MiR 064 – Shorts – Unwritten Rules in America, Episode 2

Hi and welcome back to the Mark in Russia Broadcast and I’m Mark. Today I’m going to continue the topic started in episode 063, which was a topic suggested by one of my listeners.

Remember, you should go to my website, www.markinrussia.com in order to listen to all of my broadcasts and to see the show notes for each episode.

When traveling or living in a different country, some of the normal behaviors of society are based upon certain “Unwritten Rules” and until you are able to crack this seemingly secret code, life is not really totally clear to you.

It’s my hope to help you learn some of these rules in order to increase both enjoyment and understanding.

Well, let’s get rolling with this.

First I’d like to talk about a very important unwritten rule in America, and it is important to understand this because this rule is very different than in most other parts of the world.

We’re going to talk about personal space now.

What exactly do I mean by personal space? At first I’m going to talk about the space around a person. First visualize either a man or a woman standing in a public area somewhere. Here I’ll talk about personal space as the area which surrounds you, and at what point is someone violating your personal space. First of all we need to understand the situation; if they are in a packed crowd, then the rules of personal space are pretty much thrown out, but let’s say that there is plenty of empty space near the person. If you, as either a stranger or friend decide to approach this person to have a conversation, you should be at least an arm length away from them. Any closer than this and you are invading their personal space. An arm length away is actually farther than what is required of people in other countries and you should therefore be aware of this.

Let’s look at an illustration of this point. In Russia, it’s been my experience the personal space is less than this, so let’s say a Russian meets up with their American friend and strikes up a conversation. The Russian will move in closer than an arm length and then the American, without even being conscience of it, will then take a step back. The Russian will then move in closer and the American will then……well, you get the idea. This “dance” is happening without either party being aware of it, until one of then becomes aware and either backs up a bit, or else stops stepping back.

It sounds a little crazy, but if you have the opportunity you should try this; it’ll be fun.

This unwritten rule doesn’t apply to people waiting in a line (or queue )

OK, let’s take a short joke break and I’ll meet you on the other side.


A man was interviewed with the question, “If your wife and mother-in-law are at sea and were simultaneously drowning, whom will you save and why?”

Without skipping a beat, the man answered, “My mother-in-law, of course.”


“If my wife drowns, then she’ll no longer be my mother-in-law.”

Q: What is every blonde’s ambition?

A: To be like Vanna White and learn the alphabet.


An Irishman drinks at the pub until they close.

He stands up to leave and falls flat on his face. He tries to stand one more time and falls again. He figures he’ll crawl outside and get some fresh air and maybe that will sober him up.

Outside, he tries to stand up and falls flat again. He gives up and crawls the four blocks to his house, crawls up the stairs and pulls himself into bed.

The next morning, his wife stands over him shouting, “So, you’ve been out boozing again!”

“What makes you say that?” he asks, putting on an innocent face.

“The pub called — you left your wheelchair there again.”

Welcome back and now we’ll finish up discussing the unwritten rule of being on time. We’ve all heard the stories about how different nationalities are concerning being on time for different things. In America, you are expected to be on time and when you aren’t, it can have a very negative impact on people’s impression of you, particularly concerning work. Being on time for work does not mean making it in through the door just in time, but rather, being completely ready to actually start working at your start time. For most people this means getting there at least ten minutes before the start time, getting their coffee, putting away coats or changing clothes if necessary and being ready to actually start at their start time. If work time comes and only then do you wander over and get your coffee, this makes for a bad impression. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get coffee during your work hours, of course you can, but when you wait each day until you are on company time to get your first cup, it will be noticed.

I’m not saying that you can never be late, but that should be the exception and a rare exception at that.

An even greater sin than arriving late is showing up late for a meeting. If it’s a rare occasion and you see you will be late for a meeting, you need to call whoever is putting the meeting on and explain that you will be late, with an accurate estimate of how late you will be. Being late for a meeting, without some unforeseen work related reason, is taken as a big insult to all of the others present at this meeting. The prevailing thought of the others will be that for some reason you feel that your time is more valuable than the others and it is just plain insulting for them to have to wait. This is why even calling can help. At least this way whoever is giving the meeting can say, “Bill called and said that he’ll be 10 minutes late, but let’s start the meeting without him”. This is infinitely better than everyone just wondering where you are and wasting their time waiting for you.

Americans love being individuals, but when it comes to work we believe in and also practice the “team” concept.

Well, what I’ve told you today concerning unwritten rules in American culture always has some exceptions with some people of some companies, but it’s far better to know the expected behavior, use it, and only practice the exceptions when you find out that you should.

Well, I want to keep these segments short, so I’ll stop here and continue another time.

Thanks for listening to my broadcast and I hope that you’ll join me next time for the Mark in Russia Broadcast. Until that time, GoodBye!

Gallery | This entry was posted in Culture, Education and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s