Differences in Culture and Business Ethics in the US & Europe

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Differences in Culture and Business Ethics in the US & Europe
Some European practices may seem strange to Americans. (European image by grigor from Fotolia.com)

Because so many Americans are descended from European immigrants, or are European immigrants themselves, there are many cultural and historical similarities between the two places. However, the differences are significant enough that they need to be taken into account if an American hopes to be effective and accepted as a businessperson in Europe, or if a European hopes to understand the way that Americans do things.


The first thing that an American needs to realise is that Europe is a very diverse place. If you were born and raised in the United States, a country that is 3,000 miles wide, with a population of nearly 300 million and only one official language, the cultural and linguistic patchwork that is Europe may come as a surprise. Don't expect something that you learnt about Germany to be applicable in Spain. Take time to learn about the specific place to which you are travelling.


American business culture often appears to be excessively informal to Europeans. Americans will almost immediately begin using each other's first names, for example, a practice that can seem forward and even rude to more traditional Europeans. Conversely, a formal European doing business in the United States may give the impression of being standoffish or stern, when in fact he is being respectful. The diversity of Europe needs to be remembered; the UK, for example, is a far less formal place than Switzerland. When in doubt, it is always better to be too formal than too informal.


As a rule, Europeans are more cognizant of history than are Americans. The United States has always been a forward-looking place and culture, and as a result many Americans are not as knowledgeable as they might be about the past. If you are doing business in Italy or Greece, you will find yourself surrounded by history: architectural, political and social history is everywhere, and it is very highly valued by the residents of those places. Taking some time to learn the local history of the place where you will be doing business will get you far with the local population.

Personal Connection

In cultures that have been developing in one place for many hundreds of years, some people's relationships go back to long before they were even born. A business relationship between two people in Rome may have started with their grandparents. A knowledge of who they are dealing with tends to be important to Europeans. This knowledge is important to Americans as well, but Americans are more accepting of fast, anonymous business dealings as a part of life. Particularly in more traditional parts of Europe such as rural Italy, be prepared to spend some time letting people know who you are, and learning about them as well.

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