How you say Hi to someone from another culture often determines how the rest of the conversation will go. Greetings across different cultures can be a hug, a bow, a kiss, a handshake, or any combination of these. If either person becomes uncomfortable, then the rest of the conversation will probably not go well. By using these few simple actions, you will be able to create a more positive impression with an American business person and thus create the probability of a more positive outcome from your conversation.

  • Americans shake hands and the grip is firm but not too strong (make sure that you grasp the whole hand and not just the fingers).
  • Eye contact when greeting and shaking hands is important (this shows confidence and trust—no eye contact creates a feeling of suspicion).
  • When saying your full name, pause 2 seconds between your first and last name (this helps the listener to know what your last name is, so the response can be “nice to meet you Ms. Gripman”). If you hear only “nice to meet you,” then there is a chance that the listener is unsure of your last name. This will create awkwardness and possible future embarrassment.
  • Remember when meeting a woman, the correct title is Ms (pronounced Miz) not Miss or Mrs.
  • Smile during the introduction—smiling says that you are happy to meet the other person and that you hope that this conversation will be friendly. (Do not smile if you are embarrassed, as this means that you think the issue is not important. If you are embarrassed, it is better to have a serious face.)

After you meet, then there is usually a short opportunity for small talk. This is a chance to learn more about the other person; however, there are questions that are not polite to ask Americans.
Do NOT ask personal questions about—

  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Salary
  • Personal appearance/body questions (for example –“Are you fat or pregnant?”) —compliments about appearance are ok (for example—“I really liked your watch!”)
  • If you receive a compliment, the polite response is “Thank you.”—no other words are necessary. It is considered bad manners to belittle the compliment (for example— “This old watch, it is very cheap.”)
  • Family (If the other person starts talking about their family, then it is ok to ask general questions only after you have offered some family information (for example, “I’m married too, or I have kids too.”)
  • Politics
  • Religion
  • Do not make jokes about sexual orientation or disabilities as this is considered very bad manners

Often when you are moving around, you might accidentally brush up against someone or you reach in front of someone, so remember to say “Excuse me” or “Pardon me” every time.
Americans believe that everyone should be treated as an equal; differences in age, wealth and status should not change a person’s behavior. They are uncomfortable with the idea of classes (upper class, lower class, etc.). However, they will respect a person’s wishes to be addressed and spoken to more formally.

The final 2 points, many of you already know very well- Women are given equal respect; they move around freely and have the same privileges as men and often have very high positions of authority.

‘Time is money’ – it is important to be on time for any event that you have with Americans. They are direct in their speech and prefer to act quickly and decisively, so they like to keep the small talk time short and get started immediately with the reason for the meeting.

Finally when saying goodbye to the new person, it is polite to say that you enjoyed meeting them and talking to them. (For example— “Ms. Gripman, it was a pleasure meeting you and I enjoyed talking to you. Have a nice day/afternoon/evening.”)

Following these simple points will help you to create a friendly and positive beginning to your interaction with Americans.

By Kathleen Gripman

MI Asian Staff
Author: MI Asian Staff