Project Harmony

Participant Resources: American Lifestyles & Habits


American extended families rarely live together in the same house or even in the same state! In most cases, parents and children live separately from grandparents and children move out of their parents' homes soon after they graduate from high school. It's not uncommon for parents to charge rent from adult children who still live at home if they are over 18 years old.

You will probably notice that families in the United States give their older children a lot of independence. For example, many teenagers drive cars, sometimes prepare their own meals, have their jobs and their own money and generally can take care of themselves without too much help. Because of this independence, Americans sometimes forget that foreign guests need extra help or instruction, especially during the first days of their visit. It occasionally can be frustrating for participants whose culture places such importance upon hospitality. If such situations arise, it is always helpful to look at what can be learned from the experience and to challenge oneself to be flexible and accepting, rather than judgmental. It is important that you ask questions early and often! Most participants agree that they learn about individualism, self-reliance, and self-confidence as a result of their time in America.

You will probably notice that most US homes have more space than you are accustomed to. Most Americans, especially those who live outside of cities, live in private houses. Living space can be limited in cities like Boston, however, so some of you may have private rooms with private baths while others may share a bedroom with another participant and/or share a bathroom with other family members.

As a guest, you may be given your own room in your family's house. This is a welcome gesture in a culture that values privacy for individuals. Unfortunately, it may also make you feel isolated from your hosts. Your hosts do want to get acquainted with you and learn about where you come from. Sometimes, you will have to make the first step toward socializing with your hosts.

Most American homes will be kept a little bit colder than you are probably accustomed to, so you should plan on having a sweater or something warm to wear around the house.


There are some significant differences between NIS and American cultures concerning etiquette and hospitality. The role of the guest is quite different in America than it is in the NIS. In America, guests are generally urged to "make themselves at home." Americans believe that both guests and hosts are most comfortable when neither is anxious about being too polite or reserved. For instance, if you are hungry you should not wait for your host to offer you food. It's perfectly normal to ask for a snack, or to make one yourself! Or if you want to do your laundry, simply ask your hosts and they will help you with it.

American homes tend to have many electronic conveniences, such as microwaves, VCRs, computers, washing machines, etc. These are not necessary indicators of great wealth, but are common in nearly every American home. Feel free to ask your hosts how to use any of these appliances.

You might think Americans are odd because….

or maybe you will be surprised by how much they are just like you!


Another important and often difficult difference between American and most NIS cultures is food. The types of food that Americans eat shock many people and it sometimes takes time to adjust. If you are longing for some "normal" food, you should offer to cook a national meal. Americans are almost always interested in trying new foods and would be honored if their guest(s) offered to cook a dinner.

When you are sitting at the table, you will generally have to help yourself. You may be offered food once, and if you refuse, it will not be offered again. As mentioned before, Americans tend to give honest, straightforward answers rather than feign politeness. While in your country it may be considered polite to answer no when food is first offered, American hosts will take "no" as exactly that and will not offer you the food again. If there is something additional that you would like at the table, you should ask for it or just take it.

When it comes to food, you may find that Americans....


Smoking is prohibited in all public areas - elevators, restrooms, busses, subway stations, and all airplanes. You may be fined for smoking where it is prohibited. Smoking is also prohibited in some restaurants and hotels. You must check and find out if your room is a smoking or non-smoking room at hotels. There is a very large fine for smoking in a non-smoking hotel room.

At work or at home, it is best to ask your hosts whether or not it is acceptable to smoke and where you can smoke.


Most Americans consume alcohol rarely, if at all. As a rule, Americans do not consume any alcoholic beverages until after work (this includes beer). Many Americans think that drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is very unhealthy both physically and psychologically. Drunkenness is very strongly frowned upon in nearly every situation. If you are not sure how much is acceptable to drink, you should watch your host and let him order for you.


Americans have a very strong sense of privacy - a word that has no translation in Russian. When Americans talk, they like to have a lot of space between themselves and their conversation partners. You will probably notice that children in your host families will go to their rooms and close their doors to be alone. This is perfectly normal, and demonstrates the American attitude toward privacy.

Individualism is another characteristic that defines American culture and one that you will notice everywhere - at work and at home.


Many Americans - though certainly not all - have computers with access to the Internet at home. If you ask, you may be given permission to access the Internet for electronic mail, news, or other purposes. Some families may choose to stay with you while you are using the computer. You should be aware that some people pay for Internet use based on the amount of time that they use it, so you may want to try to keep your Internet use short.

In general, personal computers should be treated as exactly that - personal property of your host that must be respected. Please do not download any files or programs onto your host family's computer. Although you may not be aware of it, you could be downloading viruses or other damaging materials. Downloading harmful materials, including pornography, onto your host's computer is grounds for termination of your program and being sent home before the rest of the group at your own expense.


You will probably be surprised at how little Americans know about other cultures - especially the many varied cultures that make up the former Soviet Union. Often, Americans will call all people from any former Soviet country "Russian." Most Americans have very little knowledge about Russians too. Project Harmony staff explains repeatedly in letters and phone conversations that Moldovan, Georgian, and Russian cultures and languages are different and, in many cases, totally unrelated. Nonetheless, you will find that a number of people have a difficult time making the distinction.

We hope that you will be patient with such people, but that you will also be aware that one of the goals of this program is to increase Americans' knowledge of your cultures. We hope that you will be able to point out some of the highlights of your culture and history to help your hosts understand more about where you are from.


You might have heard that Americans are "too sensitive" about issues related to equality for women and minorities. This is true - equality is a very important issue for all Americans.

What does this mean for you as a guest in America? While most Americans will be forgiving of innocent comments made by foreigners who are not familiar with American cultural norms, the safest approach for you to follow is to be very careful what you say -- and when in doubt, say nothing. Do not make jokes, or comments, that poke fun at any one specific group of people.

The people you meet in your Host Families and Host Businesses will be from many different ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. You can take this as an opportunity for you, as a visitor, to explore the famous American 'melting pot'. Our host families are from many different ethnic backgrounds. This may mean that you will be staying with someone who is homosexual, or a member of an ethnic minority.

Keep an open mind - and ask questions. If you are curious about Americans' idea of equality and their individual beliefs, you should ask. You will probably get different answers from every person that you talk to.


After your first night with your host families, you will undoubtedly spend time comparing notes on what your experiences have been with other participants. You will probably quickly become aware of the fact that some of you live with families that are far richer than others. While some host families may own expensive cars and a large house, others may have no car at all and live in a fairly cramped apartment. Project Harmony tries to find a wide variety of host families from various backgrounds with the hope that this will better show you the diversity of American culture. Economic diversity is a fact of life in America, and it may be shocking to see the extremely different circumstances in which people live.


Project Harmony conducts Community Connections Programs in three very different communities. Vermont is one of the smallest, most rural states in the country. The population of the whole state is under 600,000. The population of Vermont's capital city, Montpelier, is around 9,000. At the other end of the spectrum is Boston - one of the largest cities on the east coast after New York. While all participants will have the opportunity to see Boston, you need to be aware that every community you live in is a unique part of America. While the concentration of people and businesses necessitates a contrast in lifestyles, the contract in opportunities and available resources is not great between Boston, Maine, and Vermont

You will probably notice that the difference between city life and country life in America is not the same as the difference that exists in Russia, Moldova, or Georgia. When you come to Vermont and are told that you are going to be living in a village, you will see that the idea of a village in the United States is very different from a village in your country.