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Newcomer's Almanac
Newsletter For Newcomers To The United States

This 8-page monthly newsletter offers a unique collection of information, advice, and cultural interpretation. It is written by Anne P. Copeland, Ph.D., a clinical family psychologist and founder of The Interchange Institute. Those who have moved to the US for work or personal reasons have found the blend of practical tips and thoughtful analysis of American culture a lifeline during their transition. Individuals, couples, and families have made it a "must read," whether they have just arrived or have been here for several years.

English Practice Worksheet
This 4-page companion to Newcomer's Almanac, gives grammar, vocabulary, conversation, and reading comprehension exercises based on articles in the newsletter. Useful for tutors, classes, and individuals.

Newcomer's Almanac and the English Practice Worksheet are delivered electronically to a designated individual in an organization. Distribution of the newsletter is determined by type of site license agreed to by the organization at the time the order is placed.

NOTE: All prices are for one year subscription or license.

Educational/Non-Profit Site License with English Practice Worksheet: $165
Corporate Site License with English Practice Worksheet: $999

"I'm a volunteer ESL tutor whose students enjoy reading Newcomer's Almanac and learning from it. It's a very special newsletter. I routinely learn things that I've never gotten from any other source. The Almanac is one of the best examples that I can find for my students of English written clearly and plainly, covering topics that give a feel for regular life in the U.S."

Pete Bush, English at Large

"Newcomer's Almanac has been an integral part of our work for the past 10 years, providing international destinations services to global companies bringing employees to the United States. Our destination consultants are proud to have the Newcomer's Almanac as part of the materials they give to the newcomers. Not only is the newsletter a valuable tool for our clients, it is an equally valuable part of our training process. We use all of the materials produced by The Interchange Institute to train our destination consultants and to add to the unique qualities of our services.

Dr. Copeland's expertise, enthusiasm and professionalism is evident in her work and all of the materials her Institute produces. At Full Circle we can't imagine providing our services without The Interchange Institute!"

Peggy Love, President, Full Circle International Relocations

Sample titles
Excerpt from article on "Friendship"

Excerpt from article on "You've Got Mail (US Style) "

Reader's Comments from Article on "Time"

Sample Titles
Background To Current News Stories:

  • Racial Profiling
  • Civil Liberties at Risk
  • American Values Underlying the Monica Lewinsky Matter
  • Guns, Funds, and Values
  • How The Jury System Works
  • Gender and the US Workplace
US Politics And History:
  • Declared and Undeclared Wars
  • Financing the Presidential Campaign
  • The Shadow of Watergate
  • Primaries, Caucuses, and The Electoral College
  • What It Means to Be "Unconstitutional"
  • How Congress Passes a New Law
Adjustment To Living In A New Culture:
  • Marriage and Moving: How Moving to a New Country Affects Couples
  • Home, When You've Traveled Far
  • Translating Emotions into a New Language
Being A Parent In The US:
  • Talking to Children About Scary Things
  • Evaluating Your Child's School Year
  • Checking out Day Camps
  • Using Family Stories and National Legends to Teach Your Family's Values
  • Vocabulary for the First Day of School: From "Field Trips" to "Show and Tell"
US Values And Behavior:
  • "Hi, I'm Rick:" Informality in the US
  • Starting Over: The American Way
  • Believing in Equality
  • Who Should Decide? Americans Still at War with King George III
Practical Information And Tips:
  • Making Sense of Over-the-Counter Cold Medications
  • The Rules of Baseball and American Football
  • Winterizing Your Home
  • Renting a Car in the US
  • Gift-Giving at Times of Change
Cross-Cultural Research:
  • Men and Women Around the World: Stereotypes and Reality
  • Mothers Talking to their Infants Around the World
  • Father' Special Work Around the World
  • Love and Marriage Around the World
Questions From Readers:
  • "Why do I get so much ice in my drink? My teeth get cold!"
  • "Why do Americans find Sesame Street's Ernie funny? I think he's mean."
  • "Please explain what to do with all those squashes I see in the store."
  • "What is the difference between 'Bake' and 'Broil' on my oven dial?"
Idioms And Oddities Of The English Language:
  • "Out in Left Field:" Idioms from Baseball
  • "See You This Friday:" Time in English
  • "I'll Eat My Hat:" Clothing in English Idioms
  • "Keep It Up:" Idioms Using the Word 'Keep'
Holidays And Special Events:
    Valentine's Day
  • Early Roots and Current Practice (Ignore At Your Own Risk)
  • Marriage and Moving: How Moving to a New Country Affects Couples
    Fourth Of July
  • How to Make a Real Hamburger
  • How The Second Amendment Was Born
  • One-Page History of The American Revolution
  • The Ancient Roots of Halloween
  • What to Do On Halloween If You Have Children (and If You Don't)
  • Thanksgiving: Who Were the Pilgrims?
  • How (and Why) to Cook a Thanksgiving Dinner
  • Separation of Church and State in the US
Food And Shopping:
  • The US Supermarket: What to Do with 194 Kinds of Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Butter, Margarine, and "Spread"
  • Products for Spring Cleaning

