September 2018, Volume 2, Issue 8

The American Consumer

When it comes to understanding sales and consumerism across borders, one must first understand their own culture's attitudes towards buying and consuming products and services.

This month, we will delve into understanding the various mindsets or characteristics that motivate the American consumer into making purchases.

The active American — The "Just Do It" mentality, American's don't just sit there, they DO something and they are known for getting things done. Children are taught to stay busy; people are rewarded for activity and performance. Foreigners always say: "Americans always seem to be in a hurry." Don't fool yourself into thinking that Americans shop this way, although some do, some will take their time about completing a purchase and may even delay the purchase or another time.

The Industrious American — Hard work is rewarded and it is part of the Protestant work ethic. Consumers are skeptical about goods that promise effortless results or that eliminate the need for hard work. Products should demonstrate their capacity to work hard and to get the job done as quickly as possible and its sources must come from a trusted advisor or from tried and tested results of positive performance, before most Americans will complete a purchase.

The Materialistic American — Materialism is part of the Protestant work ethic just as much as hard work. This concept states that one's worth can be measured in dollars, which equal income and wealth. Income and wealth lead to consumerism. Americans like to accumulate things and have the space with which to store their things in, like their large homes and large cars. Americans like to have the biggest, or the best, or the latest product out there; it is a sign of success for the American.

The delay of gratification — Traditionally American culture has stressed the necessity to postpone gratification over extended periods of time. This concept allows one to gain an education over many years before beginning to receive the benefits of efforts. This value comes from the puritan aspect of delaying gratification until the work is completed and can be seen in the old saying: "Work before pleasure." This concept is also a middle class mindset in America, as delaying gratification will allow you to do better in the near, and at times, not so near future. That does not mean that some people, depending on their personality or ways of living delay gratification, it is not uncommon for some Americans to seek instant gratification, but by and large the concept of waiting for things to get better is the overall American mindset. This attitude plays itself out in the general population. For example, when the economy is slow or the nation is in an economic slump. Most Americans buckle down, spend less they "tighten the belt," as they say.

The Serious American — Americans tend to be serious and usually equate levity with frivolity. Humorous or comic appeals to consumers usually get their attention, but they often fall short of selling the goods.

The Abstaining American — Things that are openly sensual are distrusted, because American consumers buy products only with proper rationale. It has to be good for them or they must have earned it in order to complete a purchase.

Be aware of some of the various types of characteristics and mindsets that the American consumer has and tailor your product or service to it; you will find yourself being a bit more successful in selling to the American population.

I end this piece with the following: "You are a foreigner everywhere, except in your own culture". Candida Marques – Global Arrival © 2018.

Privacy and Protection of the Self
A Collectivist Point of View

Privacy in the United States involves more than just keeping your nose out of someone else's business. Americans demand the right to be left alone and to have time and space to be alone without interference. This concept does not make sense in a collective culture, in these cultures they find it odd that someone would want to be alone for the sake of being alone, however it does not mean people from collective cultures don't express such feelings. They may state, "Stop nagging me," or demand that you "Get off their back," but such requests are specific and brief and do not mean they expect you to leave the room or to physically leave them alone.

If you are in a collective culture you may notice fences around physical property or shutters closed at night. Also, when invited to a home you may notice houseguests have more restrictions on the home space than what a houseguest would have in the United States. Even the saying "Mi casa es su casa," does not really mean that you as a house guest have free reign of the home, it simply means they will make you feel welcome and entertain, feed you etc., but there will always be areas of the home that are "off limits" to guests. If you are a guest in a collective culture you are not expected to get your own towel, or help yourself to orange juice in the fridge, the host will get those things for you. You are not expected to be a servant and will be served upon when in their homes.

In some collective cultures the concept of privacy falls into the category of keeping their lives private, not isolating you from others in order to achieve privacy.

I was traveling with a Colombian colleague from Bogota to the US. As soon as we were settled and in flight, I pulled out a book to read. I did not notice that my friend was uncomfortable, but I did wonder why she sat there with a blank stare. I offered her a magazine to read, to which she turned down. It was not until much later that she asked me why I read my book on the airplane. I explained to her that reading while flying or lying on a beach is considered "down time" or "private time," to an American. She explained to me that in her culture it is rude to do such things when in the presence of others. When with others, in her country, you are expected to interact and be social. To read in their presence means that you don't like them and is considered to be rude behavior. I apologized to her and explained it was not my intent to offend or hurt, just following my own cultural norms. From that point forward I never repeated that mistake.

