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Dealing with clients from the US
Prajjwal Rai
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April 17, 2007

Outsourcing brought in a lot of international business. Initially, when call centres were established in India, most processes were American.

It took customer service representatives and others, who were in direct contact with the customer some time to get adjusted to the American culture and psyche. Here are some must knows about the US and ways to deal with these cultural issues.

The melting pot

Traditionally, America was termed the 'melting pot,' where variation liquefied and blended to form what we call 'American culture.' This was due to America's open welcome to immigrants from different countries, races, religions and cultures that initially came in search of liberty, a better lifestyle and new opportunities. This also gave USA the title 'Land of opportunities.'

People and countries

The USA is an abbreviation of The United States of America. It has 50 states, of which 48 form continental USA. Alaska and Hawaii are included in the total count. Puerto Rico is often confused for a state, but it is a self-governing commonwealth in association with the US. The president of the United States is the chief of state.

There have been waves of immigrants from different countries, which is what makes the US so diverse. This diversity makes America what it is today and, at the same time, creates challenges as well. It is very important for everyone to be tolerant and accepting towards other cultures and variations. 'Politically correct' words are preferred while addressing people of different racial groups and identities.

Politically correct is a term used that describes language or behaviour that is neutral, or is used without offending and particular to race, cultural, or any other identity groups. For example, while addressing people of Chinese origin, the term 'Chinese-American' is preferred. The term 'oriental' is outdated and now used only to describe rugs and vases.


There are over 311 languages spoken in the US. 149 of these are immigrant languages. This makes American a very rich language, as it has words from a lot of languages. English (American) and Spanish are the two official languages. American, which is a dialect of English, is well spoken, although there are a lot of words that are different. Apart from words being different, the grammatical patterns and written form are different as well.

Some of the common differences in the written forms are:

~ American word ending '-or' is equivalent to '-our' in English (color and colour).
~ American word ending '-er' is sometimes equivalent to '-re' in British English (center and centre).
~ When we have '-ing', '-ed' and '�er' for verbs ending with a single 'l'; they have a single 'l' whereas the British forms will have a double 'll' (Signaled and signalled).
~ Americans prefer '-ize' and '-ization' whereas British English prefers '-ise' and '�isation' (organize and organise).

There are some exceptions to these as well. Americans may seldom use words like 'double p' for 'pp' and 'treble 9' for '999.' Please remember. it is 'treble', and not 'triple.'

Meeting people

When you meet someone for the first time, a formal handshake is preferred. If you share intimacy with the person, a hug or kiss is the norm. People often wave at each other from a distance.

When you meet people in person, it is very important to maintain the right distance between both of you. Three to four feet is a good distance to speak to a stranger. If you are friends with someone, you can afford to feel free.

Starting a conversation

Americans are friendly and warm; however, you need to know where to draw the line -- 'friendly but not friends.' In India, common conversation starters are 'how old are you?'; 'what do you do' (sometimes even 'what you do'?); 'how many brothers and sisters do you have?'; 'are you married?', or 'who do you live with?'

Moreover, if you are not married, people get all the more curious to know 'why are you not married?' These questions are highly personal and shouldn't be asked until you really share a good relationship with the other person. An American may find these questions intimidating and appalling. It is rude to ask about someone's age and the amount of money they earn. General conversation should be preferred, so start by picking up a common topic.

When you are starting a conversation over the phone, remember the following points:

Prajjwal Rai is a Lead Training Consultant with WCH Training Solutions. He is a Cambridge CELTA certified trainer and can be reached at

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