Having good manners in the USA

Having good manners and being polite are valued in the USA. Being polite in the U.S. might mean something a bit different than what it means back in your home country. Find helpful tips to engage with your new community.

Tips to help you

Here are some ways to show respect and have good manners in the United States.

1. Say “please”

Most Americans say “please” when they want something. For example, if you are ordering food at a restaurant, you can say, “I will have the soup, please”. If you ask for something and don’t say “please”, Americans will think you are rude.

2. Say “thank you”

Americans say “thank you” a lot. In some cultures, people only say “thank you” for significant events. In the United States, it is common to say “thank you” or “thanks” even for small gestures. For example, if you hand someone a book, they might thank you. Remember to say “thank you,” especially to anyone who is helping or try to help you.

3. Say “sorry”

Americans also say “sorry” more than people in other cultures. For example, if someone accidentally bumps into you on the street, they may apologize with “excuse me” or “sorry.” Americans, especially American women, sometimes use the word “sorry” to express sadness for something that happened to you, even though they were not involved in the event. For example, you may tell someone that you were sick over the weekend or that a friend died. To be kind and polite, they might respond, “I’m so sorry.”

4. Cover your mouth when your burp or cough

Many Americans consider it impolite to make bodily noises in front of other people. They try not to pass gas, burp, or make other bodily noises in public or in front of people they do not know well. Some people will excuse themselves to the bathroom if they need to burp. If you do fart or burp, it is polite to say, “Excuse me.”

5. Say “hello” when you meet new people

When you meet someone for the first time, Americans typically say, “Hello” or, “Hi, nice to meet you.” If you have someone else with you, it is polite to introduce that person as well. The next time you meet the person, you can say, “Nice to see you again,” or, “I remember meeting you last month. How are you?”

6. Don’t shake hands if you don’t feel comfortable

Most Americans will shake your hand when they meet you. If you feel uncomfortable, you can always put your hands together and lean your head forward. This is a polite way to show you don’t want to shake hands. Some Americans will be very surprised that you do not want to shake hands, but that is okay. If you are from a culture where men and women outside of family do not touch each other, explain this politely to the person you are meeting. You do not need to do things that make you feel uncomfortable.

7. Stand at least a foot away when you are talking to someone new

Americans tend to want more personal space around them than people from other cultures. In the USA, most people will stand about 1 foot apart from each other. Even people in a group stand with space between them. If you stand very close to someone when you are speaking, they may think you are being aggressive or overly familiar. They may take a step back and show mild surprise or disapproval. Other Americans are very physical and may hold your arm while they are talking to you or hug you when they first see you. If that makes you uncomfortable, it is okay to step back.

8. Look people in the eye when you are talking to them

We encourage you to maintain important parts of your culture. However, looking people in they eyes when you talk is one thing you can do to adapt to life in America. Americans tend to look people in the eyes when they are talking. They may not look at you in the eyes for the entire conversation – just part of it. If someone talks to you and you will not look at them in the eyes, they may think you are trying to hide something or being secretive.

9. Stand in line

Most Americans are taught from a young age to wait their turn in a line. So, if you are at the store or trying to buy a movie ticket, you will probably see a line. Generally, people line up one by one. Sometimes you may see someone “hold a spot” for someone else, but mostly Americans expect to wait their turn. Although you may see someone cut into the line (go in front of you), the majority of people will wait their turn. This is also true if you are on an airplane. People generally wait to leave the airplane until it is their row’s turn.

10. Hold the door open for other people

Most Americans will hold a door open for you when you are entering/exiting a building. Whether you are a man or a woman, it is polite to hold the door for the person behind you.

We aim to offer easy to understand information that is updated regularly. This information is not legal advice.