I end this piece with the following: "What you may consider to be private, may actually be offensive to someone from a culture different than your own. If you do something and notice a reaction in your counterpart, take a moment to reflect and change your behavior. It will go a long way in preventing misunderstanding and/or possible hurt feelings." Candida Marques – Global Arrival © 2018.

To Be or Not To Be
A French and American Perspective

One of the most fundamental differences in French and American views is the conception of the ideal state vs. the reality, or what can actually be achieved.

Americans value the ideal man, woman, child, family, community etc. The concept of living the ideal life is so entrenched in the American's belief system that they strive for perfection without ever being aware of the high standards they hold for themselves. This is reflected in the work of Norman Rockwell, a painter whose enormous popularity resulted from his ability to portray the American ideals of his time and transpose them into artwork. His images of perfection made him an American Icon and his art has served as an "American Family Album." The work of Mr. Rockwell portrays what the average American then and even today would like to have their families look like, or what they feel they themselves should look like.

Even with the slight cultural shifts in the American way of life since Rockwell's time, Americans still see these kinds of idealized images as actually achievable. It is reflected in the belief that anyone can achieve anything with enough hard work and determination. It is displayed in the American sayings: "Practice makes perfect" and "if you believe you can achieve, than you will." These mantras simply don't exist and have no equivalent or translation in the French culture and in the French language.

Most Americans see things as black or white, bad or good, right or wrong, a success or a failure. If anything goes wrong in the quest to achieve the ideal, then it becomes a failure. Any deviation from the ideal becomes a problem to be repaired and is treated as such, it can even become catastrophic. For example, recurring arguments between couples is enough to make them think their relationship is in trouble and that they must seek counseling or get a divorce. A child who doesn't reach a certain developmental milestones by a certain time warrants concern from teachers, parents and pediatricians.

Americans are convinced they can reach the ideal and if they do not, it is because they are personally deficient in some way. Because of this belief, Americans experience profound disappointment and distress if they are not living up to their ideal standards.

The French ideal on the other hand, is seen as a goal to be aimed for but to which can never be achieved. They are not expected to live up to the ideal life, and if they don't, it is acknowledged and accepted. People in France are expected to do their best, but their best does not include perfection. No one ever expects to get an A+ on an exam, or to achieve enormous success.

From the French perspective minor differences from the ideal are normal and expected and it does not mean failure, because fate plays a part in all that they do and accomplish. There are other people involved; there are forces beyond the human control. You are expected to do what you can but "things happen," and when they happen, the French look at them with the idea that "That's just the way it is." Let me demonstrate:

Approaches to getting married are personal, family, and religious and say a great deal about the couple's cultural values. American weddings, for example, are expected to be perfect. Usually a wedding coordinator is hired and they advise the couple on everything and insist on perfection. There may not be any surprises on the wedding day, no one is supposed to ruin the day for the bride, and every element of the wedding should be checked and double checked for perfection. Americans practice for their weddings through rehearsal dinners and taking dance lessons, nothing unexpected is supposed to happen and everything is supposed to occur exactly as planned. Americans perform for their weddings and they must know exactly what to do and when to do it.

Contrast this to a French wedding where there is no expectation that everything will be or must be perfect. The idea of a rehearsal dinner and practicing for a wedding is absurd to the French. Why would they want to have a mechanical wedding? The feeling of authenticity and spontaneity is what matters to the French during their wedding day. No one practices or gets advice; they just show up and get married with their friends and family present, with a lot of food and plenty of wine coupled with a good time, which to a French person is a successful wedding.

Americans live by striving for perfection; the French live by accepting, and to some degree enjoying the imperfections of life. For the French the emphasis is on difference, hence their saying: "Vive la différence!" Because of this mindset, the French love confrontational arguments, and love making friends with those who one does not necessarily agree with on important issues.

During my recent trip to Paris, we met a lovely woman who invited us to see a beautiful and artful part of the city. She spent two hours discussing history with us; she probed us for our opinions and loved contradicting some of our points of view. It was a delightful encounter and one that will remain with me forever.

Rule of thumb: "Understand the ideals of the culture you are in, whether it is your own, or your host country ideals, this knowledge allows you to gain momentum in your work and make contact with others no matter where you are placed." Candida Marques – Global Arrival © 2018.

Reach out to Candida at: 908-625-2267,, [email protected] so that Global Arrival can help you and your organization lead effectively in foreign cultures.

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