that natural body odors and smells are unpleasant, Americans use underarm deodorant regularly. Many also use a small amount of perfume (for women) or scented cologne (for men) each day to achieve a "pleasant" smell.

On average, Americans brush their teeth twice daily -- once in the morning before leaving for work/class and once in the evening before going to bed. Many Americans also use mouthwash or chew breath mints or gum frequently throughout the day to avoid bad breath.

It is typical for American women to shave their legs and underarms. Men have less strict guidelines -- many have facial hair that is not shaved regularly.


Last Updated 6/7/11