American Norms I Didn’t Expect

The following post was written by Kaitlyn Woods, an undergraduate student from Australia studying journalism at Oakland University

When I first moved to the U.S someone asked me, “What is summer like in Australia?” So I replied along the lines of “It’s great, there is a lot to do, we mostly spend time at the beach and go around the city, we all walk around in thongs” … what. I said this to a girl at a church I visited and the minute I said ‘thongs’ I saw her facial expression change from curiousness to weirded out. As I went home and thought about it, it hit me that the meaning of ‘thongs’ in America is totally different to Australia. Thongs in Australia means flip-flops or rubber sandals. Many terms, ideas, concepts and overall norms in the United States and other countries differ so much, and hence being culturally aware is essential.

    1. Sororities. In the United States, joining a sorority or fraternity or at least being aware of them is normal. However, in other countries it is either- (a) just a term that is heard of or (b) a term and concept that people do not know anything about. I was a part of group A. I had heard of the word but had no clue what it involved, but Americans did not realize that and assumed that I understood it the way that they did. That was when I had to actually sit down and speak to someone about what it truly meant to be a part of a sorority and from there come to a decision about whether it was for me. Yes of course, there is the internet to find answers, but I am someone who prefers to speak to someone about a topic and ask all the questions I want, rather than search it up.
      Essentially a sorority is a sister or brotherhood that students commit to. They pay money to be a part of it and hold numerous events.
    2. Tips. A few countries like the United States give a tip when receiving some sort of service, but the majority of countries do not. At least from where I come from- Australia, giving a tip is not usual and in fact not appreciated. Thus, after moving to the U.S I had to make a conscious effort to remember to leave a tip for the waiter as well as making sure it is at least 20% of my bill.
    3. Tax. Tax is evident in pretty much all countries, other than Dubai, but are included in the price. What I mean is, when an item, or anything in that matter, says it is $5, that means it is only $5 and no more, as tax or ‘gsd’ is included. Whereas in the United States, when it is written as $5, there is additional tax to that and if receiving some sort of service than also a tip. So, when you carry money, you always have to carry extra to pay for the add on costs.
    4. Handshake. In the United States a handshake is usually an acceptable and normal way to greet someone, but in foreign countries giving a kiss on one cheek or both, giving a hug or bow may be the more respectful way to greet someone. In fact, in the United States giving a kiss may feel like a breach of personal space and too much body contact. When you are in a closer relationship with someone a hug will be more normal, otherwise just a simple handshake or just saying hi and not giving a handshake is fine too; don’t worry it is not disrespectful.
    5. Ice in water. I am not sure how common this is in all countries, but I found that Americans love ice. They have it in al drinks during all weather conditions. Australians do like ice but are also satisfied with just a cold beverage too, unlike here where it is a necessity. My parents personally like hot water instead, but for Americans that is just strange weird and kind of gross. So, in case you are hosting people over, remember to have plenty of ice.
    6. Imperial System. This took me some while to get used to and honestly, I still do not get it. The metric system (cm, m, ltr etc.) make much more sense to me, but Fahrenheit and the rest of it is like a whole new language to me. I find it best to use my phone where I can see both Celsius and Fahrenheit.
    7. Gift Opening. This may seem like a strange one, but Americans love and do open gifts during their party! Throughout all my birthday celebrations it was always considered polite to open the gifts after the party once everyone has left as that was it shows you appreciated and wanted their presence more than your care for the gift. Also, so there is not any pressure to have a certain standard of gift as people see what each person brings and therefore additionally avoiding comparison. However, here people open presents at the party while everyone is there, and they watch and that is the fun of it. This is not a major one, but something to keep it mind. I found it new and interesting.


There are many more differences both minor and major that I can point out, but these are some of the main ones.

Written by Katilyn Woods, editted by Lauren Jurczyszyn

American Norms I Didn’t Expect

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