Culture Savvy @ Work: The Perplexing American Hello.

If you're an American working overseas or at home for a foreign-based company, this insight can help you bridge the culture gap and gain your colleagues' trust a little faster. If you're someone working with Americans, this entry can help explain how our culture operates with regard to greeting one another.

The "Hi, How Are You?" Twitch

Americans tend to be known for having a smiling reflex along with a "Hi, how are you?" twitch (HHAY) we blurt out as we breeze by someone in the office. We tend to greet people we hardly or don't even know that way and keep on walking without waiting for an answer.

Over the years, I've been given feedback from people of various European & Asian cultures that they find it confusing that we should ask how someone is doing and not stick around to find out. They feel that our frequency and magnitude of smiling and HHAYs causes them to instantly think,

"What does this American want from me? Why do they ask how I'm doing if they don't even stop to listen?"

They usually leave the encounter confused and thinking we really don't care about them at all. I explained that it's our (albeit confusing) way of saying hello and making sure that person is safe/friendly.

What should be done about it, then?
I gathered that to gain their trust and lower their suspicion, we should just say a moderately cheerful "Hello" (no politician smiles) and keep walking unless we actually have the time to spend a few minutes to listen to how the other person is doing.

I was able to put this to practice over in Germany and learned quickly that asking a German how they were was an investment of at least a few minutes. If I didn't stick it out, I would be seen as the typical, fast-talking, superficial American. Toning down the smiling and just saying a pleasant hello worked just fine with my colleagues.

Bottom Line
When you're the foreigner in the workplace, observe and take a cue from your colleagues to see how they greet each other.

This doesn't necessarily mean matching their wardrobe, eating only their food, and trying to pretend you fully know their culture.
Don't go overboard!

It's still okay to eat a burger, say "dude," or retain other American customs. As long as they see you trying to do at least a few things according to their customs, they might even try and greet you your way! Sound confusing? Just go with it.


For future Culture Savvy installments: What you'll often find is the more you delve into learning about other cultures, the more confused you'll become. What should you change to adapt? What should you retain so as not to abandon your identity and home? Keep on reading with me in the future as we all learn along the way.

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