United States: Public Behaviour

2015-06-12

Acceptable public conduct

It is a good idea to practice driving before getting on the freeways, particularly during work hours. Driving can be an intense challenge, especially for a visitor. Practically all Americans drive their own car.

Smoking is not as commonplace and is subject to restrictions in most public places. Before smoking, the best policy is to ask if anyone minds, or wait to see if others smoke. Restaurants often have a section where smoking is permitted. Many hotels designate rooms as smoking and non-smoking. Certain states, like California, now have laws against smoking in public places such as restaurants and bars.

A handshake is the customary greeting for both men and women.

Americans tend to refrain from greetings that involve hugging and other close physical contact, except with family members and friends. For the most part, they are unreceptive to being touched during conversation and other social situations.

The standard space between you and your conversation partner should be about two feet. Most U.S. executives will be uncomfortable standing at a closer distance.

Direct eye contact conveys that you are sincere, although it should not be too intense. Certain ethnic groups may look away to show respect.

To point, you may use the index finger, although it’s impolite to point at another person.

To beckon someone, wave either all the fingers or just the index finger in a scooping motion, with the palm facing up.

To show approval, there are two common gestures: the “O.K.” sign, formed by making a circle of the thumb and index finger, and the “thumbs up” sign, formed by making a fist and pointing the thumb upward.

The backslap is sometimes used as a sign of friendship, camaraderie.

To wave goodbye, move your entire hand, with the palm facing outward.

When sitting, U.S. citizens often look very relaxed. They may sometimes sit with the ankle of one leg on their knee or prop their feet up on chairs or desks. In formal business situations, however, you’re advised to maintain good posture and a less casual pose. Crossing legs knee over knee is not considered arrogant, as in other cultures. In the U.S. this position is common and considered professional.

When giving an item to another person, it’s common to toss it or hand it over with only one hand.

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