Local Customs Guide Chicago
- Regarding politeness and general daily habits
Chicagoans are very friendly and forthcoming people. They will greet you with a friendly “Hello, how are you doing?” to which you only have to reply “Good, and you?”. Americans usually do not elaborate on how they are actually really feeling unless they are friends or good acquaintances.
Handshakes are the general form of greeting in business environments.
For any kind of appointments (professional, social, health …), it is highly recommended to be on time. If you think you are going to be more than ten minutes late, it is strongly advised to call ahead the person you are going to meet.
As an expatriate, you will immediately notice the ropes at post offices, the airport, sport event entrances or other places where lines are expected. If there are no ropes to guide the crowd, people will stand in line by habit and it is frowned upon to push, move ahead in line or ask to move ahead without a good, valid reason, such as a screaming child or having only two items in your hand at the grocery store while the person ahead of you has a full cart. Generally, place yourself as the next person in line and practice patience. Lines are very common.
With your American acquaintance or friend to be, we advise you to talk only about politically correct topics. Never defend your point of view too strongly or with a stronger tone. Do not get too passionate about it while developing your arguments … and keep smiling. Also if invited to a friend’s house for dinner, always bring something, such as flowers or a bottle of wine.
You will also notice quickly that Chicagoans call each other, including you by first name. Simply do the same. The relationships between people are less complicated in the US than in others continents, at least superficially.
If you are a smoker, do not smoke anywhere. Ask your host if you can smoke and where. Most of the time, it will be outside. During winter, it can be challenging! Smoking is prohibited in most public locations, restaurants, bars, etc… It is even prohibited to smoke from a proper distance of some places (generally indicated in the front door of the place).
- Regarding driving rules
See the sub-section about driving rules in the Transport section for more details. But always remember the basics of driving in Chicago and more generally in the US:
- Respect the speed limit and be aware of radars
- When you drive, stay in your line.
- If the police is stopped on the Highway shoulder, move to the left before passing them.
- Regarding children
In Chicago and more generally in the US, parents have a very high level of tolerance regarding their children’s behavior in comparison to what it is in Europe for example. It means that you have to try to never get upset at your children in public even if, according to your values, his or her behavior is wrong and bad. You can tell him/her something but you have to do it calmly. In other words, take a deep breath and keep smiling. It will be frowned if you lose your temper, even if s/he has gone too far. It is better to have an explanation with them in private.
If you are going to the beach or to the pool, never let your children naked, even two seconds. You could have serious problems. Girls of all ages must wear one piece swimsuit or two pieces swimsuit, i.e. bras are compulsory for them.
It is important to know that it is advised to not touch children that are not yours. It means that for instance, even if a child requires urgently going to the restroom, do not take the initiative to accompany him or her. Tell the mom or the current guardian about the situation.
It is not recommended to let a child alone even for a very short amount of time. In Illinois, the Department of Children and Family Services, indicates that “age 14 is when children can be left unattended for a reasonable amount of time”. From this age, if you let your children alone, s/he must have very good phone skills, home safety skills, and personal safety skills. If this is not the case, parents can be held for responsible for non supervision in case of problems. In the same veins, it is not allowed to let children alone in a car in any case and even for a very short amount of time.
- Regarding alcohol
If you buy alcohol in a specialized store or anywhere else, you will be required to show your ID, even if you are much more than 21 years old. Do not get upset about that, this is just the law and you have to comply with it. If you bring a bottle of alcohol as a gift to a host, it is also highly recommended to bring it in a brown paper bag or any bag that hide the bottle. In the same vein, you are not allowed to drink alcohol in the street or any public locations. Nevertheless, in some cases (public gathering) you will be allowed to drink beer for example but your glass or bottle needs to be hidden in a darker container so nobody can see that you are actually drinking a beer.
The main traditional customs in Chicago are in relationship with celebrations such as Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Halloween is celebrated on October 31. There will be Halloween parties at restaurants, bars and clubs or within neighborhoods on the day but also sometimes the week-end before. On Halloween evening, dressed up children will walk from door to door with a guardian to ‘trick-or-treat’ and it is recommended to turn your door light off if you are not at home or not willing to hand out some candy.
You will notice that residential neighborhoods will be heavily decorated with pumpkins, spiders, coffins, living dead, etc. It might be shocking and sometimes terrifying for young children.
Thanksgiving is celebrated on fourth Thursday of November. This holiday celebrates the Thanksgiving from 1621 that gathered the first pilgrims from Plymouth and Native Americans from the area. As an expatriate, you might feel very lonely on that day as most of Chicagoans and American travel and cross the country to spend that specific day with their family and friends. Moreover it is a very typical American holiday that is mainly celebrated by Americans and Canadians. Therefore it might mean nothing to you. Try to share the day with Chicagoans that stay in the city and discover this unique moment of the American way of life. We advise you to head downtown and watch the Thanksgiving Parade on State Street. It starts early around 9:00 am and ends at 11:00 am sharp.
Christmas is a very nice season to be in Chicago. Even if it might be tempting to go back home for Christmas, we advise you to spend at least one Christmas in your new home to really feel the atmosphere. There are tons of activities and special events for the whole family. Moreover the weather at that time of the year is often very bad with blizzard and lot of snow. For that reason, planes are often delayed or even cancelled. It might be a good argument for you to stay warm at home and then enjoy sliding, snow fights, snowman and igloo building in the numerous Chicago parks.
Do’s and Dont’s
- Do tip generously, if appropriate and good service was received.
- Do move to the right lane when driving slower than other vehicles.
- Do return a friendly greeting with a “Hi” or “How are you?” when someone greets or nods to you.
- Do stand in line.
- Do say “Excuse me” when accidently bumping into someone or when getting in the way of someone (reaching across to reach a shelf in the supermarket, etc.)
- Do drive to move with traffic.
- Do pay attention when walking alone in a deserted area or poorly lit area or avoid it.
- Don’t jaywalk, use crossings.
- Don’t split lanes or pull past traffic to the light, particularly on a motorcycle, it is illegal. It is allowed, however, for bicyclists.