Newcomer's Almanac is designed primarily as a cultural and language support tool for newcomers to the US during their first one or two years in this country. For this reason, articles about holidays and sports may be repeated annually; articles about cultural values and tips may be repeated bi-annually. Every issue contains brand new, current information about news events, new technologies, US demographics and attitudes, and other US opportunitites as well.

Excerpt From A Newcomer's Almanac Article
"Friendship in the US: Too Much Too Soon and Then Not Enough"
Anne P. Copeland with Lynn Stoller


A few years ago when my children were young, I was away from home on a business trip. My husband suddenly had to go away too. There would be one afternoon when neither of us would be home with our children. My husband called one of our usual baby-sitters, the 14-year-old daughter of a Russian couple in our neighbor­hood. The daughter was busy and could not come. But her mother offered to watch our children for us. My husband said, “Oh, we could not possibly ask you to do that.” We had spent several happy evenings with this family, but her offer surprised him. She answered, “Don’t you see? We would like to be friends with you.”

In a typical American way, we had already thought of this Russian family as our friends. In our minds and vocabulary, they had moved from being “people we know from the children’s school” to being “friends” after one dinner together! We probably would have stayed at that level of surface friendship for a long time if they had not brought their own cultural values to the relationship. Instead, my husband gratefully accepted their offer, and we went on to feel an unusual connection to this family.

My husband and I probably have as many “friends” as most American couples. I am sure many of them would have been happy to help in this case. But my husband would have called many teenage baby-sitters (whom we would pay, keeping the relationship formal and distant) before asking any of our friends for this kind of help.

I have heard many international newcomers say that American friendships are superficial (on the surface only). They say Americans do not know what true friendship is — they seem very friendly at first, but the friendships do not grow. It may feel like “too much too soon, then not enough” to you. Here are a few thoughts that might explain American friendships. Hold on to your seat — if you are from a country with very different friendship patterns, this may sound crazy to you!

