Throughout most of its history, the United States has had
influxes of immigration. The ethnic mix is 83% white (generally of
European descent, but also from the Middle East and Latin America),
12% African-American, 3% Asian and about 1% Native American. Today
the biggest immigrant groups are from Latin countries.
Meeting and Greeting
- American greetings are generally quite informal. This is not
intended to show lack of respect, but rather a manifestation of
the American belief that everyone is equal.
- Although it is expected in business situations, some Americans
do not shake hands at social events. Instead, they may greet you
with a casual "Hello" or "How are you?" or even just "Hi." In
larger groups, many may not greet you at all. In social
situations, Americans rarely shake hands upon leaving.
- The only proper answers to the greetings "How do you do?" "How
are you?" or "How are you doing?" are "Fine," "Great," or "Very
well, thank you." This is not a request for information about your
well-being; it is simply a pleasantry.
- "See you later" is just an expression. People say this even if
they never plan to see you again.
- When saying good-bye, Americans may say "We'll have to get
together" or "Let's do lunch." This is simply a friendly gesture.
Unless your American colleague specifies a time and date, don't
expect an invitation. If you want to have lunch, you should take
the initiative to schedule it.
- Stand while being introduced. Only the elderly, the ill and
physically unable persons remain seated while greeting or being
- It is good to include some information about a person you are
introducing. Example: "Susan Olson, I'd like you to meet John
Harmon. He designed the brochure we are using for this campaign."
- Use professional titles when you are introducing people to
each other. Example: "Judge Susan Olson, meet Dr. John Harmon." If
you are introducing yourself, do not use your professional title.
- Handshakes are usually brief. Light handshakes are considered
distasteful. Use a firm grip.
- Eye contact is important when shaking someone’s hand.
- Keep your distance when conversing. If an American feels you
are standing too close, he or she may step back without even
thinking about it.
- People who like to touch really like touching, and people who
do not like to touch really dislike being touched. You will need
to watch your colleagues for clues on what they are comfortable
- Americans are generally uncomfortable with same-sex touching,
especially between males.
- Holding the middle finger up by itself is considered insulting
- Americans smile a great deal, even at strangers. They like to
have their smiles returned.
- Men and women will sit with legs crossed at the ankles or
knees, or one ankle crossed on the knee.
- Some Americans are known as "back slappers" -- they give
others a light slap on the back to show friendship.
In a country that prides itself on its individualism, companies
are organized and structured with many different styles depending on
the industry, the company's history and its current leaders. In the
United States, business relationships are formed between companies
rather than between people. Americans do business where they get the
best deal and the best service. It is not important to develop a
personal relationship in order to establish a long and successful
- Americans view the business card as a source of future
information and tend to exchange cards casually. There is no set
ritual for exchanging business cards.
- Americans prefer directness in communication. When Americans
say "yes" or "no," they mean precisely that. "Maybe" really does
mean "it might happen"; it does not mean "no."
- It is always proper to ask questions if you do not understand
something. Americans ask questions -- lots of them. They are not
ashamed to admit what they do know. Americans will assume you
understand something if you do not tell them otherwise.
- Americans are often uncomfortable with silence. Silence is
avoided in social or business meetings.
- It is rude to interrupt someone who is talking. Say, "Excuse
me" during a pause and wait to be recognized. Interruptions,
however, are common. Do not be surprised if someone finishes your
sentence if you hesitate when you are speaking.
- Americans put a great deal of value on the written word.
American law almost always requires contracts to be written out.
Verbal contracts are rarely legally binding. Make sure you read
the fine print.
- Do not enter into any contract without hiring a lawyer. No
savvy American businessperson would dream of signing a contract
before consulting a lawyer.
- It is very important in written communication to spell names
correctly and have correct titles. If you are unsure of these,
call the person's assistant to get the correct spelling and title.
- Keep appointments once they are made. You may not get a second
chance if you do not.
- When you are doing business in the United States, you must be
on time. Americans view someone being late as rude, showing a lack
of respect and having sloppy, undisciplined personal habits.
- Being "on time" in business situations generally means being
about five minutes early. Five minutes late is acceptable with a
brief apology. Ten to fifteen minutes late requires a phone call
to warn of the delay and to apologize.
- It is very important to meet deadlines. If you tell someone
that you will have a report to them by a certain date, or that you
will fax something to them immediately, they will take you at your
word. People who miss deadlines are viewed as irresponsible and
- Meetings are generally informal and relaxed in manner, but
serious in content. Often an agenda will be distributed before a
meeting, so the participants will be prepared to discuss certain
topics. A successful meeting is short and to the point. Be
prepared to begin business immediately, with little or no prior
- Participation is expected in meetings. A quiet person may be
viewed as not prepared or as having nothing important to
- Meetings often end with a summary and an action plan for the
participants to execute. A meeting is only considered successful
if something concrete is decided.
- Americans appreciate and are impressed by numbers. Using
statistics to support your opinions will help you be persuasive.
- Generally, there is one negotiation leader who has the
authority to make decisions. Team negotiations are rare. Americans
may begin negotiations with unacceptable conditions or demands.
They are usually taking a starting position that gives them room
- The goal of most negotiations in the United States is to
arrive at a signed contract. Long-term relationships and benefits
may not be the main objective. The immediate deal may be the only
- Negotiations may seem rushed to you. Remember that "time is
money" to Americans and that they may not think that building a
relationship with potential business partners is necessary.
