When international students arrive on campus, they are bombarded with invitations to a variety of welcome events. The first few weeks are jam packed with opportunities to meet new people: both international students and locals. You probably are aware that there will be cultural differences, however most people don´t realize that one of the biggest differences may be when it comes to eating. American dining habits are quite different than many other countries abroad, so here’s a little preview of what to expect.
A Quick Lunch
In many countries lunch time is a sacred meal; a time when families come together to enjoy each others company, talk about the events of the day, and eat a hearty meal. However, as you will soon notice, lunch is not the most important meal of the day in the US. For most people lunch time is squeezed in where it can be, the 30 minutes given to them by their job or before their next class. This means that what you eat for lunch is normally not a 3-course meal. You grab something that is quick and easy. Since convenience is key, another custom you may not be used to is people eating on the street or eating on the go. It is quite common to see people eating outside, wherever they can, or even having food with them to snack on during the day.
May I Have A Box Please?
Another big shock for many when they arrive to the US is the “doggy bag” culture. “doggy bag” culture refers to the fact that when you go out to eat a restaurant and do not finish your meal (because the portions are huge!) you can ask for a box to take the leftover food home. If in your home country this is something taboo, it may take some time getting used to; however, on those busy days full of classes and no breaks, you will soon learn to love having that box of leftovers in your fridge.
How much, 15 or 20%?
Once you have been out to eat or out for drinks, you will soon realize that the US is huge on tipping. Although the idea of tipping is supposed to be an act of generosity, in the US it is an act of generosity that is expected. When you go out to eat with a lot of people (6 or more, usually) the tip is included in the bill. However, if you have found your favorite restaurant near campus and want to become a regular, make sure to tip at every visit or you may not get the best service the next time you go. It is important to note that at fast food restaurants tips are not expected, it is usually at any sit-down restaurant. To the surprise of many, Americans also tip when they go out for drinks. Don´t want to get ignored by the bartender when you order your next drink? Make sure to leave something extra.
I Ordered a Double Cheeseburger and a Coke
When it comes to eating out with friends and splitting the bill, customs vary from country to country. It is important to know that in the US it is common for each person to pay for what they ordered and only what they ordered. When the bill comes, it is passed around and people add up the dollars and cents of what their meal consisted of. In larger groups it is also normal to ask for individual bills when placing the order. That way no one has to take the time to be the accountant at the end of the meal. Splitting the bill evenly between everyone present is not rare, but it usually occurs with closer group of friends or family.
If you’re currently studying inside the US what is the biggest difference for you when it comes to learning how to eat like an American?