United States: Conversation

2015-06-12

Welcome topics of conversation

Business Language

Almost all business is conducted in English in the United States.

Be aware that many Americans speak only English. Spanish is another common language due to the United States’ proximity to Mexico and Central America and the large population of Spanish-speaking individuals in the country. However, English will still be used almost 100% for business deals.

Because many Americans speak only one language, they may not be sensitive to the difficulties of other individuals trying to speak English. They may speak fast or very loudly [as if this will help you understand them better].

American business language is also very idiomatic. Many Americans adopt sports terms in their business speech [“Touch base,” “Ballpark figures,” “Call the shots,” “Team players,” and “Game plan” are a few examples.] Many Americans may not be aware that they are using these idioms because they seem so natural.

If language becomes a barrier, ask for clarification and seek understanding. If you are not totally comfortable speaking and doing business in English, hire a translator.

General Guidelines

Americans often ask, “What do you do?” [that is, “Tell me about your job and employer”] to start a conversation. This kind of question is not considered presumptuous, but rather is a way to show interest in the individual by showing interest in his or her job.

Compliments are exchanged frequently and are popular “conversation starters.” If you wish to make conversation with someone, you can compliment an item such as his or her clothing or a work or sports related achievement.

Generally, Americans like to laugh and enjoy being with people who have a sense of humour. Jokes are usually welcome, but be careful. In all situations, ethnic and religious humour should be avoided. Self-deprecating humour, however, usually goes over well.

Sports are very popular in the U.S., especially baseball, football [not to be confused with soccer], and basketball. Soccer [known as football in most other countries] has grown in popularity in recent years, but is not nearly as popular as these other sports.

Golf is another popular sport, especially among businesspeople. It is often a venue for business discussions and deals, so be prepared to play golf and talk business at the same time.

Topics to Avoid

Until you know a person well, avoid discussing religion, politics or other controversial subjects [i.e., abortion, racism, sexism].

Refrain from asking women if they are married. If a woman volunteers this information, however, you may ask a few polite questions about her husband and/or children.

Ethnic or religious jokes

Welcome Topics of Conversation

A person’s job/work-related matters

Sports

Travel

Food

Music

Movies

Books

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