10 Tips On Living In America & Working With Americans – Edith Samouillet

10 tips for French people (and Europeans) moving to the USA……..


Altogether, I have spent about 9 years in the USA in Georgia and Colorado and travelled quite a lot across the country. Through my Leadership development and Executive coaching practice, I have also worked for many years with Americans and European corporations. Here are some tips from my experience I would like to share:

Tip 1: Geography? Don’t underestimate distances…

As everybody knows, the USA is a very large country. When you think that my country, France, fits into Texas! As is the case with many western European countries. When I started to drive in the USA, I always underestimated the distances. I had a hard time to get used to the fact that one mile is 1.6 of a kilometer and I was always turning too early!

Tip 2: Languages skills and cultural knowledge? Don’t be too judgmental towards Americans…

In France and Europe in general, you travel 100 miles and you change the country, the language and the culture. It is an advantage we have to adjust almost every day to different cultures and languages.

In the USA, you can travel 2,000 miles and be still in the same country. You might have some cultural differences between California, Alaska and Georgia or Texas, but everybody speaks the same language. When you were born in the USA and haven’t traveled outside the country, it is really hard to understand other continents’ realities. According to the State Department, in January 2014, only 46% of American citizens had a passport. But in the European Union (27 sovereign states) it’s estimated that 71% of Europeans have a passport.

Tip 3: Responsibility? Be responsible of your own destiny…

Especially in the West, people have a pioneer mentality: “help yourself and God will help you”. Don’t take things for granted and check everything. I remember discovering after two years that my employer never paid for my 401K (Retirement plan) … Don’t make assumptions through your own reality and culture. If you want something, ask and go for it. In the USA, it is a basic principle to take care of yourself. Don’t expect anybody to do it for you! It is the price and beauty of Freedom. It does not mean of course that Americans are not kind and helpful.

Tip 4: Respect? Americans are very respectful and appreciative of what you give them…

Don’t be surprised to receive a thank you note from people you have invited for dinner or to whom you gave a gift for their birthday. It is also very appreciated to return this favor when you are invited.

If you go to the grocery store and pass in front of somebody who is looking for something in the aisle, don’t forget to excuse yourself. In return, people will be very willing to help you if you drop something on the floor or can’t open the door to go out.

Tip 5: Religion? “In God we trust”

This is a major difference, especially with France. In my country, there is a historical separation between the State and the Church. God is part of the American constitution and it has an influence on how people relate to their religious beliefs. Church going is very popular in the USA. Most Americans don’t hesitate to refer to their faith, whatever their confession is. Also, Church of any kind is a way of socializing. In France, it is very rare that people share about their beliefs especially in the work place.

Tip 6: Money? It is a good and healthy thing…

Being wealthy and making money in the USA is a very good and positive thing. Americans talk a lot about money. I still remember when I left Atlanta in 1989 and closed my bank account what the banker told me: “Enjoy your money”. The general assumption is in the USA that if you have money, it is because you deserve it! In France, it is most of the time subject to suspicion…

Tip 7: Work? A very important value…

Work is a real value and having a job is experienced as a privilege. When you apply for a work position, it is not rare that the employer asks you if you can do the job. Work is a commitment and people do their best to serve the customer. Don’t complain in the USA. Just work hard and you will gain a lot of respect! Being an entrepreneur is also highly respected and if you fail, you are given the chance to start again! Taking risks is also valued. When you do something risky, Americans will rather tell you that you took your chance when French people will mention that you took some risks!

Tip 8: Patriotism? A way of life in the USA…

Americans put much more emphasis on Patriotism than Europeans. Few Europeans would mind rational critics of their country’s government, while a good deal of Americans find them offensive or disrespectful (especially from non-Americans…). Some Americans go as far as regarding criticism of their government as a personal attack. So, be careful!

Tip 9: Political correctness? An attempt to attenuate frictions between various groups…

Especially at work and in big corporations, it is usual to work with the flow… Being too creative or different is not always very well received. For example, business attires are very strongly normed and you can recognize some social groups through the way they are dressed. Ex: C-level executives. Also, if you get the “Corner Office”, be aware that you are considered as a VIP in the office and don’t forget to act accordingly and be grateful!

Tip 10: Police? A different approach to the law…

If you are mad at your husband or your wife, take care of your temper. Just throwing away his or her cell phone could make you end up in jail… Law enforcement is much more severe in the USA and having an aggressive dog, not paying a fine and not showing up at court could also cost you a night in jail. But, also Sheriffs are not only here for repression. If your car breaks down, they will be the first to help you!

Conclusion:

This list is probably not exhaustive but if you have decided to move to the USA, as an European and supporting Leaders to work more effectively across borders, I have few more recommendations for you:
• Make sure it is a family project.
• Be prepared to take full responsibility for your choice (Don’t blame other..)
• Have an Unconditional Positive Regard toward this country and culture and take it all (and not only what you like!)
Then, I predict you will be very successful and you will have a very enjoyable experience!

Denver, April 2016
Edith Samouillet de Gomez, Senior Consultant and Executive Coach