Doing Business in the USAThe U.S. is essentially a nation of immigrants. It is a culturally diverse country. Stop and look at passers-by in any major city and you will see that this is a 'melting pot' where people of all ethnic origins live. Most Americans will tell you that their family originally came from another country and many of these ethnic groups retain pride in their old cultures and habits, integrating them into American society.
Most people who come to the country already know a few things about Americans, mainly via Hollywood and music. Although this is a skewed view some of the stereotypes are accurate. For example, American friendliness and informality is legendary. People will not wait to be introduced and will even begin to speak with strangers as they stand in a line, sit next to each other at an event, or gather in a crowd.
Americans are direct in the way they communicate. They value logic and linear thinking and expect people to speak clearly and in a straightforward manner. Time is money in the U.S. so people tend to get to the point quickly and are annoyed by beating around the bush. Communicating virtually (i.e. through email, SMS, Skype, etc) is very common with very little protocol or formality in the interaction. If you are from a culture that is more subtle in communication style, try not to be insulted by the directness.
Arrive on time for meetings since time and punctuality are important. In the Northeast and Midwest, people are extremely punctual and view it as a sign of disrespect for someone to be late for a meeting or appointment. In the Southern and Western states, people may be a little more relaxed, but to be safe, always arrive on time, although you may have to wait a little before your meeting begins. Meetings may appear relaxed, but they are taken quite seriously. With the emphasis on controlling time, business is conducted rapidly. Expect very little small talk before getting down to business. If there is an agenda, it will be followed. At the conclusion of the meeting, there will be a summary of what was decided, a list of who will implement which facets and a list of the next steps to be taken and by whom. It is common to attempt to reach an oral agreement at the first meeting. The emphasis is on getting a contract signed rather than building a relationship. The relationship may develop once the first contract has been signed.
American Business EtiquetteAmerican businesspeople are generally less formal than in many other countries. There are few hard and fast rules; the way in which you deal with American business colleagues will depend on the individual.
* What is considered appropriate business attire varies by geographic region, day of the week and industry.
* In general, people in the East dress more formally, while people in the West are known for being informal.
* Executives usually dress formally regardless of which part of the country they are in. Casual Friday is common in many companies. High technology companies often wear casual clothes every day.
* For an initial meeting, dressing conservatively is always in good taste. Women can wear business suits or dresses. Men should wear a business suit unless you know the firm to be quite casual.
* The hand shake is the common greeting.
* Handshakes are firm, brief and confident.
* Maintain eye contact during the greeting.
* In most situations, you can begin calling people by their first names.
* Most people will insist that you call them by their nickname, if they have one.
* In formal circumstances, you may want to use titles and surnames as a courtesy until you are invited to move to a first name basis, which will happen quickly.
* Business cards are exchanged without formal ritual.
* It is quite common for the recipient to put your card in their wallet, which may then go in the back pocket of their trousers. This is not an insult.
* Inviting your business associates out for a meal is a nice gift.
* Business breakfasts are common.
* Business lunches are common and may last two hours.
* The person extending the invitation usually pays.
* Business is usually not discussed until everyone has ordered their meal.
* Socialising occurs more often after business is concluded. Business entertaining is not to develop a personal relationship.
* Business entertaining is as varied as the country. It can be in the form of cocktail parties, golf games, barbecues, formal or casual dinners.
* Do not take a sip of your drink until the host makes the first toast.
* If you are hosting the meal, make payment arrangements in order to avoid haggling over the check.
* Spouses may be included in business dinners.
* If the host offers a toast to you, be sure to reciprocate later in the meal.
Business Culture GuidesWe offer free guides to doing business in many countries. Please visit Business Culture Guides for a full list.
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