  • What, how much, and how soon we reveal information about ourselves plays an important role in friendships.  You may feel that Americans reveal too much about themselves sometimes, but then be surprised and frustrated that they won’t talk about a topic that is important to you.  While Americans tend to be very open very quickly, there are certain topics that are off limits to all but the most intimate of friends and family: religion, politics, money, and sex, for example. While Americans tend to have a significantly smaller “private sphere” then other cultures, getting into that private sphere can be very difficult. Again, this may feel like “too much too soon and then not enough.”
  • You may be surprised or confused by Americans’ level of informality. They use first names with each other, even when the age or role status is very different.  This informality is also built into the structure of the language.  English, unlike many other languages, does not have a formal and informal form of address, such as tu and vous  in French or tu and usted in Spanish.  This informality may feel like disrespect to you; try to understand it instead as an offer of an open, egalitarian relationship.
  • Depending on what culture you are from you may see Americans as either too direct or too indirect.  For example, while people from Germany often get frustrated or confused by American “small talk” and politeness, people from countries such as Japan may find Americans too direct, sometimes to the point of being rude.
  • Part of the confusion you face may stem from taking Americans’ language too literally instead of as a pleasant ritual.  Many international newcomers express frustration or confusion with statements from Americans such as “Stop by sometime!”  If you were to drop by as suggested, you might find that this invitation was not a literal one.  Rather, just as “Hello, how are you?” is not a real question about your health but rather a ritual greeting, “Stop by sometime” may mean “It would be nice to see each other again.” If an American says that to you, after some time has passed, suggest a specific time to get together. 
  • Remember that Americans value independence. To ask for help means to be dependent on a friend. Americans might be willing to accept this dependence if they really needed help (as happened with my husband), but they usually will try something else first. Americans may also hesitate to offer help to a friend. To do this takes away from the friend’s independence. Americans tend to keep relationships even, at a concrete level. If you give me a gift, I must give you a gift. If you invite me to dinner, I will invite you to dinner next. If I give you help, you must give me help soon. So, Americans may think, “One way I can be a good friend is not to force you into the position of needing to pay me back.”
  • One intercultural writer suggested that Americans feel that offering help suggests that the friend cannot manage alone. This would be an insult if you think being independent and self-reliant is important (as many Americans do).
  • Americans tend to compartmentalize their relationships — “I work with him, I ride bikes with her, I do volunteer work with them” — and do not expect people within these compartments to know or interact with each other. They can invite you into one compartment of their lives without it meaning anything very deep. People from other cultures, with more diffuse boundaries around parts of their lives, expect to be a friend in all situations and needs. They may be surprised both by the “too much too soon” part (being invited into friendship so easily) and the “and then not enough” part of American friendships.
  • Americans tend to turn to outsiders for help when people from other cultures turn to friends and family. Americans talk about their problems to therapists. They read books and magazines for help in raising children. They ask lawyers and accountants to organize their money. They hire tutors to help their children with homework. Maybe Americans do this because they move from town to town so often; their family and friends may be in other parts of the country. But it has also become part of the American way of doing things. As a result, there are books where you can find advice, baby-sitters you can call, therapists who are available and trained to help. So Americans use them instead of friends.
  • Many international newcomers say how busy Americans seem. It is rare to spend long hours at a cafe with a friend, or to be at the dinner table at midnight. These are the places where intimate conversations probably happen, and Americans (especially those with young children) miss them. 
  • Because of the high mobility rate in and large size of the US, Americans cannot count on having a friend for a very long time. Either they or their friends may move thousands of miles away. So they may connect superficially more quickly than you expect, but not get to the deeper, life-long level as quickly as you would like.
  • Americans use the word friend to mean “anyone I have spoken to a few times.” I looked in my dictionary under friend to find another word that means “someone you know, but who is not a close friend.” The only word I found was acquaintance. This is a good word — careful speakers of English should use it more often. But an acquaintance is someone you hardly know — for example, the mother you speak to every morning at your child’s school but do not know beyond that. We do not have a good word for someone who is closer than an acquaintance but not as close as a friend. You know — the person you play tennis with every week, who knows all your children’s names, and who told you the best place to buy shoes, but who does not discuss personal things with you and who would not tell you if you were doing something foolish. In the US, we call that person a friend. To refer to someone who is very close, we have to add another word — a good friend, a close friend, a best friend, my oldest friend.

Americans do have long-term, close friends. They share problems with each other. They ask each other for help and accept help from them. Their friends may even replace their family in some ways, because their families may live quite far away.  Making connections and building friendships across cultures may not be easy but it comes with a unique set of rewards as you learn different ways to connect with each other, just as we did with our Russian babysitter’s parents.  

Excerpt From A Newcomer's Almanac Article
"You've Got Mail (US Style) "
by Lynn Stoller

As a graduate student, I completed a group project with three classmates. Two of them were American. The other was from Mexico. During our first meeting we discussed our project, divided up the work, and scheduled another meeting for the next week. We agreed to stay in touch till then through email.

During the week I sent out several group email messages to tell my teammates what I was working on. The two Americans in my team did the same. After a few days, I was puzzled that I had not heard back from our Mexican group member. Did his silence mean that he hadn’t done any work or that he was unhappy with ours? We all thought that his “email silence” meant that he wasn’t committed to our project.

