How people greet in USA? Etiquette in US ?

by Kumar · 24 comments

As international students or professionals we are used to our own culture and social behavior in our country. It can be a cultural shock for us when we come to America and see certain social behavior exhibited by people. Though we are from other countries, we should not misunderstand American people behavior or behave rude to anyone because they did something that we are not used to…I am not a psychologist or intercultural mediator, I will share my experiences what I think are common and what I felt were different from my home country.

How people greet in America?

Etiquette in USIt is very common in US that if you see a person in the eye (if your looks connect with other person)  when you are walking down the street or anywhere in a building, to say a friendly phrase,

“ Hi ! How are you doing ?”

Typically you smile and then say the phrase. This is a very common and most important way to greet people. Irrespective of if you know the person or not, you always ask the person “How are you doing ?”. It is a common etiquette in America.  I was not used to greeting someone on the road or anywhere back in my country, but now I kind of got the feel of it.  If you are a student, you greet the professor in same way, but add ‘Professor’ before .

If you do not say,  “How are you doing or smile”, you just nod the head down just as a gesture to acknowledge the other person. You may say “Hi” and then nod the head down.  I was not used to this too…In our culture, we do not say Hi to random people on the street and it is socially considered intruding someone’s personal space, but in US it is very common and it is the way you do it.

Few other ways to greet people in USA :

“ Hey ! Whats up ?” or  “ Whats up man ?”

This is a very common to say “Whats up ?”. Other countries are picking up the western lingo and most of the students know this…

If you know the person or if the guy is close to you, you may say

“ Hey Dude ! whats up ?”

If you greet someone, they would respond

“ I am fine, Thanks ! How are you doing ?”

Did you see the word “Thanks”. People use Thanks or Thank you a lot here in US. It is  common etiquette to thank someone.

You may continue the conversation if you know the person by basic questions like,

  • “How are things with you ?
  • “How is life treating you buddy ?”
  • “How is work ? ”

Hug and Shaking hands :

Typically,  you shake hands when you meet someone and you shake hands firmly. This is common everywhere. One additional thing is, if you are meeting a girl or woman and you know the girl or woman well, it is common to Hug the person. Just a light hug, where you just put arm around her back and just touch your  head lightly. This not the hug like they show in movies ;)  Just a friendly way to hug someone if you know the person well. It is etiquette to just greet a lady by shaking hand for the first couple of times until you know the person. But, sometimes if you meet someone in the club while dancing, then it is different, you may hug the person second time because you danced with them…it depends. In general, you only hug women or girls you know very well and it is etiquette to hug women in America.

Opening Doors and Thanking

Lets say, you are walking into a building and someone in front of you holds the door for you, then you have to say “ Thank you”, that is etiquette. Also, if you are the first one, then it is your courtesy to open the door for the one coming behind you. Also, if you are going with a lady or girl, it is your courtesy as a guy to open the door for girl.   You never slam the door on someone coming behind you. If someone is like 10 feet away, you keep the door open and wait for the person to come. Typically, you are supposed to thank anyone if they do something for you. Lets say, they press a button for you to go to 3rd floor in elevator, then you say “Thank you”. You always, ask by adding a friendly word, “ Can you please press second floor button”

Using Bus and Thanking :

Lets say, you used the city bus for travelling, it is courtesy to thank the driver. We may not be used to this, but in US, people thank Driver when they are getting down. General etiquette rule, if someone does any favor to you, you just thank them. If not, it is considered rude.

Sneezing and Bless you :

If someone sneezes, then you say “ Bless you”. We may use different things in our country, but here usually people say “Bless you”. It is good etiquette.

Never Break into the line :

You should never break into line in front of someone. It is considered very rude. If you really want to go in front, you should ask the person and then only go in front. If you approach a line and there is a woman at the same time, you let the woman go first. Never compete with women. Also, same case when you are forming a line in Airport when boarding plane, boarding bus or in a Bank too.

Saying Sorry and Apologizing :

Let say, if you missed holding up a door and it just slams on someone’s face or did anything that is a little rude, you just say “Sorry”. Apologizing for any mistake or wrong social behavior is very common. People say sorry all the time. It is just like Thank you. If you hear any bad news related to someone or if you see anyone in pain or trouble, you just say ” Sorry to hear this or I am sorry “.  You do not need to say sorry for everything. Only if you have done something that is against the common etiquette, then you apologize.

People in America are very casual and etiquette plays a big role in US and you better be nice to everyone and thank properly. You may also read, Common American English words used in daily life vs British English equivalents

Image Credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/clintjcl/2879259256/

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

AnnieB August 16, 2014 at 5:55 am

Word of warning: the rules for who offers a hand to shake first are VERY complicated, even Americans have to learn them. Basically the “weaker” party gets to offer, so the woman offers her hand, the man takes it. However, age also is important, so an older person offers their hand to a younger. Importance…the judge offers his/her hand — the clerk takes it. For a young man to go around offering his hand to women and older men isn’t right, even if you’ve shaken their hand before. Just say hello politely and wait to be offered. If you perceive yourself on an even footing with someone….same age, rank, sex….then you can offer.

