World travelers know that business and commerce are done very differently from country to country, but the differences can still be a bit shocking.
Shopping in America
The thing that seems to impress foreigners the most is that many stores have a return policy on just about everything, even if you have used the item and don’t have a receipt. Stores have gotten a bit wiser in recent years, but the return policies are still quite lenient in American stores.
Convenience is paramount here, and our store hours reflect that. I’ve heard immigrants marvel about “late night shopping” at stores open in the evening or 24 hours a day, and the fact that many stores are open on Sundays. It seems that you can buy almost anything at a drive-through store these days. Drive-through ATM machines are particularly impressive, especially to those from countries where ATMs are still located inside banks, and are therefore closed when the bank closes.
Customer service is also a surprise to many foreigners. Shop clerks often ask customers, “How are you?” when they arrive and wish them a nice day when they leave. Some immigrants can’t get over how American banks giving customers gifts in return for their business.
Prices can be a shock to people, as well. Although many goods are much cheaper in the United States than in other countries, prices are almost always non-negotiable, and the stated price never includes sales tax, which can come as a nasty little shock to people from countries that do not have sales taxes. Hardware and high-tech items are cheaper here. Services such as haircuts are more expensive. The use of discount coupons is unfamiliar to foreigners, as well.
One person commented on the fact that she got a receipt for everything. (“God save the trees!”)
American money has been the cause of a lot of complaints from foreigners. The fact that the various denominations of bills are the same size and color is confusing, although some of that is changing with the new $5, $10 and $20 bills. The coins don’t seem to make much sense to people, either. Pennies are worthless to most tourists, and the fact that dimes are smaller than nickels confuses people.
Standardization of Stores, Variety of Products
A lot of foreigners are amazed at the number of chain stores here in the United States, commenting that for those who live here, the chains make shopping easier in some ways. The downside of this is that, especially in shopping malls and strip malls in the suburbs, everything seems to look pretty much the same in different cities. Huge warehouse stores such as Costco are amazing to those who are used to buying specific goods a several different small, family-owned shops in the high street.
The sheer variety of merchandise is definitely a wow factor. Only in America can you buy a leash for a human child or spray cheese. I’ll never forget living in Japan and asking an ex-patriot friend who went “home” for a visit what she noticed that was different. This was the early 80s, and she told us about Cabbage Patch dolls and “pet rocks.” We were literally rolling on the floor, laughing. (This was Japan, and we were sitting on the floor.)
One foreign business person commented on the “what’s in it for me” mentality on Wall Street, while another mentioned that American business leaders use “grandiose” titles such as President and Vice-President even for very small companies.
In line with the statistic that immigrants are twice as likely to start a small business as a person born and raised here, one person commented that starting a business in the United States is truly a simple matter of starting out with an innovative idea and taking it to market. Although there are regulations to follow, bribes are not a part of American business protocol, and people do not have to bribe government officials to get permission to start a business. 🙂