Friday, 5 September 2014

“Food is a religion” - top tips for getting used to the American way of life

Planning a move to the United States? There's a lot to think about before you go but what about when you arrive? Getting used to a new culture and way of life can be daunting so read up as much as you can and try to make a few visits before the move. We've talked to a few of our expat friends who did exactly that - here are their best tips for landing on your feet and becoming accustomed to the American way of life.

Food is a religion
Although this isn't in any way exclusive to the States, it's fair to say that eating well (and often being faced with larger portions) is a big part of day to day life. Whether you're after Chinese, vegetarian or traditional American fare, the odds are that you'll be able to get your hands on it. If you're heading to a larger city, we’d recommend sussing out your local deli, which could turn out to be one of your new best friends - often serving fresh food in generous quantities at a good price and often open 24 hours, or at least till late. The variety on offer means that there’s only really one option: to tuck in and enjoy - just be aware that some American hosts may be affronted if you completely clear your plate, as it's considered good manners to leave a little food to show appreciation!

Image source: Creative Commons / Kostia

Get ready for work
Broadly speaking, work culture in the States is often perceived by expats (particularly those hailing for the UK) as being a little more formal than elsewhere. You may find that hierarchies are more clearly defined than what you're used to, and that there are more levels of seniority – which is good to be aware of, particularly if you’re coming from somewhere which has a flatter structure. It's also worth thinking about how this sort of culture translates to how you communicate and also how you dress for work. Some expats have told us that they found Americans much more assertive and straight-talking than their colleagues at home, but don't let it be intimidating. In the states it’s also worth sounding out the office dress code before you arrive to avoid any style faux pas. Check out more suggestions here.

Get to grips with small talk
One expat told us that one of his steepest learning curves was that people tend to talk politics and personal finance a lot - everyone has an opinion and it's a common topic of small talk. Politics, money and even culture can be uncomfortable topics in other parts of the world so remember – it takes two to be offended! Ease your way in and if you feel uncomfortable, you can always take a back seat by pleading ‘expat’..!

And one last tip...
Don't forget to leave one! Tipping is big in the States and you'll generally be regarded with disdain if you don't jump on the bandwagon. Tips form an important part of wages in the US, leaving anything less than 15% for a bartender, cab driver or even a manicurist will get you short shrift and they will often assume that you’re unhappy with the service that they’ve provided.

Are you an expat living in the United States? Share your best tips for settling in with other expats here: https://expatexplorer.hsbc.com/hintsandtips/

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