American Daily Life Etiquette

Hi friends, how are you today?

The topic we’re about to talk today might be one of my favorites: Daily etiquette.

Meaning as in how you are expected to behave in public space according to the norms of the country and its culture you’re living in. I’ve had an interesting conversation with my international friends about that last week and found it just so interesting that even a seemingly simple act of greeting someone can be interpreted and done SO differently depending on where you live. One of my favorite examples was that in South Korea male friends go walking around the city holding hands, same goes for friends who go out with their female friends. Isn’t that interesting? Or how kissing (or the lack thereof) as a form of greeting is so different in every country?

This is also one that always greatly confuses me as I go on to kiss people on the cheeks three times here and they look at me even more confused (I ALWAYS forget, it’s a reflex, trained over so many years). Swiss people seem to be into kissing.

Anyways, I’ve compiled some of the things that struck me as most different in daily life etiquette as compared to Switzerland. Let’s go! 

The art of sneezing correctly

It’s been cold in winter (very cold), there’s the allergies going on right now (damn you pollen), in conclusion:

People sneeze a lot around here. 

It happens, like anywhere else actually (maybe I’m making too big a deal out of it)  but I find that people are way more considerate when sneezing than in Switzerland. I tell you how it goes: You’re sitting in the T (the Bostonian subway) and someone next to you sneezes into his elbow (important detail, he/she doesn’t just sneeze into the open air, no no). Anyways, what surprised me the most was that people actually apologize and will say something along the lines of “excuse me”, “sorry”. And I’m like?

Whoa, you don’t have to apologize for sneezing but ok.

Holding doors open

This one I find is really nice. Be it in the T stations, in restaurants, the library or anywhere where there aren’t automatic doors, people WILL HOLD THE DOOR for you. YES. Like really. They will wait and hold it open if they see you behind them. That’s a whole other level of politeness as compared to Switzerland (where I at least) find that people tend to do that less. Also, if you hold the door, people will ALWAYS say thank you. ALWAYS.

Excuse me…

Politeness seems to be the red thread throughout this post, doesn’t it? The conclusion being that Americans really try and be very polite (when they’re in public space at least). During rush hours and when the T and busses are super busy and people need to get off, they will always politely say “Excuse me”.

Keep your distance

When two Americans are standing and talking to each other they stay at least 16 inches (aka 40 cm) away from each other (I’ve read that somewhere. How do they find that out in the first place?!), farther away than is customary in many other cultures it seems. An American may feel threatened if you come too close. They should go to a Southern European country, would they like that?


  1. Laura May 9, 2017 at 1:40 am

    Muy interesante! Realmente hay cosas que deberíamos saber antes de ir a un pais para poder integrarnos mejor!!!
    PD: por muchos años que pasen nunca me acordaré que dais tres besos al saludar jeje

    1. sandra.zottl - Site Author May 12, 2017 at 2:09 pm


  2. Jasilyn Albert May 15, 2017 at 4:56 am

    This is so funny! I get SO mad at people here in Russia because they don’t cover their mouths when sneezing, but they’ll believe in witchcraft ideas for why they get sick. I’m like “You aren’t sick because you had the window open when it’s 80F out! You got sick because that woman earlier coughed on you!” I totally didn’t even think about how we say “excuse me” but it’s so true!!!

    When someone holds the door open for me here I always say “thank you” and my boyfriend always laughs.

    People in Russia will stand right next to you in an empty room. Drives me insane! The worst is when I’m standing at the curb to cross the street and they will literally stand in front of me when there is room elsewhere! Like, why?!?! It’s not a race.

    1. sandra.zottl - Site Author May 15, 2017 at 10:05 am

      It’s so interesting how small things in daily life can be so different from what you’re used to!


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