United States of America Local Custom Tips by melosh
United States of America Local Customs: 257 reviews and 253 photos
Tipping is voluntary but is expected in certain situations.
The idea is that a tip is a reward for personal service. It is also felt by many that it is a justified supplement for low paid workers.
When you should or should not tip can depend on the place, time and people involved.
Do not tip government officials, police officers or good samaritans. Sales people or managers including workers at fast food restaurants do not expect to be tipped. Some tipping of taxi drivers occurs expecially if special service is provided, but more commonly people just round off to next highest nearest dollar. In sit down restaurants with waiters or waitresses tipping generally ranges between 12 and 20% of the food bill. You need not tip on the tax. These workers are paid little salary and they survive on their tips. Usually there is a sharing mechanism so that the tips are shared with all the staff.
The amount you tip should reflect the service received and the place where you received the service. In general higher percentage tips are expected in bigger cities and fancier restaurants.
Rarely you may see a "service charge" added to your bill in the European style. Subtract this amount from your tip. Also a fixed 15% tip may be added to the bills for large groups. Again whether you add more depends on what you feel about the service. If the food is not very good and the service poor, tip little if anything unless you feel that the servers were sympathetic and not responsible for the problems.
Remember, tipping is optional. Do not be intimidated by rude taxi drivers! (See taxi tip under transportation.)
The main cultural celebration we have in the USA in October is Halloween. The roots of this go far into the pagan history of Europe. After Christianity arrived a kind of counter celebration developed around the idea that it was the time to celebrate "all saints". Kind of like a memorial day for the religious good people who have died. I do not think that in America the religious idea of Halloween gained much acceptance.
As a child it seemed that Halloween was a universal celebration of whatever could be imaginatively scary and a windfall of sweet treats beyond my wildest dreams. It included cutting pumpkins into scary faces and having a night when ghosts and goblins roamed the streets. I think in those times every child was dressed up in a costume and would be taken to go door to door with a bag in hand and the greeting "Trick or Treat?" in the mouth. The trick was suppose to be a threat to do something bad to the homeowner but no one ever did a trick. Everyone received a gift of small candy or fruit. There were probably areas in America where this did not happen, but it did seem to me as a child that every kid got to do it.
Since my childhood there have been changes. Because of the fear of children going up to the houses of strangers people have been trying to substitute costume parties. Many households just turn out their lights and do not answer the door during the night of "trick or treating". Some religious groups oppose Halloween because they see it as a celebration of evil. This has caused schools to back away from the celebration so as to not be accused of promoting a religiously condemned celebration.
Another complaint that people level against this tradition in the USA is its apparent commercialization. They see it as a way to sell lots of candy and costumes that has lost any of its tradition meanings.
In America, the idea of a holiday with an orgy of gift giving at the end of the calender year seems to be of great popularity. Certainly the merchants love it as they often match the sales of the rest of the time between Thanksgiving and the New Years celebration. Over the years the merchants have succeeded in stretching the buying period. It seems most people complain about this, but there is no way to stop it.
Many Americans celebrate this holiday time with no thought of its Christian (or even pre-Christian origins). This may be partly behind the use of Xmas (said "X"-mas) or this might just be laziness. Other than for the commercial retail and restaurant industries, this has to be a time when business activity decreases because many days are spent on vacation. Schools are out and many businesses including government offices close for some of the days of holiday.
Religious and other public customs surrounding these holidays are quite variable. The mixture comes with the multiple immigrant origins of the population. Since my youth there has been a great restriction of purely religious displays sponsored by government entities or historically allowed to be on government property. This has come from successful court challenges to these practices based on the constitutional article against any governmental establishment of religion.
A visitor should be aware that despite pre-Christmas sales offering low prices, there will be better prices right after Christmas. In fact, it has probqbly become a new part of the tradition to have a second buying frenzy in the week between the Christmas and New Years holiday. The merchants are motivated to clear their shelves before the new year.
With such a short history (just over 200 years as a nation and about 500 years as a people) you might think that it would be easy to write true tips about American customs, but so many of the things I remember being tradition seem to have changed or are changing.
