Tips for the International Traveler

Welcome to America! Because our cultures may differ, we’d like to help prepare you for some of our customs and practices so you can have the best travel experience possible.

  • We always greet one another with a handshake, friendly smile and “hello.” Many Americans prefer to be addressed by their first name, but when meeting someone for the first time, you should use the title Mr., Mrs., or Miss, and their last name. Holding the door for someone who is entering or exiting a doorway, and saying “thank you” or “goodbye” is a common courtesy.
  • Transportation by car is commonplace. We drive on the right side of the road, and in some areas that don’t have a posted sign, turning right on a red light is permitted. Prior to driving, familiarize yourself with American road signs, and make sure to observe the posted speed limit.
  • Policemen and women patrol our streets 24/7 in order to keep our residents and visitors safe. That being said, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings, and in the case of an emergency, dial 911. If an officer stops you, please remain in your car, and speak to him or her from your seat. Do not attempt to offer any kind of monetary gift.
  • Our food portion sizes are larger than norm. We suggest ordering a meal and splitting it between you and a friend, or asking if you can substitute the sides for something lighter. Likewise, restaurants offer tea, hot water, or water without ice cubes; just ask your waitress or waiter.
  • Tipping is greatly appreciated. A simple gesture of 15% to 20% can be gifted to restaurant wait staff or bartender at the end of your meal. Hotel porters often receive $1 to $2 per bag, valet parking attendants $2 to $5, while housekeepers are offered $2 to $5 per night. Taxi drivers can also receive 10% - 15%, and spa associates, hairdressers or nail technicians are generally given 10% - 20%.
  • The drinking age for alcoholic beverages is 21 and older. Purchasing alcohol for a minor is strictly prohibited and punishable by law. Those 21 and older are required to present a photo ID at the time of purchase.
  • Sales tax isn’t included in the listed price of an item, but is added at the time of checkout. Sales tax varies from county to county.
  • Northeastern weather is often unpredictable, so it’s best to be prepared. A light jacket can come in handy during the fall, or a raincoat for when those spring and summer showers pop up.
  • Fishing and hunting requires a NY State license, which must be carried at all times. Visitors should refer to the Hunting and Trapping Guidebook supplied by the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation for additional information. Trespassing on private property is strictly prohibited.
  • Friendliness among strangers
    When a stranger expresses friendliness and makes small talk, it is usually not intended to spark a 10-minute conversation; but it is a genuine gesture of kindness. It may seem superficial, but smiling at someone on the street is often common courtesy, and to smile back is the appropriate response.
  • The importance of being polite
    Americans value being polite, so short answers such as, “no,” can come across as brisk or offensive. They prefer to wrap negative responses with gentle pleasantries. Even responding with an annoyed tone of voice can be considered rude behavior, which they themselves could be fired for at their jobs. 
  • Greetings
    Americans typically introduce themselves and greet people by their first name, and may not even know the other’s last name. There is no distinction of formal or informal when addressing someone as “you,” and Americans often expect to form familiarity rather quickly.
  • Restaurant seating and fees
    Though not always the case, it is more common that you should wait to be seated by a host or hostess when you arrive at a restaurant, rather than seat yourself. Sharing a table with strangers is rare. Unless specified, table settings, bread and butter, and condiments come at no additional charge. Water is always available for free and typically served with ice.
  •  “Finger Food”
    Unlike in Germany, it is quite acceptable to eat certain foods in America with your hands. This is the case with French fries, burgers, hot dogs, chicken wings, sandwiches and pizza, to name a few examples.
  • Restaurant tipping and leftovers
    Waiters and waitresses rely more heavily on tips for their pay than in Germany, so gratuity typically ranges from 15-25%, and though technically optional, it is expected and greatly appreciated. Should you like, you may ask your waiter or waitress to put your leftovers in a box to take home.
  • Drinking
    The drinking age in America is 21, not 18, and many pubs and bars require that you be 21 or older even to be on the premises after a certain hour. Having a drink with lunch or any alcohol before 5:00 p.m. is frowned upon, McDonald’s does not serve beer, and good wines tend to be expensive.
  • No dogs allowed
    Dogs are not permitted in most restaurants, unless it is specified as a dog-friendly restaurant.
  • First floor
    While in Germany and Europe the first floor of a building is the first floor above the ground, the first floor in the U.S. and Canada is considered the ground floor. Keep this in mind when taking the elevator!
  • America is big – 3.8 million square miles
    Be aware of travel time when planning trips from place to place, as they may be farther apart than they look!
  • Weather
    Like the UK, Northeastern weather can be unpredictable, so it’s best to be prepared. A light jacket can come in handy during the fall, or a raincoat for when those spring and summer showers pop up.
  • Friendliness and informality
    When a stranger expresses friendliness and makes small talk, it doesn’t mean they want to be your life-long friend, but it is a genuine gesture of kindness. It may seem superficial, but smiling at someone on the street is often common courtesy, and to smile back is the appropriate response. 
  • Introductions and speech
    Americans are rather informal with introductions, and will even walk up to strangers and introduce themselves by their first names. They often expect to form familiarity rather quickly, and don’t see it as impertinent in any way.
  • Sensitive topics of conversation
    While it might seem normal to have a pint over a heated discussion of politics, religion, guns, immigration or obesity, this is not commonly welcomed in American circles, especially among people who don’t know each other well. Likewise, swearing is considered brash and offensive in public settings.
  • Sales tax isn’t included in the listed price of an item, but is added at the time of checkout. Sales tax varies from county to county.
  • Tipping
    Waiters and waitresses rely heavily on tips for their pay, because by federal law their minimum wage is a meager $2.13 per hour as opposed to the more typical $9. Tips make up for that, so please be generous! Gratuity ranges from 15-25%, and though technically optional, it is expected and greatly appreciated.
  • Food
    You’ll find a wide variety of different kinds of foods that are not only distinct to the U.S., but also to the state or subculture. Within the Hudson Valley, there are countless cuisines to choose from. To get the best eating experience, avoid fast-food chains and try new things!
  • Portion sizes
    American food portions tend to be larger than what you might be used to; but it comes with the expectation that you’ll want leftovers to take home. At the end of the meal, feel free to ask for a box to wrap it up.
  • Coffee, not tea
    While a good and proper cup of tea is standard in the UK, you’re not likely to find it in the US, unless you’re looking for some Southern sweet tea on ice. Americans prefer coffee, and drink a whole lot of it in a whole lot of different ways. Also, the word “biscuit” means something different in America. What you’re looking for is cookies.