Working with Americans Q & A

Q: Some of my American colleagues seem to be uncomfortable standing close to others. Is this something that I should be aware of when interacting with Americans?

The amount of physical distance that people are comfortable with varies from culture to culture. In the U.S. a good rule of thumb is to stand with your arms spread out and twirl your arms around you. That is the distance most Americans prefer to stand from one another.

Q: Everyone uses first names when addressing each other…is it appropriate for me to address my boss by her first name?

Management structure in the U.S. is more egalitarian and most people do use first names with their supervisors. If you are unsure, notice how other people are addressing each other or ask her what she prefers.

Q: When colleagues visit my country, we usually invite them to dinner in our homes. What is the custom in the U.S.?

Your American colleagues may invite you to dinner at a restaurant or perhaps to their home. However, most business entertainment takes place in restaurants. This does not mean that you are not welcome in their home or that they are being standoffish, it is simply more customary to invite colleagues to a restaurant.

Q: If I am invited to dinner at someone’s home, should I take a gift? What would be an appropriate gift?

A hostess gift is always a nice gesture. Flowers or a box of chocolates are appropriate.

Q: What is the appropriate way to greet someone in the U.S.?

Most Americans will shake hands when they are introduced to each other. It is customary for a man to wait for a woman to extend her hand first. This gives her the option to shake hands or simply say “hello”.

Q: My supervisor thinks that I am very quiet and need to speak up more at meetings. But the meetings seem to be chaotic with everyone talking at once. I usually wait until I have something to say.

People tend to speak out at meetings at meetings and will often “brainstorm” possible solutions. The concept of waiting for your turn to speak really does not exist. If you have something to say or want to contribute to the discussion, go ahead and jump in and don’t worry about waiting for your turn. However, be careful about interrupting people.