American etiquette: what you need to know

  • 13 July 2015 | Zimkhitha Sulelo
Just like any culture, there are a few do's and don'ts when it comes to American etiquette. Image courtesy of Michael Dougherty

Americans love visiting our country, and if you haven’t done so already, it’s only a matter of time before you meet an American guest. It’s always better to be prepared when you do, so here are some tips for dealing with Americans.

Time is money

America did not become a superpower by procrastinating and taking it easy, so time is a valuable asset. Americans like getting things done, and doing so quickly. If you want to stay in their good books, keep an eye on your watch and stay on top of your game. They might be on holiday but they still want things to run like clockwork.

Always look your American guest in the eye. Image courtesy of Viewminder

Eye contact

Some cultures have strict rules about eye contact and sometimes it is perceived as disrespectful if you look someone straight in the eye while talking to them. But with Americans this is not the case – not making direct eye can be considered rude.

Food and dining

Americans’ dining etiquette is nothing like the French’s, prim and proper protocol and they are generally a bit more relaxed. If they are eating a pizza or a cheeseburger, for example, they might use their hands – but there are some basic rules: swallow before you talk, ask to be excused if you want to leave the table, and keep your hands and elbows off the table. They love food and generally have larger portions than the rest of us.

Introductions and greetings

When meeting an American for the first time, a firm handshake will usually do, and nothing more. Most Americans prefer to use their first names, but to be on the safe side it’s better to use last names until you are told otherwise. Even though they are usually relaxed when it comes to greetings, some states in America are very formal, using sir or ma’am to address people.


Americans can be very generous when it comes to tipping, but you are going to have to earn it. If there is something you are not doing right you will hear about it. Just remember that hard work gets rewarded and you will not have any problems.