For international students looking to go to school in the US, the United States has an incredibly diverse population. Religious, social, and political freedoms allow people to choose their values and develop their cultural identities in whatever ways they see fit. There are, however, some commonly accepted values throughout the United States. They include:  

  • Politeness
  • Generosity
  • Friendliness
  • Helpfulness
  • Respect
  • Acceptance

Each of these values can be interpreted in many ways. The more time you spend in the United States, the more you’ll recognize your own unique expression of them. Until you’ve gained your expression-of-values footing, here are some ways to be polite, friendly, and respectful and to avoid offending people:

10 Great Ways to Be Polite, Friendly, and Respectful

  • Say “please” when you ask for something.
  • Say “thank you” to acknowledge service, kindness, or the receipt of something.
  • Take off your shoes when you enter someone’s home. While it is not always a requirement, it is generally considered polite to remove your shoes upon entering a home.
  • Pay your fair share of a food or drink bill. If you go out to dinner with friends or to a bar to have drinks, pay for your fair share of the food, drinks, taxes, and tips. If someone offers to pay, allow them to pay. If someone expects you to pay even though you haven’t offered, don’t hesitate to decline and ask them to pay their fair share.
  • Avoid using your cellphone while you’re enjoying a friend’s company, working with a professional, completing a transaction at a store, or attending a quiet or focused communal event.
  • Keep the shared portion of your home or apartment neat, clean, and clutter-free.
  • When you go out with friends and one of them drives, offer him or her an appropriate amount of gas money. Many college students are on a tight budget and could use some financial help, especially if they’re using their gas to drive friends around.
  • Look people in the eyes when they’re talking, listen to them intently, and avoid interrupting.
  • Arrive on time. Don’t be late to classes, intimate gatherings, or appointments.
  • Offer to bring something (a bottle of wine, a plate of food, some flowers) when someone invites you to their home for a meal.

10 Ways to Make People Uncomfortable or Upset (Don’t Do These Things!)

  • Arrive late and unprepared.
  • Stick your friend(s) with the whole bill.
  • Chew or speak with your mouth open.
  • Talk loudly in quiet settings (or on your cell phone in movies, plays, or other quiet or focused communal settings).
  • Stereotype or be racist. You’ll find stereotyping and racism in the United States. Refuse to accept it. Reject jokes, phrases, and conversations that stereotype or are racist.
  • Treat people as lesser than or more than you. Most people in the United States like to be treated as equals.
  • Make fun of people. Again, it is polite to view people as equals in the United States—treat others as you would like to be treated.
  • Expect your roommate to do the majority of the cleaning or clean up after you.
  • Eat at a restaurant without leaving a tip. In the United States, wait-staff are paid low minimum wages because they depend upon tips from you, the customer. Leave a tip that is 10-20 percent of your total bill to show your appreciation for the service.
  • Honk, curse, or complain excessively. None of these things are necessarily bad, but they can certainly have a negative impact on the people around you. Limit honking, cursing, and complaining to appropriate situations, and when possible, do so around people you know won’t be offended.

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