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Alain N.Hero May 22, 2014 at 1:38 am

Let it be our character as it were,an etiquette

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Webfoot October 12, 2013 at 8:29 pm

You will also see a difference in the way people react in small towns on in the west vs the east in America. Coming from the west coast, I always thank the driver, although I would never call him driver. That would be classing him as his role and not be acknowledging him as a person.

Thank you and please are used all the time, and to not do so is considered pretty rude. Women tend to say “I’m sorry” more than men do.

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RecentlyReturned August 19, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Ah, thanks for posting this! I’d completely forgotten the customs here in the U.S. I’ve been in latin america for a few years now (in fact, in Argentina) and I’ve kinda gotten used to the culture they have over there. So, I got here and now I don’t know when to hug or just extend my hand to greet them. It’s good to know this. (:

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matt May 24, 2013 at 4:21 pm

If two guys are close that doesn’t mean they’re gay. Usually people who think like that are the ones who analyze it so much because they themselves are scared deep down inside that they are gay. You started talking about gay when it had nothing to do with it. We can see where your mind is coming from. Its okay though. It’s not judged like it once was. Its not a big deal.

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Abigail November 6, 2012 at 8:44 pm

I think all this etiquette is really common all around the American continent and even in some Europe countries. I find it weird the fact that you find saying thanks and sorry a lot weird hahaha… but that’s how it works. I wonder if you in Asia don’t say thanks, hold doors and that stuff.

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candy December 28, 2013 at 12:55 am

I am Asian, but not Chinese. (Thank God). In China, people DO NOT say sorry, thank you or EXCUSE ME. If you’re on the street and someone from behind you needs you to walk fast, you WILL BE PUSHED. I know this for a fact from the numerous times I had to go to China due to work. Terribly rude people.

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Cath September 5, 2012 at 11:27 pm

Very nice article.

I’m American and I did want to comment upon something the author included. He states that it is considered normal to thank bus drivers as you depart and I must disagree.

While it is considered courteous to thank a drive who physically assists you or one that you perhaps see every day and are on first name basis with, I don’t think it’s necessary, or even considered normal courtesy, to thank your driver as you disembark.

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M.Aamir October 28, 2012 at 11:11 am

WELL.
I THINK THANKING DRIVER IS NOT A MARK OF INSULT,IF U WE DO SO,THIS MAKE LEAD AUR CULTURE TO LOOK DECENT.

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Sam August 21, 2013 at 2:20 am

I agree with Cath, nobody thanks a city bus driver when they get off!

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salmah July 26, 2012 at 3:23 am

Thanks to the existence of this I do not bother to look for my english assignment

huge thanks :))

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Marc June 2, 2012 at 11:54 pm

I am an American who frequently travels to India for business, and I will confirm that everything the author says is true, but I would like to expand on two points from the American perspective:
Hugging. Americans love to hug. If you’re a woman, hug as much or as little as you like, but if you’re a man, a good rule to follow at first is don’t “start” a hug with anyone, even a man. Always start with your hand out as if to shake their hand. If the person wants to hug you they will either take your hand and “pull you in” while putting their hand on your back. Men will sometimes pat you on the back with force several times. If so, this is a good sign they really like you. In fact, you can roughly estimate there is a correlation between the amount he likes you with the amount if force used. More is better. For men, it’s quite common to “keep the handshake” with the right hand while hugging with the left. If men are best friends they will fully hug with both hands. I know it seems strange, but this is one if the only times it’s appropriate to touch another man. Men don’t hold hands or put their arms around each ither while walking in the US (unless they are a gay couple). Typically men in the US don’t want to be perceived as gay, so any touching between men is usually not gentle or soft. A firm pat on the leg or shoulder or back is a sign of affection. Men holding hands while walking in the US are definitely gay (or foreign).
Hugging women. As I said before, never “start” a hug with a woman unless she’s your wife or girlfriend, or you’ve hugged many times before. The first several times you meet a woman, always offer a handshake when you meet and when you depart. Eventually, once she’s comfortable with you, when you offer the handshake, she’ll slap your hand away and feign being insulted that you “only” wanted to shake her hand and she will come and hug you with both hands. This is an important moment. You’ve gained her trust – but you can lose it fast if you don’t react correctly. Hug back but only with one hand. Contrary to the author’s advice, do NOT touch her head. Just a light pat on the back. Always remember a hug is not sexual for women. Even if she presses her body against you it doesn’t mean she’s attracted to you, but it does mean she trusts you. Always be the first to “leave” the hug. In other words, if she hugs you, let her decide when to “break” the hug. Don’t pull her closer or keep hugging after she releases. Unless specifically told otherwise, always interpret a hug from an American as: “I like you and trust you.” As a final note, it’s important to remember that while she hugged you last time, it might not mean she’ll hug you next time or for several times. She might not remember hugging you previously, or maybe there was some awkwardness the first time you hugged.
In summary, you’ll always be right if you wait to receive a hug, but as soon as you receive one, reciprocate with the same “enthusiasm” as the other person.
Now, for foreign women, you might be hugged by a an American man (although this isn’t common unless you’ve hugged him first). First off, don’t be shocked. If you’re uncomfortable with the hug, just don’t hug back. Your reaction will be quickly recognized as saying that the hug was unwelcome. He probably won’t ever try it again. To be sure, the next time you meet or depart, firmly extend a handshake in front of you and look at him in the eyes. In every culture, some men can be stupid and this will help him understand the boundary.
Women hugging women. If a woman hugs you, it’s a coomon sign of friendly affection. Often, when a couple meets another couple for dinner (even for the first time), the women will hug each other, but won’t hug the men, and the men certainly won’t hug each other until they become friends. So don’t be insulted at all if you are a man and no one hugs you. In time, it will happen and all of this will seem like second nature.

