When Chinese citizens set foot in the United States, they tend to find the air refreshing and the locals passionate, kind, and friendly. Yet it is far from easy to integrate into American society. So as the saying goes, “When in Rome do as the Romans do.” New arrivals should pay close attention to the lifestyles and daily habits of Americans. Here we offer a few examples of everyday life in the U.S., to help those both visiting or settling down.
Though Chinese often boast of their long-standing cuisine culture, U.S. dining etiquette should also be correctly observed. Proper table manners are expected in the fine dining environment.
Give some attention to the cleanliness of the table, and avoid messy plates. It is considered a courtesy to eat quietly. When eating soup, you are expected to use a spoon with the soup bowl that stays placed on the table instead of being lifting. If food or utensils are beyond your reach, it is advisable to politely ask others to pass it to you. When you have a mouthful of food, it is seen as bad table manners to talk. Also remember to carry the food to your mouth with a utensil, rather than bending forward toward the food.
Place the napkin on your lap and, if it is too big, fold it in half diagonally. You can use the inner side of your napkin to blot your lips. If the napkin gets too dirty and needs replacing, signal to the waiter either by making eye contact or with a raised hand. At an informal meal, you start eating only when the host is seated and starts eating. At a formal meal, wait until someone starts eating or until the host invites you to begin. When finger food, like lobster, corn on the cob, or fried chicken, is offered, watch those around you and proceed accordingly. Don’t lick your fingers; instead, use a napkin to clean your fingers. When removing unwanted food, such as a pit or bone, from your mouth, do it discreetly.
Cleaning or picking your teeth at the table is a bit distasteful. If necessary, excuse yourself from the table and go to the restroom to clean your teeth. To indicate you have finished the meal, place the silverware overlapping one another on the plate, with the fork tines turned upward and the knife facing inward in the upper right-hand of the plate. Seeing the position of your silverware, the waiter will remove your plate.
Talking too loudly, burping, clearing the phlegm in your throat or clearing your throat are considered improper. Gestures have different meanings for different cultures. If, for instance, a burp is coming, you are supposed to stifle it or excuse yourself. One friend of mine working at the reception desk of a hotel, told me about the annoying behavior of some Chinese tourists. They arrived to check in immediately after their lunch and burped rudely with their mouths uncovered. Although this after-meal behavior is found in some parts of China, it is not acceptable in the West.
Clothing can reflect how well one integrates into a foreign culture. In an egalitarian society like the U.S., there is little distinction between social classes. While business attire is expected in the office, outside the office people from all classes may prefer simple, comfortable clothing styles that have some individualized features. However, simple clothing does not equal careless clothing, nor does it mean an untidy or messy appearance.
Your clothing should be neat and clean. During a visit to an American family, it is a courtesy to take off your hat and coat when you enter the house. Remove sunglasses when indoors, or you may be considered a shady character. Applying or re-applying make-up in public should be avoided. Also it is better not to wear black leather skirts or clothes made from exotic animal fur because this type of dress tends to be associated with prostitutes.
Do Not Spit in Public
Tourists from China should bear in mind that coughing up phlegm, blowing your nose with your hand, and urinating in public are intolerable in American society. Chinese tourists are notorious for spitting up phlegm in public. For most Americans, personal hygiene is very important. Besides having a daily shower, they are always well-groomed. Personal odors are unacceptable and offensive. Therefore, deodorant and cologne are often used by Americans to prevent unpleasant smells.
Awareness of Environment
Many Westerners are enthusiastic about recycling and reusing materials. Almost all of American society considers it unacceptable to litter the streets. Recyclable materials include newspapers, bottles and all kinds of paper containers. Being aware of environmental protection efforts, for example, American families pay great attention to home recycling, sorting their trash into recyclable and non-recyclable material.
Smoking was widely acceptable in the U.S. decades ago but is now rarely seen. Cigarette commercials have been banned on TV for years. Many state governors have also imposed bans on smoking in public places.
Smoking is never allowed on planes or trains, though some places may have designated smoking areas. If unsure whether smoking is allowed, you may inquire by saying, “Is smoking allowed?” or “Do you mind if I smoke?”
How to Pay and Tip
The level of gratuities differs depending on the region and personal preferences; on average it is about 15% to 25% of the total bill. If four to six dine together, an 18% to 20% tip is often included in the bill. Guests can also leave an extra tip. It is considered rude to give no tip or a low tip.
A Few Final Words
To integrate into a foreign culture, immigrants and visitors should make an effort to behave in accordance with local social etiquette. You should do your best get rid of undesirable habits, and have a better understanding and respect for a foreign culture. This way, you’ll be able to take full advantage of the new environment.
With 5,000 years of civilization, China used to be a country of etiquette and ceremonies. To regulate our behavior, our ancestors passed down “the three hundred rules of ceremony, and the three thousand rules of demeanor.” Parents should instruct children in the rules of etiquette, and set specific rules for their demeanor. Left with amazing cultural heritages from our ancestors, we should also glorify them in a foreign land.