UCLA Extension

Cultural Tips

With more than 90 different languages or dialects spoken in the Los Angeles area, you will likely be able to find a street or community where your language, food, and culture predominate. To help you negotiate mainstream Los Angeles culture, we provide the following tips:

Courtesy/Social Exchange

Most people in Los Angeles are less formal in behavior, which can be misleading in judging courtesy. Below are examples of what is considered courteous and expected behavior.

  • Service people—Be polite to sales people, restaurant staff, and other service people.
  • Bumping into someone—Excuse yourself if you bump someone on the street, in a line, or in class.
  • Speaking in class—Wait until you are called on to speak unless otherwise indicated by the instructor.
  • Lines—Take your place in line and wait until those before you have finished their business.
  • Appointments—Make appointments when possible; avoid arriving without an appointment.
  • Equality—Men and women have equal rights in all aspects of public and private life.
  • Time—Be prompt; respect other people’s time by arriving on time to meetings, events, and appointments.


People dress more casually in Los Angeles than in cities in other countries. Attire at religious services can be casual as well. But what may be appropriate for restaurants, stores, and activities designed for students or tourists may not be appropriate at places catering to an older or professional group.


Americans use their seat belts at all times. Their cars have alarms to remind them to buckle up and street signs provide reminders: Click it or ticket. Drive defensively. Penalties for non-defensive or aggressive driving include possible involvement in an accident, getting an expensive ticket, or spending time in jail. Some basic rules:

  • Signal before you change lanes.
  • Drive the same speed as the cars around you (within the speed limit).
  • Watch for cars running a yellow or red light.
  • Stay a safe distance from the car in front of you.


Americans are perhaps preoccupied about this subject and judge people by their cleanliness but rarely discuss it. Most people here shower or bathe daily. Grocery stores carry dozens of deodorant products and shampoos. You would do well to keep hygiene from becoming an issue.


In general, people do not tolerate loud noise from people they do not know. Be aware of how loudly you are talking or playing your stereo, radio, or television, and keep the volume at a level that does not disturb others.

Personal Distance

Americans usually allow only loved ones and children to get physically close for more than a few seconds. The rest of the time people try to keep a certain distance from each other. If you get too close, the other person may back away. Don’t take it personally; they are just adjusting the space to their level of comfort.


It is against the law to smoke in public buildings and restaurants in California. This law was passed because of scientific information regarding the danger of breathing second-hand smoke. If you are in someone’s home, you should ask before you light a cigarette. Many people are offended by smoking and will not allow it in their homes.

In April 2013, UCLA became a completely tobacco-free and smoke-free campus.