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January 05, 2012

To non-Americans starting to do business in America: The informality, and openness, is no myth.

It drives Brits, Germans and most northern Europeans nuts: American informality, openness, non-stop cheerfulness and friendliness. Over on their side of the pond, even a very self-assured and accomplished southern England executive, consultant, lawyer or other professional, for example, would rather choke to death than talk to strangers in a subway or ask how to get to a bank or money exchange. But "wide-open" is what Americans are and have always been; if you want to do business in the U.S., you need to step up. When we Yanks are over there, you guys can complain and be mortified all you want.

There is no end to multi-cultural etiquette primers on "doing business internationally", and most of them are of course drivel. The best advice in a nutshell? Go where you need to go, and watch your American hosts carefully as you work--but do "go native". Be prepared to amp yourself up just a notch. The website of UK-based Kwintessential does a nice job of laying out the overall business atmosphere here in a few sentences:

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 [note: not sure I agree with foregoing clause] 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.

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We're not ugly. We're noisy and playful. But you need to join in.

Posted by JD Hull at January 5, 2012 11:21 PM

Comments

As a London-based lawyer, averagely (at best) self-assured and accomplished, I don't recognise the stereotype!

Posted by: Peter Groves at January 5, 2012 04:38 AM

Fair enough. I travel and seem to run into it everywhere. It's charming. I see it repeatedly in London lawyer friends. You originally from up north by any chance? :)

Posted by: Dan Hull at January 5, 2012 12:34 PM

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