When I arrived at our second meeting, I was surprised to be greeted enthusiastically by our Mexican team member. He gave each of us detailed feedback on the work that we had done and then showed us what he had been working on. It was clear that he had put a lot of time and effort into our project. We were all pleased with the results.

Still, I couldn’t understand why he hadn’t stayed in touch during the week. I asked him about it a few days later. He said to me, “You know, I just can’t say what I want to say in an email. There’s just something missing…I think it’s better to say things in person.” My teammates and I could have saved ourselves a lot of confusion and anxiety if we had understood some of the different styles of email communication across cultures.

Email can be very useful because it is a quick way to communicate. However, it can be difficult to interpret when sent across cultures. Fortunately, communicating through email can be a lot less stressful if you keep a few facts in mind. Here are some tips about American “email culture” for newcomers to the United States.

Oral vs. Written communication

Americans are usually very comfortable with email because it fits their informal style of communication. This can be confusing if you come from a culture where face-to-face interactions are important in building and maintaining relationships.

Response time

Email is a standard method in the U.S for quick communication. Responses to personal email might be put off for a few days, but most work related email gets answered immediately. If you receive email from American work colleagues or clients, try to respond promptly, at least to tell them that you received their messages. If writing in English is difficult for you, this gives you more time to write a thoughtful response. If you are more comfortable communicating face to face, a brief email saying, “Thanks, let’s talk about this in person soon” will put your colleague’s mind at ease until you are able to meet in person. Most Americans check their email frequently. If that is not the case with you, make sure you let people know so they know to expect a slower response time.

Formal vs. Informal Writing

Americans are usually very informal, especially in email. Use of “Mr.” or “Mrs.” will generally quickly change to using first names. If you often email back and forth with a colleague or client, greetings and closings might eventually be eliminated altogether. The level of formality for email introductions will probably evolve from “Dear” to “Hello” to just your first name (like “Jerry – I got your message.”). The level of formality at the end of an email might go from “Sincerely” to “Warm Regards” to “Best” and “Cheers.” After a while, emails might be closed with only a first name signature.

Email length

Remember that Americans tend to keep themselves very busy, and place a high value on their time. This means that the emails you receive will probably be very brief and direct. Most Americans will appreciate the same style of emails in return. Some cultures show politeness and respect through emails that are detailed and personalized. Americans show respect for a person’s time by being concise. They prefer quick responses rather than elaborate responses.

Writing Style

Emails in the U.S tend to be written in a very clear and simple style. Americans may interpret elaborate language as pretentious or silly. If English is not your first language, remember that metaphors, idiomatic expressions and your style of writing might not translate into another language. Keep your writing simple. Try looking at emails written by American colleagues and friends to help you decide what is an acceptable style and format.

Direct vs. Indirect Communication

Americans tend to use a very direct style to communicate. When asking for something they will usually start their email with a request and then follow with their justifications. Other cultures (such as Japan or Mexico) will first list their reasons, leaving the actual request for the end of the message. In American writing, the writer is responsible for clearly and directly stating his or her meaning. This style can sound unusual in cultures where communication is much more indirect and where the reader is responsible for interpreting the meaning of the writer. Americans will place most of their focus on what is said, while more indirect cultures will put more emphasis on how something is said.

Politeness and Expressions of Humility

Independence and being self-sufficient are very important to many Americans. So, when you ask someone for a favor, first acknowledge that you are inconveniencing them and then thank them for taking the time to help you. In contrast, in many Asian cultures, expressions of humility are a more common way to show politeness and sensitivity. Unfortunately, this form of politeness does not translate well. For Americans, these expressions of humility can be interpreted as a lack of confidence and independence.

Email can be a fast and efficient way to communicate. But it means we cannot use several other ways of communicating, like gestures, tone of voice, loudness, and facial expressions. Emails are just words on a screen, which makes them harder to interpret. These tips can be a guide to you in writing and understanding American emails so that your message won’t get “lost in translation.”

© 2015, The Interchange Institute

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