- Americans are very comfortable picking up the telephone and
immediately conducting business with someone they have never met
and perhaps never will meet.
Dining and Entertainment
- Americans conduct business over breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Some socializing may start off the meal, but often the
conversation will revolve around business.
- In a business setting the person extending the invitation to a
meal pays for it.
- The fork is held in the left hand, tines facing down. The
knife is held in the right hand. After cutting the food, the knife
is laid down and the fork is switched to the right hand to eat the
cut food. Continental style (where the fork stays in the left hand
to eat the cut food) is perfectly acceptable.
- The guest of honor is often toasted and should reciprocate by
giving a toast of thanks.
- Your napkin should be placed on your lap shortly after you are
seated and kept on your lap at all times during the meal. Do not
tuck your napkin under your chin.
- Raise your hand or index finger and make eye contact to signal
- Dinner at an American home may be fairly informal.
- Do not be late for a dinner party. Arrive within 5 to 15
minutes after the time on the invitation. Never arrive before the
time you were invited. If you are going to be more than 15 minutes
late, phone your hosts and apologize.
- Never begin eating until everyone is served and your hosts
have begun. Offer food or drink to others before helping yourself.
Serve all women at the table first.
- If offered a second helping of food, feel free to take what
you like. Americans like people to eat a lot.
- When you are invited to an event, it is very important to call
or drop a note letting the host know if you will attend. That
said, Americans are notorious for not responding to invitations.
- Do not be afraid of hurting someone's feelings by responding
"no" to an invitation. People will be offended if you say you will
attend and then do not come.
- If an invitation reads "6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.," leave very
close to the ending time stated.
- Americans tend to eat more quickly than people from other
countries. Dining in the United States is seldom the long,
lingering event it is in much of the world. The point is more
often to eat rather than socialize and savor the meal.
The appropriate clothing for business varies widely. Proper dress
depends on the region of the country, a person's company, his or her
position within it and the industry in which he or she works. The
best approach is to be conservative until you have had a chance to
observe what others wear in an office. You can always get more
casual after you get a sense of how people dress. You cannot lose,
however, if you begin with a very professional attire and manner.
- Men: socks should match your suit. No leg should show between
pant hem and shoe. Remove your hat when indoors.
- Women: do not overdress for daytime or wear flashy or noisy
jewelry. American women do not wear a lot of makeup to the office.
Low-cut blouses, short skirts and tight clothing are not
appropriate office attire.
- Americans do not have as many customs and taboos concerning
gifts as many other cultures have.
- Gifts from your country will always be appreciated. Good
choices are local and regional arts and crafts, books, candies,
specialty foods and wine or spirits (if you are certain that the
- If you are invited to someone's home for dinner or a party,
bring flowers, a potted plant, a fruit basket, candy, wine, a book
or a small household gift.
- Many companies have policies that discourage their employees
from giving or receiving gifts. Most government employees are not
allowed to accept gifts. Do not be offended if someone cannot
accept a gift.
- Cash gifts are never appropriate.
- It is considered rude to stare, ask questions or otherwise
bring attention to someone's disability.
- Smoking is very unpopular in the United States. Restaurants
have separate smoking and nonsmoking sections. Public and private
buildings may ban smoking except in designated areas. Some people
do not allow smoking in their homes and will ask you to go outside
if you want to have a cigarette. Never smoke anywhere without
asking permission from everyone present.
- Names are not held as sacred in the United States. Someone may
mispronounce your name and laugh a bit as they do it. Or someone
may just call you by your given name if your family name is too
difficult to pronounce.
- There are several common names and nicknames that are used by
both men and women. Call the person's assistant to ask if you are
unsure of his or her gender.
- "Please" and "thank you" are very important in the United
States. Say "please" and "thank you" to everyone for even the
smallest kindness. Americans say them regardless of rank or how
much they are paying for something, and they expect others to do
- Say "Pardon me" or "Excuse me" if you touch someone or even
get close to someone. Americans also say this if they sneeze or
cough or do not understand something someone has said.
- Americans often share things in casual conversation, even with
strangers, that may seem shockingly private.
- Social conversation in the United States is light. There is a
standard format for small talk. People ask brief questions and
expect brief answers. Americans become uncomfortable when one
person talks for any length of time in a social situation.
- If you feel uncomfortable with a question asked of you, simply
smile and say, "In my country, that would be a strange question."
- Women are leaders in all aspects of American life from
business to education to government. Never assume that a working
woman is in a subordinate position.
- American women are independent. They will not appreciate any
"special help" offered because of their gender. Do not assume that
a woman needs more time or more help than a man doing the same
- American women pride themselves on the number of
responsibilities they take on. Do not assume that a working woman
is no longer the primary caretaker of her family and children.
- When addressing a woman, use the title "Ms." unless you know
that she prefers "Mrs." or "Miss."
- Many women keep their maiden names after marriage. Some use
both their maiden and married names.
- When going to dinner or lunch, the person who invites pays,
whether it is a man or a woman.
- Do not touch a woman in a business setting except to shake her
hand. Hugging and kissing, even of people you know very well, is
best left for social occasions.