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Gratuity, Hygiene, Gift Giving

Hygiene

Hygiene is very important in the United States. Many Americans shower and bathe at least once a day. Exercise and weather can determine the frequency of showers and bathing. Deodorant (usually applied in the armpit) is a very common way of avoid bad body odor and is applied at least once a day by most. Americans are also very concerned with the freshness of their breath. They brush their teeth at twice a day (morning and evening) and also chew mints and gum throughout the day to ensure that their breath is fresh.

Some Americans can be offended by bad odor or bad breath. This topic is also very sensitive so most Americans would not inform someone that they had bad breath or body odor. This would only be a topic which you would approach with family or friends.

Gift Giving

The norms and practices regarding gift giving differ between cultures. As an international student in the United States, there might be time where you would like to give a gift to a professor, friend, or acquaintance

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To whom do I give a gift? In the United States, it is very common to give gifts to relatives and close friends. It is also very common to write thank you cards if you are given a gift or you have been invited to attend an invite. If you’re invited over the someone’s house for dinner, it is appropriate to bring a bottle of wine or flowers. You can always confirm if you can bring anything by asking the host. It is a common practice to ask the host “Can I bring anything” after you’ve been invited to someone else’s home.

You should not give gifts in order to influence decision making. For example, you would not give a gift to your professor before the final grades have been given. If they spent sometime writing you a recommendation letter or helping you on an individual basis, a small gift of candy or a nice card would be appropriate. It is not appropriate to give a gift of immense value to anyone besides a family member or friend.

How are gifts accepted/received? Usually in the United States, the gift is opened in front the giver. At that point a verbal “thank you” will suffice. However, as mentioned before, a thank you note is always appropriate. If the giver is not present with the recipient opens the gift, it is then necessary to provide an email or a hand written card to thank the giver.

Tipping

Tips or service charges, sometime called gratuities, are not added to bills in U.S. hotels or restaurants unless you are dining with a group of 8 or more people.However, tips are still expected at these types of establishments. Usually where there is some sort of wait staff that are taking care of you (e.g., waiter, waitress, bartender, bellhops, taxi-driver) it is expected that you would tip them. Tips are not expected at places such as ticket offices, food trucks, carry-out restaurants, coffee houses, sporting events, etc. Usually when you sit down at a table or at a bar and someone is serving you, a tip is expected.

Waiters and waitresses have very low wages because they are expected to gain the remainder of their income through tips and service charges. You should expect to tip between 15%-20% of your bill for waiters and waitresses. Taxi-drivers are expected to receive 15% of the fare. For other services such a delivery services or hotel bellhops, a few dollars is a sufficient tip.

If you have any questions about tipping ask an American friend or your international student advisor!