Cultural Tips for the USA – including some valuable business travel tips for the USA!

In the USA, you will find that most Americans speak only English, unless they are immigrants from other countries. They write the month first, then the day, then the year (i.e., December 5, 2021 is written 12/5/21).

Punctuality is considered very important, especially for business occasions. In many U.S. cities, traffic can cause considerable delays, so be sure to allow enough driving time to your appointment. If you know that you will be late, call to let your contact know.

A handshake is the customary greeting for both men and women socially or for business. Apart from greeting close family members or friends, Americans tend to refrain from greetings that involve hugging and close physical contact.

Business cards will not be refused, but you may not always receive one in return. Don’t be offended, in the U.S., the rituals involved in exchanging business cards are sometimes not observed as closely as in other cultures.

The recipient of your card will probably place it into a wallet, which a man may put in the back pocket of his pants. This gesture is done for convenience, and is not meant to be a sign of disrespect, as it might be in other cultures.

The standard space between you and your conversation partner should be about two feet. Most U.S. executives will be uncomfortable standing at a closer distance. Direct eye contact conveys that you are sincere, although it should not be too intense. Certain ethnic groups will look away to show respect.

Americans will often ask, “How are you?” as part of the standard greeting “Hello”, or “Hi”. It is not a question that requires a lengthy answer, a simple “Fine and you?” is sufficient.

Americans like to laugh and enjoy being with people who have a sense of humor. Jokes are usually welcome, however avoid race, gender, ethnic and religious humor. They also tend to dislike long periods of silence, so they may jump in to fill in the silence in a conversation with humor or a general statement.

Business roles for women are changing rapidly, but they are still striving for equality in pay and positions of authority.

Sports are very popular in the U.S., especially baseball, football (not to be confused with soccer), and basketball. Sport analogies have found their way into business, so you will often hear things like “that was a home run” or “that’s out in left field”, which can be confusing to those unfamiliar with the terms!

Most business is conducted on a “first name” basis, however there are exceptions so follow the lead of others. When sitting, Americans can look very relaxed. Men may sit with the ankle of one leg on their knee or prop their feet up on chairs or desks. However, in formal business situations it’s best to maintain a good posture and be less casual.

In the U.S., business is often conducted at a very fast pace. In a meeting, the participants will proceed with business after some brief, preliminary “small talk.” The concept “time is money” is taken seriously in U.S. business culture, so always get to the point. It’s not uncommon for them to try to get an oral agreement at the first meeting.

Many Americans believe that their country is the most successful economic and democratic power, and assume that American ways are the “correct” ones. This attitude sometimes leads to a lack of interest in or knowledge of other cultures.

They typically know little of concepts such as “saving face” and the social niceties and formalities that are vitally important to other cultures. Innovation usually takes precedence over tradition.

The United States is an ethnocentric culture, and so it is sometimes closed to “outside” information. Thinking tends to be analytical, and concepts are abstracted quickly.

Americans tend to be future oriented. Money is a key priority, and an issue that will be used to win most arguments. They don’t always realize that businesspeople from many other cultures rarely, if ever, sacrifice status, protocol, or national honor for financial gain.

In negotiations, Americans will often emphasize their financial strength or indomitable position. Generally, they will use a majority vote if they have it, and will not spend much time seeking consensus.

They regard negotiating as problem-solving through “give and take” based on respective strengths. They often are unaware that the other side may have only one position.

American businesspeople are opportunistic and willing to take chances. Opportunism and risk taking often result in Americans going for the biggest possible slice of the business. Even so, they will have a financial plan which must be followed.

Businesspeople can be very blunt and will not hesitate to disagree with you. This approach may cause embarrassment to business travelers who are unaccustomed to dealing with Americans. In general, people from the U.S. will not hesitate to answer “no.”

Persistence is a characteristic you will frequently encounter in American business. There is a prevailing belief that there is always a solution, so they will explore all options when negotiations are at an impasse.

5 Key Conversation Topics or Cultural Gesture Tips

  • Travel, music, food, movies, and books are topics appreciated by everyone.
  • General questions such as “How are you” or “What do you do?” are often used.
  • Topics around someone’s job or work-related matters are good for general discussion. Travel, music, food, movies, and books are topics appreciated by everyone.
  • All types of sports, and especially golf for business venues and negotiations, are welcome topics of conversation.
  • To show approval, there are two common gestures: the “O.K.” sign, formed by making a circle of the thumb and index finger, and the “thumbs up” sign, formed by making a fist and pointing the thumb upward. The backslap should be interpreted as a sign of friendship and camaraderie.
  • To beckon someone, wave either all the fingers or just the index finger in a scooping motion, with the palm facing up. To wave goodbye, move your entire hand, with the palm facing outward.

5 Key Conversation Topics or Cultural Gesture Taboos

  • Until you know a person well, avoid discussing religion, politics or other controversial subjects (abortion, racism, sexism etc.). Also avoid all race, gender, ethnic or religious jokes.
  • For the most part, Americans aren’t prone to touching, hugging, or kissing when greeting, or during business conversations and social situations.
  • While it’s common to point with the index finger, it’s impolite to point at another person.
  • Refrain from asking women if they are married. If a woman volunteers this information, you may ask a few polite questions about her husband or children.
  • Smoking is not as commonplace and is subject to restrictions in most public places. Even where smoking is allowed, always ask if those you are with will mind if you smoke.

Bon Voyage!

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To learn more about the Dos and Taboos for different cultures, and the cultural communication styles for Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East – order Gayle Cotton’s bestselling book available on Amazon as a Book, eBook, or Audio Book

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Cultural Tips for Countries from A to Z

Cultural Tips for The USA – including some valuable business travel tips for The USA

This article on cultural differences in The USA and cultural travel tips for The USA is a brief snapshot of conversation guidelines for The USA, tips for communicating in The USA, and business strategies for The USA to help with understanding the culture in The USA. It’s important to keep in mind that as we homogenize as a ‘global culture,’ cultural tendencies change and evolve as well. Awareness is the first step when it comes to cultural do’s and taboos for The USA and tips for intercultural communication!

It’s easy for business travelers to think that even when they travel, business is going to be done pretty much the same way it is at home. But that’s not always the case. Cultural differences can have a significant impact on global business etiquette. That’s why it’s important for business travelers to make sure that they understand the culture of the country that they’re doing business in.

Emmy Award Winner, Gayle Cotton, is the author of this blog and of the bestselling cross-cultural communication book ‘SAY Anything to Anyone, Anywhere! 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communication’, which is available on Amazon as a Book, eBook, or Audio Book. She is President of Circles Of Excellence Inc. and a Professional Keynote SpeakerContact Gayle if you need professional speakers for events, speakers on cultural diversity, conference speakers for events, or keynote speakers that specialize in cross-cultural training. She is a leader in the field of public speakers, motivational speakers, and international keynote speakers. She is among the best of female keynote speakers and women motivational speakers and is a ‘first choice’ request for international audiences!

Circles Of Excellence provides Corporate Training, Leadership Coaching, and Professional Keynote Speakers for companies of all sizes and in all industries, including over 50 Fortune 500 companies. Contact us about our customized training programs for Communication Skills, Cross-Cultural Communication, Cultural Diversity, Customer Service, Leadership Coaching, Presentation Skills, Sales Negotiations, Stress Management, Team building, and Time Management Training.


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