There are lots of stereotypes about how people from different cultures or who speak different languages communicate. Sometimes these are fairly accurate and can cause misunderstandings, and sometimes they’re just funny to read about. In an effort to offend as few people as possible, here are some common cultural features about how Americans have a conversation. But don’t forget that these won’t always be true, and that most Americans intend to be inclusive and welcoming.
- Americans tend to make eye contact during conversations, and consider it impolite if someone does not look them in the eye as well. However, holding that eye contact for a long period of time may come off as staring, which is considered rude.
- Americans nod their heads or respond with quick words of approval when listening to someone else speak in order to show they are engaged in the conversation.
- When meeting someone, often in business settings, Americans shake hands firmly and do not touch in other ways (such as kissing on the cheek). In social settings, Americans may hug their close friends or family members but are not tactile with strangers or acquaintances and instead may smile, wave, or simply begin a conversation (or give a rogue handshake).
- Nobody likes a close talker in America – people having a conversation tend to stand somewhere between 2 and 3 feet (just under a meter) away from the other person, unless it’s a crowded, loud, or intimate situation.
- This is probably true for most languages and cultures, but Americans use a lot of slang and abbreviations in social settings and jargon in business settings (basically specialized slang for their field). Keep in mind that often American English slang is different to British English slang (or any other English-speaking country slang). No matter how much you study ahead of time or how good your English is (even if you’re a native speaker), you’ll probably have to learn those terms in the moment.