10 Tips for Managing Expat Life in America

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Confucius once said that all people are the same, it’s just their habits that are different. That’s as true here in the US as it is anywhere else. Whether you are here as a visitor, on a long-term business assignment, or have decided to live here permanently, you will likely find that our way of life is different from yours. Here are a few firsthand tips on getting along in the US.

1. Hi, How Are You? – In America, this is a greeting, not a question, and no one really wants or expects an honest answer. A typical response would be, “Fine, thanks, and you?”

2. I’ll Call You – Unless the person has made a specific point of telling you when they’ll call, this and other expressions such as “Let’s do lunch” or “We’ll have to get together,” are just polite ways of ending a conversation, and not really meant to be taken seriously. Although this approach may seem a bit rude to those unfamiliar with it, it is not intended to be. It’s simply an American form of expression.

3. Picture I.D.s – Whether you are signing a check or using a credit card — or simply trying to obtain those items, for that matter — the people you are dealing with will almost always ask to see your I.D. This usually means a form of identification that carries your picture on it, and the most widely accepted I.D. is your driver’s license.

4. On time, every time – Unlike some countries, things in the US usually proceed on time. So, if you are scheduled for a 2:00 meeting, be sure to show up on time. In fact, you may want to arrive a little early, just to be on the safe side.

5. Parlez vous Ingles? – If you are an American returning to the US after living years abroad, you’ll find that some things have changed. If your requests for help go unanswered, try faking an accent. Most Americans will respond readily to assist foreigners.

6. Get to the point – Americans are usually ruled by the clock, and have little patience with people who go to great lengths to express themselves. Whether in business or personal life, it’s best to make your point quickly.

7. Don’t like it? Take it back – In the US, if you purchase a product or article of clothing, always save your receipt. If you later find there’s a problem with the product, or you simply decide you don’t like (but haven’t yet worn) the clothing, you can return it to the store where you purchased it. If you have your receipt, you’ll either get your money back or what’s called a merchandise credit, which can be used to purchase something different in that store.

8. Fixed pricing – Women’s magazines in the US will tell you that you can negotiate with some shopkeepers for a lower price. Although this may be true at some trendy boutiques (we’ve yet to find one, though), it is certainly not the norm. Department store prices are what they are, and you should expect to pay what is listed on the price tag.

9. Everything’s on SALE! – Beware sale advertisements, since they are not always what they seem. Some merchants may mark up prices prior to a “sale” and them lower them during the sale period, so you really are not saving anything. There are legitimate sales, of course, particularly at the end of a season (following the Christmas holiday, for example). The US also has many “off-price” or discount clothing and merchandise stores where you can find designer “seconds” for much less money than a department store. But to really take advantage of them, you have to be a smart shopper and know what the items would cost originally.

10. Enjoy yourself – Life in the US is different, yes, but there are also many wonderful new things to learn about. With your insights, unique culture and lifestyle, you also have much to offer the American people. So take the time to adjust, relax and enjoy yourself.