U.S. American Culture

Culture is defined as the beliefs, values and behaviors shared by a group of people. The University of Dayton is home to students, faculty and staff from many cultures. 

As a student new to the United States, you may require some time to become accustomed to being in a different place. This section describes various aspects of adjusting to a new culture, particularly U.S. culture. This information is also here to help you better understand "culture shock" and some of the things you may experience as you transition to life in the United States. 

Learning about U.S. American Culture

Understanding some values of the U.S. American culture, and better understanding the values of your own culture, may help as you transition to life in the U.S.

Individualism and privacy: U.S. Americans value independence and generally value autonomy and self-reliance. Many people in the U.S. have been raised to consider themselves responsible for their own actions and future. Similar to the value they place on individualism is their value of privacy. U.S. Americans assume they need time to themselves and so do not always wish to be with another person.

Informality: U.S. Americans tolerate a considerable degree of informality in dress, relationships between people, and methods of communication. In some cultures this may reflect a lack of respect and in others it reflects a healthy lack of concern for social ritual.

Directness: Many students in the U.S. will ask questions of or argue points with faculty members. In many cases, this is the way students seek out facts, and it is usually not viewed as disrespectful. It is also quite normal for them to jump right into the subject matter and say exactly what is on their minds. U.S. Americans are not likely to withdraw from a confrontation between two issues, and usually look for speed, clarity, and the facts of a situation.

Friendship and dating: While many U.S. Americans are fairly open and warm people who are quick to make new acquaintances, their mobility and sense of individualism mean that their relationships are often casual and informal. This is not to say that U.S. Americans take friendship lightly. It just means that while they may know a lot of people, their lasting friendships are often few. Comparatively, women in the United States are generally less inhibited than women from other countries. They are not usually shy with others, including international visitors. Their relaxed and more independent attitude may be misunderstood by people whose native culture is more restrictive of women’s activities. It is not unusual, for example, for unmarried women to live by themselves, to share living space with other single women or to go to public places unescorted.

Timing: U.S. business usually begins at an exact time. If someone says “Class begins at 9 a.m.” it usually means to arrive to class earlier than 9 a.m. Being on time is very important in United States culture.

Meals: Breakfast during the work week is usually a light meal between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. Lunch during the week is usually no more than one hour and is usually not a very heavy meal. The biggest meal is the third meal of the day which may start anywhere between 5:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. Alcohol is not consumed during working hours.

Hygiene: U.S. Americans put a great deal of emphasis on personal cleanliness.The standard of personal cleanliness that an individual maintains will determine (to a large extent) how he or she is accepted in society. Most U.S. Americans are very sensitive to the smells and odors of the human body — sometimes their own, but especially someone else’s. For this reason, most U.S. Americans bathe once a day, and sometimes more during hot weather or after strenuous exercise. They use deodorants and antiperspirants, and they wash their clothes frequently. It is not customary to hand wash laundry in the sink. Some may consider this inappropriate if you are sharing a residence. Many people have washers and dryers or use coin-operated machines, which are available on campus. Most people in the U.S. are also very concerned about having clean hair and fresh breath.

Social invitation: When you are extended an invitation, the invitation is usually for you only, unless your hosts specifically invite your family or friends. Bringing guests of your own without asking your host’s permission is considered impolite. You should always respond to an invitation; prompt notice is appreciated. Never accept an invitation unless you really plan to go. If you must decline an invitation, it is enough to say, “Thank you for the invitation, but I am unable to attend.” When accepting an invitation for a meal, be sure to explain to your host if there is anything you are not supposed to eat. If you must refuse something after it has been prepared, refuse politely. Never hesitate to ask for any food on the table (for example, “Would you please pass the bread?”), since asking for more food is considered to be a compliment to the host.

If you have questions about U.S. culture or adjusting to life in Dayton, contact the ISSS office.