The American business culture: different than almost any other industrialized country

Americans are known to be hard working people, always on the go, working long hours and rushing from one activity to another. While a good work ethic is an admirable characteristic, the down side of our type A personalities is that we end up so stressed out, we end each day in an exhausted state, not knowing if we’re coming or going. Some of us have forgotten how to relax! BTW, plopping on the couch in front of the tube doesn’t count as relaxation. Our doctors warn us of the health problems that may ensue unless we stop driving ourselves so hard. Not many heed this advice and actually take steps to slow down. The principles of American business culture are far too well ingrained. Even our kids pick up on how busy one’s schedule should be.

One element of American business culture may be observed at your very first job interview. Business people don’t like to waste time and they don’t have time to waste anyway. You may wait a few minutes before being called by the interviewer (busily completing the task prior to your interview). Once you shake hands, you sit down and get right down to business. Should your prospective boss be the incorrigible type A personality and you’re not, you might feel downright uncomfortable. You might not even get the job if the interviewer sees you as too laid back!

Now let’s compare American business culture with European business culture. An American looking for a job in Europe absolutely must get up to speed on European business protocol in order to avoid an embarrassing situation which could prove to be irrecoverable. Don’t expect your first meeting with a prospective employer to be an interview, in the sense of a typical American interview. The French, in particular, are sticklers on this point. Your first meeting is full of polite conversation and should be conducted in French, if possible. This shows that you are interested enough in their culture to have a basic, if imperfect grasp of the language. You can bet the interviewer speaks English as well as you do, but this is not American business culture turf.

The purpose of this first meeting is to assess your personality and style. There may not be a single word exchanged about the position. Should you ask or remark on something that relates to the job or work, it is considered pushy and rude! A French businessman feels it’s essential that you be a likable person, one who will fit in to the organization like a family member. You may be invited to lunch, which is simply more of the same. No discussion of business takes place. Once you’ve been accepted, on a personal level, then you may be invited to dinner. That’s when business is discussed. That’s when you may receive an offer.

If you’re going to Japan on business, be prepared for culture shock. Japanese business culture is so very different from American business culture, you’ll need to thoroughly educate yourself on the expected protocol of the business meeting. For example, there a number of rituals which must be performed before you ever sit down. There is the business card presentation ritual. You’ll be embarrassed and lose points and favors if you don’t know what’s happening and what your role in the ritual is. You may be offered foods that you cannot identify, but must eat. If you refuse, no matter how graciously, you’ve delivered a terrible insult, disgraced yourself and probably won’t get the job!

We Americans are so into our American business culture, we just hate to waste time. It’s just the way we are. However, the French get 5 weeks paid vacation each year. Hmm. That’s something to think about.

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