April 4, 2019

Social Norms

Social norms are shared common expectations about what kinds of behaviors are acceptable or not. Neglecting social norms can make people feel uncomfortable.Here are some social norms in US society that you need to be aware of:

Public Behavior

  • Shake hands when you meet someone for the first time.
  • Make direct eye contact with the person you are speaking with.
  • Smile if you are walking past someone and made eye contact with them.
  • For unreserved seats at a movie theater, do not sit right next to strangers unless it is crowded.
  • Do not curse in polite conversation and always avoid racist or discriminatory comments.
  • Do not fart or pick your nose in public and if you must burp say "Excuse me."
  • Be kind to the elderly, like opening a door or helping them pick up something they dropped.
  • If you hit or bump into someone by accident, say "I'm sorry."
  • If there is a line, go to the back of the line instead of pushing or cutting your way to the front.
  • Do not stand close enough to a stranger to touch arms or hips. Don't invade someone's personal space.
  • If someone sneezes near you, say "Bless you."
  • When at someone else's home, ask permission to do things such as turning on the television or using the bathroom.
  • Flush the toilet after using it and always wash your hands when finished.
  • Say "Please" when asking for something and say "Thank you" when someone does something for you.
  • Don't interrupt someone while they are talking. Wait for them to finish and then take your turn.
  • Dress appropriately for the environment you are in.

Using the Phone

  • Say hello when answering and goodbye before you hang up.
  • Put your phone on silent if you are in a meeting, at church, in a theater or in a public setting where phones are not to be used.
  • Do not lie or hang up if someone has the wrong number. Inform them of their mistake and transfer the call to the correct person if possible.
  • Don't talk on the phone or text while engaged in a conversation with another person.
  • Call to let someone know you will be late or are not going to show up for an appointment.
  • Do not call people/businesses multiple times in a row. Leave a voicemail if possible and follow up the next business day.

Dining Out

  • Dress according to the restaurant's dress code.
  • Always thank your server when they take your order and bring your food/drink/bill.
  • Wait for everyone to decide what they want to eat before you order food.
  • Wait for everyone at the table to receive their food before you start eating.
  • Do not eat sloppily or quickly or use your hands unless it is finger food.
  • Leave a tip for the waiter or waitress. The tip should be at least 15% of the bill.
  • Chew with your mouth closed and avoid making loud sounds while chewing.
  • Do not talk with food in your mouth.
  • Do not eat off another person's plate without asking.
  • Do not belch loudly at the table.
  • Do not be loud or vulgar or disturb other diners.


  • When you step into the elevator with people already in it, smile or say hi.
  • Stand facing the front. Do not face the walls.
  • Never push unnecessary floors. Push only your floor.
  • If you are the first one of a group of people entering the elevator going to different floors, stand by the button panel and keep the doors open until everyone is inside the elevator, then push your floor number and ask what floor numbers they need to go to.
  • Say "Excuse me" if it is crowded and you need to get out at your floor.
  • If it is really crowded and someone else needs to get out at their floor and you are blocking the exit, you may need to step out of the elevator briefly to let people out and then re-enter the elevator before the doors close to continue going to your floor.

In the Workplace

  • Dress neatly and appropriately for the job.
  • Be on time and follow the schedule that you are given.
  • Keep a positive attitude and do not engage in gossip.
  • Be professional and contribute your skills as needed.
  • Notify supervisors if you are sick and unable to make work.
  • If you need to leave early, notify your boss and make proper arrangements.
  • Be respectful of your coworkers.

Complying with social norms such as these will help you become more used to US culture. It is better to act more polite than to be perceived as impolite.Please be sure to check out more great articles in the Employee Education Center to help you succeed in your new life in the USA! Thanks!

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