Second: Cutting the queue or cutting in line. As the author says, this is extremely rude and disrespectful, but I just wanted to re-emphasize the point. Basically it will make sense to think of it like this: If you’re cutting in line, you’re essentially saying to everyone else in line, “Hi everyone, I know you’ve all been waiting patiently in line for a long time, but since MY time is more valuable than YOUR time, I’m going to completely disrespect you by cutting in front if you.” Now, thee may be circumstances where it truly is an emergency, but someone had honestly better be bleeding from the head, or cutting is not justified. Even if you’re late for a flight, don’t cut in line. It’s not their fault you’re late for the flight, so why make them pay? If its absolutely necessary to cut, address as many people you can by saying out loud that you’re extremely sorry and you have an emergency and can you please cut the line. If someone says no, you should respect it and get behind them. No one will be happy you’re cutting the line (certainly don’t expect any hugs!), but if you do cut, once you’re finished with the service, it’s appropriate to turn to the first several people in line and say thank you and sorry again. You can’t be humble enough in this situation, and if you do it more than once in a year, you’re doing it WAY too much.

Final note, the author’s advice on door opening and saying thank you and sorry are spot on. When in doubt, say thank you, even if someone simply moves to make room for you in an elevator. You should even say thank you to people who’s job it is to serve you, like waiters at a restaurant. Every time they fill up your water or bring you a napkin, say thanks or thank you.

Cheers!

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Amerika ( America ) April 17, 2012 at 11:29 pm

Is America the only part of the world they say dude , becuase I noticed everytime someone says “Dude ” on the internet everyone assumes off the bat their american are Americans the only ones with these speech patterns ? ” I think thier must be some other culture in the world with some kind of simularity to America no ? Are americans so Odd in their customs ? and americans are most Characterized by the phrase ” Dude” or ” Whats up Dude ” which i can say for a fact is no Exageration alot of americans do speak like that . So is it really that thier is no one with simalar phrases ” ?and dude just means a person or a Guy ?
( I put amerika both ways becuase most of the world spells it with a K not America however who themselves use a c )

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Saurabh April 18, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Amerika ( America ),
“Dude” is an American English slang word that originated in US (first reference being in Putnam Magazine). Yes, it is popular in rest of the world, but b/c of historical ties, it is most closely related to US. I can give you another analogy. “Namaste” is a Hindi word which originated in India, but is used elsewhere as well. However, when someone says “Namaste”, the first thing that comes to mind is an Indian. It’s similar co-relation w/ the word “Dude”.

RE your last statement “( I put amerika both ways becuase most of the world spells it with a K not America however who themselves use a c )” – I don’t know what you mean by most of the world. Besides Americans themselves, 1 billion Indians refer to it as America. Doesn’t that put a hole in your theory that “most” of the world uses “K”. Not saying that no one uses “K”, but I am sure the ones using “C” out number the ones using “K”.

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Webfoot October 12, 2013 at 8:25 pm

I can’t speak for non-Americans spelling it was a ‘K’, but a more recent reason for Americans to spell it ‘Amerika’ is to imply that the country is turning communist with the increase in big government.

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hippo123 February 13, 2012 at 1:34 pm

this helps me in school and nice to know we are doing this wrong why wow kids are rude

sincerly,
hippo123

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rishad January 24, 2012 at 2:53 am

Hello,
Thank you for for an excellent post…..

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Echo June 23, 2011 at 11:49 am

This does me a great favor in teaching!!

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Chandra Bindu April 29, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Though I know ‘Thank you’ and ‘Sorry’ are commonly used words, it was interesting to know when exactly they use them…I guess we are adapting to these words super fast :)

Enjoyed reading!

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Kumar April 29, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Bindu, I agree with you…people seem to be picking up etiquette slowly…but the pace is very slow…

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Ruth January 5, 2011 at 4:24 pm

I cannot begin to tell you how entertaining it is to read this! I’ve lived in the Us my whole life, and hearing all of our customs being perfectly explained by you is really great, in my opinion!

Thank You! (See what I did there?)

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Kumar January 7, 2011 at 9:35 am

Glad to know you enjoyed reading it ! Thanks for compliments !

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KHALID August 28, 2010 at 4:42 am

Good info, found very helpful, as like others faced some difficulty in the begining

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