Given its size, the US is a very diverse country, which means that cultural norms can vary greatly from region to region and it is difficult to generalise about what might and might not be offensive. For example, while homophobic remarks would be highly offensive in a liberal region like New York, the opposite might be true in a rural, heavily evangelical southern city.
- It is polite to shake hands at a meeting or presentation, although handshakes are often omitted in less formal situations. Some people prefer to shake fists; you can tell by whether the person extends an open hand or a closed fist, but mistakes in this situation are not so bad. A kiss on the cheek in greeting is rare and usually only given between close friends or family.
- If there are not many people present, leave a personal space of one arm’s length between you and the others.
- Punctuality is encouraged: a five-minute delay is usually not a problem, but a longer delay should warrant a warning if possible.
- Because of the country’s history of racial discrimination and the current trend towards equality, Americans are particularly sensitive to issues of race. If you must refer to race, the terms “Black” or “African American”, “Asian”, “Latino” or “Hispanic”, “Native American” or “American Indian” and “White” or “Caucasian” are acceptable.
- Native American reservations are scattered throughout the country. Many of these reservations contain sites that are sacred to the tribe, and some areas may be off-limits to all but tribal members. When you enter a reservation, respect the land and its people.
- The swastika symbol is considered highly offensive in the United States because of its association with anti-Semitism, Nazism and white supremacy. Hindu, Buddhist and Jain visitors should keep all swastika symbols out of sight.
- Confederate symbols, especially the “Confederate flag”, while widely used in the South, are controversial in much of the country and are increasingly associated with racism and negative stereotypes about the South.