Even the dates of some official holidays are being changed. For example, once we had holidays for each of the birth dates of Washington and Lincoln and now we have just one day for all former presidents. We have a relatively new holiday for Martin Luther King, a great man of peace. On a less offical level we have seen days like Earth Day and National Secretary Day gain popularity.
The practice of some of the holidays has changed like that of "Halloween" (End of October). When I was growing up it seemed that all the children were dressed up in wild costumes and every house gave out treats. Now many parents oppose this holiday because even though some churches call it "all saints day" they feel it honors the "evil devil". So now many houses do not give out treats and are not decorated. (For more on this holiday see the following tip.)
Since we are largely a nation of immigrants the customs of there places of origin are often honored. For example, in New York City and San Francisco there are large Chinese New Years celebrations.
Thanksgiving, my favorite American holiday, happens the third Thursday of November.
It grew out of the tradition of harvest festivals. The American story is that the first European immigrants to North America (the Pilgrams who settled in a place called Plymouth) had a successful first harvest with the help of local natives so they invited them for a big feast of celebration.
From the time of President Washington there has been a tradition of a presidential message of thanks. A more recent addition to the tradition is the arrival of the gift of two live turkeys at the While House. The president pardons one and the other is eaten.
The food eaten has always had a very American character and initially wild turkey, corn and potatoes that originated in the "new world". Today the tradition calls for turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, yams, corn, bread, apple pie, and pumpkin pie; but of course, many other foods are included. No type of food is excluded.
Although many religions give thanks for "blessings from God", I like this holiday in the USA because the thanks goes to family and friends regardless of their religion or culture. It is a very family oriented holiday. Many people travel to be with their family at this time. People who can not be with their own family are invited to join other families. At our house there is always an extra place ready for a last minute invitation. There is always way too much food prepared so we get to eat the left overs during the week that follows. My wife will make a turkey pot pie with the scarps of turkey meat that is fabulous.
As the years have passed more people are going out to restaurants for their Thanksgiving dinner. When alive my parents who were both working did this a few times -- I did not like it.
Another, perhaps newer part of the tradition is the giving of turkeys to poor families who can not afford to buy their own.
Overall I like the simplicity and the generous ( and non-commercial) spirit of this celebration.
American culture may be so familiar to visitors that a tip about courtesy is unnecessary for most, still perhaps it might save a few a bit of embarrassment because what is seen in the cinema or on TV may be quite misleading. For example, using derogatory terms or swear words is NOT acceptable. When meeting some one new it is best to stick to "Sir", "Miss" or "Mam or Mrs." "Young Man" or "Young Women" also works pretty well. "Child" is safer than "boy" or "girl". "Mister" or "Madame" sound a bit formal and cold although when said with proper respect they will be OK. Certainly do not use "you" or "you there", "dude", "buddy", "man", "women", "brother", "bro", "sister", "girl friend" or "my friend" or even "friend" unless you have a long term relationship that makes these terms appropriate. You may hear some other terms of endearment used by segments of the population that will be accepted as appropriate in that sub-culture or in appropriate circumstances but would not acceptable coming from a stranger.
Men and women, whether strangers or longtime friends, commonly look each other in the eyes. Eye contact is considered important and lack of eye contact can be considered rude. In fact, this may be felt to be more rude than skipping all greetings and going straight to the business at hand especially in a fast service store. When a women smiles and looks at you when returning a hello it is not usually a sexual invitation. This is just an acceptable American way of being friendly.
Kissing upon introduction or departure, or any other physical contact beyond a handshake would likely be mis-interpreted. The comfort distance between people for a conversation is larger than for some countries.
"Please" and "Thank You" are considered a sign of good breeding and always welcome. If you do not know what to say, a smile and a nod will usually serve.
Wearing your home country dress is acceptable including veils but because of recent terrorist activities it might not be recieved with the fear free curiosity of the past.
Certainly you will see Americans dropping trash all over, but with certain exceptions this is not considered good behavior. Dropping trash inside a sports stadium or movie theater does seem to be acceptable, otherwise people expect that you will dispose of your trash in conveniently located trash cans. There are lots of laws against what is called "littering" but enforcement seems negligible.
Still, if you are from a country where throwing a beer bottle into the bushes so a poor person could pick it up and use it is considered thoughtful behavior, consider that in America it would be considered an embarasssing crime.
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