keep meetings formal
Pay specific respect to people. In the States, you call your superiors titles like Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., Sir or Ma’am. In every country, the way you address people is different. So find out if you are supposed to use last names or first names as a sign of respect. In the U.S. the greatest respect is shown to the President. Even people who work directly with him call him Mr. President. We would expect any visitor to America to respect our President; therefore, we should always do the same for foreign leaders. In some countries you are expected to stand up when images appear of the King or Royal Family. Find out the customary forms of respect for the officials and follow them.
do what you say
We are all well aware that you should be honest and always stay true to your word. Help end world-perceptions that we are an insincere country. If you say that you will e-mail some information or send a book, then make sure you do. It’s the same thing you would do at home, so there is really no reason not to do it abroad. Always listen to someone when they are talking, and always mean what you say. Sincerity is a common courtesy and is highly valued around the globe.
take your time. everyone else will.
Now there are some things that people will do in foreign countries that you think are rude. Seeing as you are a guest in their country, you will just have to adapt. For instance, the time it takes for a sales person to help you may cause you to feel impatient. Keep your cool. Be patient. Short-term time is less important in some countries. Not everything is rush, rush, rush. People in the service industry may be less in your face about helping. This is not them being rude; it’s just how they are. Enjoy the break from having 20 people attack you when you walk into a store to ask you if you need help.
dinner time & the food’s weird
There is one problem every American faces when abroad: the dinner table. Everywhere in the world, when people get together to eat, a culture lesson can be found. Try local foods. The cuisine may not be your ideal meal, but as your mother said, “you won’t know if you like it until you try it.” In many countries it would be a snub to your host to not eat what is traditionally served. You are here to experience new things and that includes tasting something you wouldn’t ordinarily eat. Now that you are going to go out on a limb and try some local food, you can still order to fit your tastes. Talk to your local friends and ask questions about the menu. For example, explain to your waiter that you like fish, but not too spicy. And ask for suggestions. They will be able to help you out. You will not starve and you may end up finding a favorite new dish.
which fork? no forks?
Keep your manners in mind at the dinner table. In southern U.S., people pride themselves on their manners. They have a fork for everything and even a separate spoon for their sweet tea. There are rules and manners in other countries that you should know. For starters, in Asian countries, if you don’t use chopsticks, it would be like using your soup spoon for salad. The waiters in South Korea will also ask you what you want to drink first because you are foreign. Think before you order. In the States, we don’t usually consider drink decisions to be very important. If you order a beer or a glass of wine, then your dinner partners may feel like they must order the same, and you could possibly double the bill. This may put a financial burden on others, so stick with tea or juice.
Every country will have different rules about ordering and manners at the table, so make your mother proud and brush up on your skills by reading ahead, asking your acquaintances and watching what happens around you.
what to wear
Dress for the occasion, whatever it may be. We are a very casual people in the States. We wear T-shirts, sneakers and jeans like it is our country uniform. There are some people and places in other countries that believe casual dress is a sign of disrespect. So know the dress code, be discreet and appropriately dressed.
share your opinion
For the most part, Americans are a very opinionated group. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but arguments often get started when you start talking about personal beliefs. It’s fine to talk about your differences, but do so in a polite way. Respect other people’s right to respectfully disagree with you. We all know there are people who object to actions or activities of our government, our industries and our culture. Not every objection is the same. Don’t automatically shut people off when they say they don’t like something about America. Listen to what they have to say and then respond appropriately. But mostly, listen. Share your opinion and knowledge in a gentle way when it’s your turn to tell your part of the story. Keep in mind that in some places, direct criticism is not received well; face-to-face criticism can sometimes be seen as a form of violence. Avoid criticism, but if absolutely unavoidable, balance it with praise. You should never force your beliefs on anyone. And if proven wrong, remember the ability to laugh at yourself. Don’t get mad just because you weren’t right, that is just another part of the learning experience.
work is only work — not life
In America, we work hard and often judge people by their work ethic. In foreign countries, life outside of work is often more important. Taking holidays is not a sign of lack of commitment; it’s evidence of an intelligent approach to life.
expand your social circle
After all is said and done you will have made friends with people in your host country. You will also find other U.S. citizens. Don’t start ignoring your local friends; combine the groups. Some people think that Americans only like to hang out with other Americans. This isn’t true, granted it is easier. But you don’t want to miss out on some great friendships.
remember who you are
Remember that you come from a diverse nation. Other countries may not understand that about the States. In New York City alone, the mix of cultures is amazing. The tolerance and cooperation among races is remarkable. Use your local knowledge about other cultures to show that the U.S. is a mixture of races and cultures and not the singular people others envision. You have most likely experienced dealing with other cultures; going to another country is a similar challenge.
In schools, are children segregated by race? By caste or class? By gender? Is this segregation seen elsewhere?
What schools are considered best: public, private or parochial?
In schools, how important is learning by rote?
On what occasions would you present (or accept) gifts? What kids of gifts would you exchange?
Where are the important universities in the country? If university education is sought abroad, to what countries and universities do students go?
What are the important holidays? How is each observed?
What are the favorite leisure and recreational activities of adults? Teenagers?
What sports are popular?