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10 Commandments of American Culture

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These are not the commandments from the book by the same name. These are commandments formed by the immigrant community with years of experience. They’ve made mistakes and learnt from them and they don’t want any other fellow Indian to go through what they had to. What they can wish is if only someone had told them about these implicit rules when they moved here. Nevertheless, here you go.


There’s no instant Intimacy: In India it was relatively easier to make friends. People would have school friends, colony friends, college friends, bus friends and so on. Out here, it is relatively difficult to make friends on the go. American culture tends to be closed. A vast majority of Americans build their social circles in high school and elsewhere in college. It's hard to get into this social framework smoothly after college. Americans entering the job market tend to be more self-contained, busier and less inclined towards making new friends. So, when you feel that you click with an American, don't automatically think of him as a friend. Take it slow. Let him initiate


Know When to Trust: Many times, Americans will use phrases that may sound enthusiastic or supportive, but in practice they are only polite. For example, when an American tells you "it sounds interesting" or "it can work" he actually means: "I hear you but can't guarantee I'm for it”. So how do you distinguish between a polite gesture and an agreement? When the American talks to you about concrete dates and times (when it comes to work meetings, planned projects and even social gatherings and dates) or when the American signs you a contract - know that he accepts your offer.


It’s not personal, It's just business: One of the virtues of American culture (or a low point, depending on how you look at it) is the separation of personal and professional. On the good side of it, you can be almost sure that you won’t be asked to stay back and work after 6 pm. So much so, that it is considered rude to call your boss on the his/her cellphone because a cellphone I s considered as personal space. You can reach out to them through e-mail though. On the bad side of it, a positive experience you have had with an American will not at all guarantee that he will cooperate with you. For example: An Indian startup founder meets with an American investor, they go out, have a drink and grab dinner and the next day the investor may not invest. Why? Because in the US it's not personal, it's just business. So - know to separate the two!


Questions instead of commands: Us Indians are more used to direct delegation of work from our superior. We don’t mind it and don’t feel bad about it. It is our way of life. But in the United States it is considered rude. Out here, a boss will ask an employee if he/she would be able to send them the presentation or anything else by next week instead of just telling them to do something. We might prefer the more direct approach but that doesn’t seem to be appreciated here. Make no mistake, demonstrating a refusal at the boss's request is also rude. The best way to overcome the difficulty is to show motivation, explain to the boss the constraints if any, and offer a new deadline for yourself. They will appreciate your willingness to dialogue.


Bureaucracy is queen, planning is the King: We all hate it, but in the United States it is imperative. Without dealing with bureaucracy, you can't beat the race to find an apartment, get a driver's license, pay bills and more. In some places, bureaucracy is more moderate because of technology, but as far as Social Security and driver's license are concerned, we're still stuck in the last decade, with faxes and everything. Instead of being alarmed, it's worth remembering that American bureaucracy is a big, confusing world. Similarly, you should look at the American tendency to plan events of all kinds many months and even a year in advance. In a busy work culture, long-term planning relieves many pressures. Don't feel embarrassed about coordinating a vacation with the boss six months in advance, writing yourself a work plan one year in advance, or start studying for a test right after the lecturer declares that there is one. That's the only way to succeed here without losing your head.


Avoid American Political Conversations early on: (except you are too much into it). Avoid at all costs initiating a conversation about politics with new people. Beyond penetrating the private space at an early stage of recognition, the contemporary political atmosphere creates an unparalleled polarization between conservatives and liberals, Trump supporters and opponents. Saying phrases that might be interpreted as supporting Trump (even if you don't really support him) can burn you socially and the ones against staunch opposition to Trump is also not a smart move when it comes to the business sector (he has a surprising amount of supporters there). It’s like, we won’t want anyone to come in and say anything about our political atmosphere. Just imagine someone speaking negatively about Modi in front of a Modi Supporter or vice versa.


Being Politically Correct: Yes, it is difficult for a lot of Indians. But these are sensitive times. Issues and phrases related to race, religion, sex, gender etc. are considered explosive and one off the hook remark can land you in a lot of trouble. Just be aware of your surroundings before speaking out mind out. It can get annoying at times but trust us, it helps. American racial and political history has brought us to this point, and in some ways it is an evolving experience.


Self - marketing is not shameless: Don’t be afraid to market yourself. Capitalism and competition are the bread and butter of Americans and they live in a culture of 24/7 Marketing. Create a business card (and if relevant, website or blog) at any networking session don’t be shy to showcase your startup or activities (of course after being interested on the other side, which increases the chances of you being heard too). Self-marketing indicates self-confidence and belief in the product (even if the product is you).


Friend Brings a Friend: Ironically, the best way to know more Americans is to know more Indians. Yes, it’s confusing. But when you think about it, you’ll understand. There are Indians who’ve been here before you and already know a few Americans. If these Indians were to introduce you to their American friends in a natural setting, chances are better for you to hit it off well with them and form a great friendship.


The Horror of Dating in this App Culture: Chances are you’ve used those dating apps in India too. I once sat with an American in a bar. We looked at a few couples sitting there, and some spent considerable time on their cell phones. The American looked at me again, smiled, and said, "Today all these couples know Tinder and Hinge." It's sad, but the spontaneous "how do we know this person" stories are less common because dating apps save a lot of the initial embarrassment in the beginning. Use them wisely, it's a good opportunity to get acquainted with American dating culture and learn more about yourself.


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