DURST: How to Do Business in America

More and more foreign business executives have discovered their tiny world shrinking like a traveling carnival t-shirt left in the dryer overnight, and they've realized that the only sales route worth mining is a global one. So they're crawling over oceans like inflatable fire ants. And, belatedly, many are also learning about the hidden obstacles lurking behind the waffle iron of every international deal making breakfast.

Although our American culture may be the red white and blue bowling ball on the ping pong table of commerce, a lot of foreign businessmen find themselves unprepared for Americans peccadilloes, strange customs and fascination with rear seat cup holders. It is for them and for their children that I have created this primer. It will allow the huddled masses to fit in and wheel and deal just like they was born in Biloxi and knew what chicken fried steak was.

- Children in the United States are a bit precocious. Don't be surprised if an American child approaches you with a handgun and requests money, sexual favors or your shoes.

- In America, short term rewards are prized way above long term results, and when the short term rewards involve cash in hand, the results will very likely turn into long term associations.

- Business is commonly conducted between the hours of 8:00 am and 5:00 pm. But if you're actually serious about getting a deal done, avoid early mornings, the hours immediately following lunch, Mondays and Fridays. Best results can be achieved Tuesdays through Thursdays between 10:00 am and noon.

- Remember America is the most litigious society in the world. As you enter the country, a lawyer will be given your name and your movements and actions will be closely monitored by a close knit band of khaki clad confederates at all times. Except in New York, where they will be wearing black.

- The official language of the United States is English, but while conducting business in the South, wiser folk than you have been known to hire interpreters and food testers.

- Often, after dinner and a couple of drinks, it will not be unusual for American business types to ask you up for a cup of coffee before returning to your hotel. The term to keep in mind here is "quicksand."

- Compliments are freely exchanged for no apparent reason. If you wish to chat up an associate, start by referring flatteringly to a part of their body that appears attractive to you.

- US executives start talking about business immediately. Often, contracts are signed in elevators on the way to offices. Sometimes they will neglect to get out of the car.

- Coffee will be mentioned, but what they're really talking about is vast amounts of liquid candy with chocolate and whipped cream.

- The greeting "How are you?" is not an inquiry about your health. Just mumble some vague nonsense or make rhythmic clicking noises. Just so long as you constantly emit sound. Americans have a deathly fear of silence. Try not to recoil from their grunting noises. They can sense fear.

- Until you know a person well, avoid discussing religion, politics, money, abortion, race, sex discrimination and the WWF. Food and health insurance are fair game.

- A man may take your business card, and put it in his wallet which he will then place in a back pants pocket. This is not meant to show disrespect. However if he takes your hand and puts it there, call security.

- When dealing with the government it is best to retain the services of a person who will stand directly at your side and shout your responses at an ear splitting volume. Either that or a small roto-tilling device.

- Americans will pretend to be knowledgeable about football but will be referring to huge behemoths wearing body armor crashing into each other over the possession of a misshaped ball. Their comprehension of pro falconry stats will also be uniformly woeful.

- When dealing with a large American corporation be prepared to remove your scruples and leave them in a jar by the door. Any door. Every door.

Will Durst needs to get some sun.


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