Individual Status

The United States is a highly individualistic culture and respect based on individual accomplishment tends to define status more than age, tradition, or family background. The equality of individuals is one of our national ideals. Although throughout U.S. history we have not always achieved this ideal, it continues underlying principle that guides interaction among individuals and informs how business, organizations, and officials treat people. It also creates an expectation among people for equal treatment, regardless of rank and status.

Academic communities are particularly diverse and provide opportunities to meet and interact with a wide variety of people. As a member of the academic community, you will be expected to treat everyone with respect and can expect to be treated courteously by others.

How to address people?

The style of interaction in the United States tends to be informal, and communication can be more casual than in many other countries, reinforcing feelings of equality. People of the same age usually refer to each other in a familiar manner. For example, students usually address each other by their first names. Formal titles, like Doctor, Professor, Mr., Mrs., or Ms., with the person’s surname (family name) are reserved for speaking with persons in authority, teachers, older people, and in office or business interactions.

When one is uncertain about how to address another person, it is best to observe others and follow their example. If this is not possible, it is always appropriate to ask.


Giving gifts does not happen as commonly as in some other places and tends to be limited to family and close friends. Invitation to an individual’s home may be purely social, such as when the invitation is from a friend or fellow student, or status-related if invited by a professor or employer. Small gifts are welcome under such circumstances. One might consider bringing flowers, a bottle of wine, or even a small artifact from one’s country.

Interaction in Academic Environment

University life has its own cultural norms related to status and hierarchy. Frequently, the style of interaction can become quite informal between professor and student. It is not uncommon for a professor to prefer being addressed by his/her first name and to join students for meals or other socializing. However, even when there is a familiar and collaborative relationship, it is important to remember that faculty members are authority figures with higher status than students. Similarly, college administrators and staff members may communicate and relate informally, while still retaining authority.