“Despite popular beliefs to the contrary, the single greatest barrier to business success is the one erected by culture.” — Edward T. Hall and Mildred Reed Hall, Hidden Differences
Sound knowledge of the business culture is essential when engaging in international business to reduce lost time and wasted money. As an old saying goes, “Seek to first understand, then seek to be understood.”
All cultures are very complex entities. This is also true of the American culture which is built upon the cultural inputs from many lands. Unlike Japan and Switzerland which are homogeneous cultures, the United Sates is heterogeneous culture that makes it a unique entity on the world stage.
Up until the last twenty-five years of the 20th Century, it was common for immigrants to completely blend into the dominant culture. In fact the term for this cultural assimilation was the”melting pot.” This continues today but to a lessor degree than in the past.
Presented below are some aspects of this culture that are considered somewhat unique.
- 1. Food and meals do not have the social significance found in many cultures.
- 2. Family isn’t as important as in most cultures.
- 3. Americans like change.
- 4. Social contacts and relationships tend to be more work related, as opposed to neighborhood, community and religion.
- 5. American frequently change jobs and move.
- 6. Employment is not tied to companies or industries or location.
- 7. Getting ahead is usually done via changing jobs.
- 8. Education is more job related. For example, community colleges prepare you for a job.
- 9. Social mobility is related to money, not social standing or ties in a family.
- 10. Americans take pride in job achievements; i.e. my son the doctor.
- 11. Most Americans actually pay their taxes.
- 12. It’s a legalistic society
- 13. The understanding of other cultures is very low, as is the understanding of nonAmerican history.
14. There is little interest in foreign cultures in most areas of the country (exceptions are metropolitan areas with large immigrant populations such as New York and Lost Angeles).
15. Business people are relatively informal in their meetings but there is a great deal of them.
To get a basic understanding of some of the cultural differences, you can consult the following sources of information:
International Dimensions of Technical Communications The site covers a few of the cultural assumption one takes for granted in America and the Orient which can lead one astray in work environments.
The Ten Commandments of American Culture These values drive the behavior of many individuals.