The American way

Do it like the locals

If you’re going to negotiate business deals with US locals, it’s always an advantage to fit in

If you’re marketing to Americans, or even just going to a business dinner, you need to demonstrate that you can connect with them. There are certain aspects of American’s culture and heritage that have underlying significance, so it pays to look a little deeper.

Don’t surprise them

Of course, there are American brands, and cultural and political references that many of us already know. From Wall Street and 9/11, to Coke and Obama, these are things that many non-Americans already will identify because they have a certain global impact. But, while American pop culture is widely exported, American cultural heritage is less so. For instance, do you know why Memorial Day and the 4th of July are important? What Thanksgiving and Halloween are all about? Americans don’t take a lot of vacation, so holidays are important and often highly anticipated.

While perhaps less likely to pop up in conversation than your holiday plans, even a basic grasp of twentieth century American history – from the Great Depression to the civil rights movement – will give you a better understanding of Americans, particularly American politics. And American politics is likely to come up in casual conversation. Take a spin around the New York Times (US edition, of course), or NPR to get a feel for what stories and politics are current, or plumb these resources for deeper cultural issues like religion or healthcare.

Remember, Americans are often surprised when you don’t know about their culture. So, don’t surprise them.

Coke and Pepsi are just the tip of the iceberg

The American brands you encounter every day are just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re going to do business with Americans, especially on their home turf, you’re going to hear about Verizon, Wal-Mart, and Dunkin’ Donuts. You’ll probably hear about – or even be offered – popular over-the-counter medicines like Alka Seltzer, Tylenol, and Pepcid. Ever encounter Quaker Oats, Tide detergent or Jiff peanut butter? The list of popular American brands you’ve never heard of is practically unending; you can’t possibly know it all, of course. But brands and products are a significant part of the US consumer culture, and you’ll look like much less of an outsider if you’re familiar with a few.

Perhaps even more than American brands, American pop culture has a great influence abroad. But it is far more diverse and penetrating at home. Remember, Americans are massive media consumers. Think you know all about American television? You’d better think again if Saturday Night Live, the Daily Show, Fox News and the Colbert Report are not part of your vernacular. Even Sesame Street and reality shows might come up in conversation. It’s worthwhile to peruse US magazines like People and Entertainment Weekly, even the LA Times, for tips on what Americans may be talking about “around the water cooler.”

And that brings us to sports. Americans love sports just as much as the rest of the world. Unfortunately, your lifelong devotion to what Americans call “soccer” probably won’t help you at all. Because sports are so much a part of the fabric of American culture – and because you’re likely to be able to talk about it with just about anyone – even rudimentary knowledge of American football, basketball and baseball can be worth its weight in gold. In other words, doing business in San Francisco? Find out who the 49ers and the Giants are playing that week.

Know the lingo?
In fact, sports are such an inherent part of US culture that sports-related idioms and phrases are now a common part of the American language. You will hear them at the grocery store, at dinner, and you will most certainly hear them in business. WordSpin.dk has a great primer on the language of baseball that may just help you knock it out of the park in your next Stateside meeting.

 

“American” is a tricky language! Test your skills and see if you can follow this story…

 

 

 


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