A friend invites me over for dinner at 6 p.m. What time am I expected to arrive?
Americans are much more time-conscious (aware of time) than people from most other cultures. If someone invites you for 6 p.m., he or she expects you to be there at that time or a few minutes early. This is true for any appointment or meeting, whether it is a business meeting or social event. One exception is a casual party or “open house,” in which case guests may arrive at any time after the event starts. If you must be late, call the individual to let him or her know what time you expect to arrive.
What does “potluck” mean?
Americans will often have informal dinners that they call “potluck,” meaning that everyone brings food to share. Sometimes the host will ask you to bring a certain part of the potluck, such as a salad or dessert. You may be invited to a potluck picnic (a meal outside, often at a park) or a barbecue (like a picnic, except that the main meal of meat is cooked on an outside oven called a grill), where you may be expected to bring your own meat to grill (such as hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, and so forth).
If you are invited to someone’s house for dinner, you may want to ask-but it is not necessary-if there is anything you can bring for the meal, such as a salad or dessert.
Can I bring my children along?
Before you bring your children to another person’s house, ask if they are included in the invitation. If not, you may want to leave your children with friends or hire a baby sitter. Ask an American friend to recommend a baby sitter for you. Americans often do activities which do not include their children.
Should I bring a gift?
A gift is not expected unless the occasion is a birthday or a similar kind of event. You may want to send a “thank you” note after you have attended a dinner or stayed overnight at someone’s home. If you want to give a gift as part of the “thank you,” you might give the person who invited you a small souvenir from your country.
Should I offer to help prepare dinner or wash dishes afterward?
Yes, you should politely offer to help. Often your host will enjoy talking with you while you work together in the kitchen. This is an easy and informal way for you and your friend to get to know each other better. Many hosts, however, will simply say, “No, thank you,” after you offer help, and you will not be expected to help. Expectations differ significantly between families.
Should I wait to be seated?
Waiting for your host to tell you where to sit is considered polite. If your host has children, they may be very excited about having you sit next to them. Also, many families may pray before eating.
Will my friend serve the food?
Often the food will be passed around the table and you will be expected to “help yourself” (serve the food to yourself).
Americans may take larger portions of food than you are used to in your country. If you are unsure whether you will like a certain food, it is proper to try a small portion first; your host will understand. Feel free to ask for more if you would like.
Should I return the favor?
Your friend generally does not expect anything from you in return. However, your friend may appreciate an invitation to visit your apartment or house to sample food from your country. If you live in a dormitory, you might offer to cook food at his or her house, or you could invite him or her to join you for a concert or other special event on campus.