Customs and traditions in the USA
Customs and traditions are important part of our culture, of our lives. Customs and traditions unite, build community. They provide identity. They tie us to our ancestors and heritage. They remind us of where we came from. Every country and every nation has it’s own traditions and customs. It’s very important to know traditions and customs of different people. It will help you to know more about the history and life of different nations and countries. Custom is a traditional and widely accepted way of behaving or doing something that is specific to a particular society, place, or time; a thing that one does habitually. Tradition is the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way; long-established custom or belief that has been passed on from one generation to another
All countries have their social customs and peculiarities, and the US is no exception. The first group of custom which is worth speaking about is connected with meeting someone. When meeting someone for the first time, it is customary to shake hands, both for men and for women. Hugs are only exchanged between close friends. Kissing is not common. Among friends, it’s common for men to kiss ladies on one or both cheeks. Men don’t usually kiss or embrace each other. Americans usually introduce themselves by their first name and last name (such as “Hello, I’m John Smith”), or, if the setting is very casual, by their first name only (“Hi, I’m John”).
The common response when someone is introduced to you is “Pleased to meet you.” Americans generally dislike formality or any sort of social deference due to age or position, and most quickly say ‘Please call me Rick (or Rita)’. To Americans, informality shows no lack of respect. Because of the rise of women’s liberation in America, women may be introduced with the title ‘Ms’ (pronounced ‘mizz’) and some women object to being addressed as ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’. In some social circles, women are introduced after their husbands, e.g. Mrs Chuck Whizzkid, in which case you shouldn’t address her as Chuck! Americans often reply ‘You’re Welcome’ or something similar when somebody thanks them, and they may think you’re impolite if you don’t do likewise. If someone asks ‘How are you?’, it’s usual to reply ‘Fine thanks’ and don’t complain even if you feel dreadful. Americans don’t have status or inherited titles (e.g. Sir or Lord) but it is necessary to defer to people with a professional title which has been earned. These include foreign diplomats (e.g. Sir), members of the Senate (Senator) or Congress (Congressman/Congresswoman), judges, medical doctors and others with a doctorate, military officers (e.g. General, Colonel), professors, priests and other religious ministers (e.g. Father, Rabbi, Reverend).
If you’re invited to dinner, it’s customary to take along a small present, e.g. flowers, a plant, chocolates or a bottle of wine (but nothing extravagant or ostentatious). But choosing flowers you should remember that American people pay attention to the meaning of flowers. For example carnations are associated with bad luck, chrysanthemums are for cemeteries and roses signify love. Guests are normally expected to be punctual with the exception of certain society parties, when late arrival is de rigueur (provided you don’t arrive after the celebrity guest). It’s usual to arrive half an hour to an hour after the official start of a dance. Invitations to cocktail parties or receptions may state 5pm to 7pm, in which case you may arrive at any time between these hours. Dinner invitations are often phrased as 8pm for 8.30pm.
This means you should arrive at 8pm for drinks and dinner will be served at 8.30pm. Anyone who arrives late for dinner or doesn’t turn up at all, should expect to be excluded from future guest lists. On the other hand, you must never arrive early. The custom of not taking off the shoes is peculiar to Americans. That is why don’t think of whether you should take off your shoes or not. If it is necessary the host will warn you about it himself. When watching American films I always wondered why Americans did not take off their footwear. The matter turns out to be that there is no much dirty and dust in American streets. Some people who were in America say that it is possible to sit on some pavements and not to make oneself dirty.
One more reason explaining this custom is that majority of Americans prefer driving but not going of foot. That is why they are not afraid of dirtying their houses. Some families say grace before meals, so follow your host’s example before tucking in. Table manners are more relaxed in the U.S. than in many other countries. The fork is held in the right hand and is used for eating. The knife is used to cut something. To use the knife, the fork is switched to the left hand. To continue eating, the fork is switched back to the right hand. Don’t overstay your welcome. This becomes obvious when your host starts looking at his watch, talking about his early start the next day. The custom which is also typical for the USA is tipping. Most Americans are shocked by anyone who doesn’t tip or who tips too little. The one you will encounter most often is at restaurants.
American restaurants do not add a service charge to the bill. Therefore it is expected that the customer will leave a tip for the server. Common practice is to leave a tip that is equal to 15% of the total bill for acceptable service, and about 20% for superior service. If the service was unusually poor, then you could leave a smaller tip, about 10%. Other professions where tipping is expected include hairdressers, taxi drivers, hotel porters, parking valets, and bartenders. The general rule is to tip approximately 15% of the bill. In situations where there is no bill the tip may range from $1 to $5, depending on the type of establishment and on how good the service was.
