The United States of America has never been a country known for thinking small. Anyone who has been a guest at a traditional American wedding will have witnessed this larger-than-life ethos firsthand. Today, we’ll walk you through some of the USA’s most interesting rituals and customs.
Table manners and dining out
“Both hands on the table!” If you spent your growing years in continental Europe, you might be surprised to learn that this familiar admonishment doesn’t apply in America. In the USA, it’s completely normal to cut your entire meal up with knife and fork first, before letting your left hand settle casually down into your lap. It’s rumored that this custom is a relic from the Wild West, when it was always a good idea to keep one hand on your pistol.
Long after-dinner conversations are also a rarity in the USA: the waiter or waitress usually brings the bill quickly after the dishes are cleared, and it’s expected that you’ll pay quickly and free up the table for other diners, so as not to reduce the server’s nightly take home pay in tips. And with regard to tipping: be generous. In the USA, a 15 to 20 percent tip is considered appropriate.
Weddings in the land of limitless possibility
The typical American wedding is a glamorous, over-the-top sort of affair. Even the smallest details are planned with care – there’s a reason why the wedding planning industry originated in the United States. Indispensable to any wedding are the bridesmaids, and their male counterparts, groomsmen. You can recognize them by their color-coordinated outfits.
Another tradition you won’t find in Europe is the “rehearsal,” which typically takes place the day before the ceremony. The elements of the wedding are rehearsed and the officiant explains the order of events to ensure that everything goes without a hitch on the big day. After the rehearsal typically follows the rehearsal dinner – a good opportunity to come together with the whole family before the ceremony.
Thanksgiving and Black Friday
Before the festive Christmas season can begin, the USA first celebrates one of its most important holidays: Thanksgiving. The whole family comes together for the obligatory turkey meal on the fourth Thursday in November. One of the holiday’s most spectacular occasions is the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in Manhattan.
The Christmas season in the USA begins directly after Thanksgiving. It is heralded in by Black Friday, the day each year when American consumerism is on full display: on this day, almost every store offers discounts and special offers to shoppers. The entire nation, it seems, is on a hunt for bargains – lining up in the middle of the night if they have to.
In the United States of America, the Christmas season can be summed up in two words: gaudy and bright. Christmas decorations must be over the top – the bigger the better. It’s no surprise that the famous tree at New York’s Rockefeller Center, actually a spruce, smashes all the records. One of the most famous Christmas trees in the world, it weighs 13 tons, is 25 meters high and is illuminated by no less than 45,000 LED lights. The annual Tree Lighting Ceremony is a highlight and a spectacle, taking place this year on November 30. For the entire month of December, the tree is the star of Manhattan’s 5th Avenue, until the lights go out on January 7.
It’s not just Manhattan, but rather the entire country that’s known around the world for its ostentatious Christmas displays. In the dark nights of winter, colorful reindeer, snowmen and of course plump, happy Santas beam out into the night. Environmentalists take a critical view of this Advent enthusiasm: Christmas lights in the USA use more energy each year than some African countries. But that doesn’t seem to stop most Americans, and the custom continues each year: the gaudier, the better.
What would be inconceivable for Europeans is the usual practice in the USA: gifts aren’t opened until the morning of December 25th, Christmas Day. The night before, Christmas Eve, is traditionally spent in church. American children hang stockings on the chimney before heading off to sleep. And in the United States, the payoff doesn’t come until the following morning since, according to tradition, Santa Claus visits during the night. And the next morning, children’s patience is rewarded: up out of bed and time to unwrap presents!