Basic Etiquette

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Americans are generally friendly and quick to use first names no matter the social setting. Many instructors and professors even prefer their students to call them by their first names; however, asking your students to call you Dr. Smith, Prof. Smith, or Ms. Smith is perfectly acceptable and respectable. Always tell your students on the first day and in the syllabus how you wish to be addressed.

Punctuality is highly valued in the U.S. and can be a sign of respect toward the person or group you are to meet. Students are expected to be on time for their classes and university / professor meetings and appointments. Some instructors take off points for students who are late multiple times, but if you are going to remove points for tardiness, you should inform your students in the syllabus. Punctuality for parties and other social events is more flexible, but you should always inform the person you are meeting if you are going to be more than a few minutes late or need to cancel.

Students in the United States are encouraged to share their opinions and ask questions in class. In addition, most instructors will welcome and encourage individual interactions and meetings with students. Again, be sure to put your policy for meeting with students in your syllabus.


The U.S. is a “please” and “thank you” society. It illustrates your respect for the person with whom you are speaking and is not reserved for those in authority positions. Politeness and patience is for every person you meet no matter their societal position or job. If you need to ask someone a question or are in need of assistance, saying “please” will be much more effective than simply demanding. Anytime someone has answered your question or helped you, show them you appreciate them by saying “thank you.”

Personal Space & Privacy

Personal space and privacy are very important to Americans. Americans opt for a firm handshake when greeting an acquaintance rather than a hug or kiss. They do not touch while speaking unless the relationship is close or they want to show sympathy or care with a light touch on the arm or shoulder. Women may greet each other with a hug if a friendship has developed. On average, Americans need two feet (.6 meters) of personal space. Anything closer may be uncomfortable or viewed as rude; however, friends may feel comfortable with closer contact.

Privacy and personal possessions are important to Americans. Listening to private conversations or reading someone else’s personal messages/papers is frowned upon. People work hard to have a car, house, clothes, and other belongings, but most people do not appreciate someone asking how much they make or what they paid for something. If the person wants you to know, they will volunteer the information without being asked. If you wish to borrow or use someone’s belongings or space, make sure you ask first.