The United States is a large country with a diverse social culture. That means that many Americans also identify with a specific culture and its social norms. What is a Social Norm? A social norm is an informal rule that directs behavior in groups and societies. These ‘rules’ are like lenses or standards. They filter the ways a person within a group will view a given situation, feel about it, and behave in it. In general, social norms exist to carve out order. Because of its diversity, social norms in America can vary by gender, age, family, social circle, community, city, state, or region. Also, these social norms are not concrete. This is due to three main reasons: The United States’ came to be through a collective of cultures and over time. As a result, one of America’s key traits has typically been cultural diversityBeing a large country and has, through a series of historical events and migrations, divided itself into cultural regions that embrace and express different social normsThe U.S. Constitution is the law of the land and it guarantees certain freedoms. This means citizens can express and have different ideas, beliefs, and practices Putting #1,2,3 in context, look at how various social cultures (and even States) respond to the COVID-19 vaccine. To some, it is the best way to protect their own health and that of their family and community. Yet others guide themselves with a different belief system. While you do not have to embrace or even agree with every social norm you encounter, you are expected to allow people to live life as they want to live it. Even if their way of life seems distinct from or incompatible with your own. Social Norms Examples in America There are shared social norms in America as well as ones that are specific to a certain social culture. For example, shaking hands is a social norm and it is a common way Americans greet one another. However, in Japan, people bow to one another. A Japanese American might shake hands and/or bow, depending on the person and circumstance. Here are a three other examples of social norms in America: #1 Waiting your turn when standing in line Whether you are waiting in a grocery store, movie theatre, or doctor’s office, people know to wait their turn. Now, some people want to jump the line. As a rule, this is a breach of a social norm that won’t put you in jail but could cause a shouting match or something worse. #2 All people are considered equal The Constitution declares that all people are equal. While divisive notions based on class, race, gender, and sexuality do exist, they aren’t embraced or necessarily accepted by the general public. Ideally, and in theory, all people in the U.S. are equal and therefore deserve 100 percent equal treatment. #3 Discrimination is not acceptable and is often times illegal. Because people in the United States are considered equal, it is considered bad form to discriminate. Speaking poorly of people or treating them differently because of perceived differences is not acceptable and is entirely offensive in most social circles. In many cases, discriminating against people because of age, race, class, gender, sexuality, or any other social assignment is illegal and punishable by law. PARTICIPATING IN THE SOCIAL CULTURE OF THE UNITED STATES One of the greatest opportunities afforded to students who travel and study internationally is getting to witness and experience lifestyles distinct from their own and their social culture. To participate in U.S. social culture, and to engage in the opportunity to witness and experience a culture distinct from your own, follow the following guidelines: Be open-minded. Imagine that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to live—just different ways to live. Try to identify what is good and beautiful in every way of life, even if you don’t plan to embrace it in the long run.Be curious. Ask lots of questions, conduct research, and engage in conversations to better understand social norms and cultures distinct from your own.Be respectful. You don’t have to agree with every social or cultural norm you witness in the United States. In fact, you might be appalled by some of the social or cultural norms you witness in the U.S. You can, however, engage in a practice of respecting people’s rights to live the way they want to live.Be polite, courteous, and generous. In the United States, politeness, courtesy, and generosity are always welcomed and can be applied to any social setting. When in doubt, treat people well and with kindness.