The custom of tipping came to America from Great Britain. In the 18th century in Great Britain the boxes with the inscription T.I.P.S. which was meant To Insure Prompt Service were on the tables during having tea. Then this term came to America. Baby showers have been a tradition in the US for a long time now, and are growing in popularity here, too. What better excuse is there for getting a group of friends together than to celebrate a new life? Plus, the mum-to-be get lots of great presents for her and her baby, result! The only person who shouldn’t arrange a baby shower is the mum-to-be. The whole event should be great fun and completely stress-free for her. Friends, family or work colleagues are the usual organizers. You could either keep it as a surprise for the mum-to-be, or tell her what you are planning. Baby showers usually have some sort of baby theme to get everyone in the mood. Popular themes include:
Teddy bear’s tea party. Get hold of as many teddies as you can and make sure each guest brings one, too! As presents, they could bring teddy bear-related books. The cake could be in the shape of a teddy bear. You get the general idea!
Nursery rhymes. Arrange toys linked to nursery rhymes around the room , such as shoes (There was an old lady), a spider (Little Miss Muffet), a bucket (Jack & Jill’s pail), and toy boats (Row row row your boat). Ask guests if they can count how many rhymes are represented.
Books. Ask each guest to bring a book that meant something to them as a child. It’s a great way for mum to start up her child’s library. For decoration, everyone could also bring books to arrange around the room. The cake could be in the shape of a fairytale book. One more tradition connected with babies is to give a baby a birthstone. The Tradition of Birthstones goes back further than written history. People wear jewelry containing stones designated for their Birth Month.
In the USA there are a lot of traditions connecting with wedding. It is known that before marriage engagement takes place. As a rule a man invite a woman to the restaurant to make her a proposal. Engagement ring obligatory should have a brilliant. The diamond engagement ring originated with King Maximillian who presented Mary of Burgundy with a diamond ring in 1477 as a token of his love. And the ring is presented unexpectedly. It may found in the glass of champagne by the woman or in the bud of the rose. To my mind this tradition is very romantic.
The tradition of a Bachelor Party which is held for the Groom and usually sponsored by The Best Man the night before the Wedding and a Bridal Shower which is usually sponsored by The Bride’s Maid is very popular in the USA. By the way the number of bridesmaids in America amount from two to twenty. The tradition of bridesmaids dressing the same as each other and in similar style to the bride comes from ancient days when it was believed that evil spirits have a more difficult time distinguishing which one is the bride and putting a hex on her.
The tradition of a Wedding Rehearsal Dinner also takes place in America. It is usually celebrated between the immediate families of spouses in the late afternoon the day before the wedding. The Groom’s Family traditionally provides for this celebration. The Wedding Ceremony is most often performed as part of a religious ceremony each with its own specific customs and traditions. On the day of the wedding the Groom does not see the Bride until the actual ceremony.
As Custom would have it from Victorian Times: the Bride wears Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, and a Sixpence in her shoe. The bride and groom exchange their rings to mark the permanent commitment of the new spouses to each other. The rings should be gold. According to history gold rings signified a financial sacrifice on the part of the prospective husband. Ring finger is the fourth ringer which is considered to be connected directly to the heart by a route that was called “the vein of love.” In the USA tradition of engraving of wedding rings is popular.
The kiss on weddings dates back to the earliest days of civilization in the Middle East. A kiss was used as the formal seal to agreements, contracts, etc. In Ancient Rome a kiss was still being used as the legal bold to seal contracts. Hence the obvious use of the custom at the end of the wedding ceremony to “seal” the marriage vows. After the wedding ceremony newlyweds are covered with rice which is used as a symbol of fertility and as a wish for a “full pantry”. A Wedding Reception is usually held after the ceremony for all family and friends to celebrate. The Bride’s Family usually provides for this celebration. Traditionally the groom’s flower, worn on his lapel, usually matches one of the flowers in his bride’s bouquet. This tradition goes back to medieval times when knights wore the colors of their lady in tournaments.
All of us know the tradition of throwing bridal bouquet and garter. The history of this tradition is very interesting I believe. In parts of Europe during the 14th contrary, having a piece of the bride’s clothing was thought to bring good luck. Guests would literally destroy the brides dress by ripping off pieces of fabric. In order to prevent this, brides began throwing their bouquets to the unwed girls. And grooms began to throw garter to unmarried men. One more wedding tradition is connected with CARRYING THE BRIDE OVER THE THRESHOLD Traditionally, the bride had to enter her new home the first time through the front door. If she tripped or stumbled while entering it was considered to be very bad luck. And the groom carried her over the threshold les she should stumble. Hence the tradition of the groom carrying the bride over the threshold.
They bring us all together, no matter where we are. We can all relate to them and understand each other because we all use them. It is also a great connection for family and friends. There are traditions that are upheld for hundreds of years that are so important in our hearts. It links and connects us to past members of our family and our world whom we may never have gotten the chance to meet. They teach us about ourselves, our families, and the world around us. We can learn our history, why this tradition was started and what it signifies when we follow it today. They can work as the glue that holds us together. They are our culture, our heritage; they are us.