American English can jeopardize negotiations and understanding, whether in business or traveling abroad.

An Austrian, German, Frenchman, Japanese, Greek, or other nationality may understand each other speaking English, but not understand the American. Frequently, there is a huge communication gap. Confusion is based on the misuse of sayings that are understood by Americans, but not by those from other countries.

It can’t be stressed enough by companies and individuals to speak clearly, when dealing with those from different countries.

Let’s look at some titles: On a first visit, the individual may be the Personnel Director, Director of Human Resources, or Director of Employment.  The next time, it is changed. Basically, all three titles above share the same responsibilities. The individual in charge of insurance may now be Risk Management Director. Next year, a new buzz word may replace that title. Sales representatives are an entire different category, ranging from Account Managers to Service Representatives.

Local terms that confuse:

Raining cats and dogs

Dog and pony show

On a roll

Flying by the seat of your pants

Coming up roses

Don’t make waves

Flat as a pancake

Old as Methuselah

Keep a low profile

Give me a ballpark figure

This is a new ballgame

Let’s make a homerun

Make a touchdown

Jump the gun

On the same wave length

Shotgun approach

Run it up the flagpole

It will never fly

Drive me up the wall

Sounds like a winner.

Many of the above terms refer to U.S. sports. Someone else, from somewhere else, is not going to know what you mean. If you have watched any of the television series NCIS, you will have seen Zeva’s struggle with American clichés. Someone in that position is trained beyond belief, but they still find themselves struggling with these terms.

Accents and conjunctions can cause confusion too:

“Y’all” has been interpreted to mean bring more people. However, another ethnic group considered it an insult, as it was interpreted to bring subordinates.

“Can’t” some times is pronounced “caay-yunt,” which simply does not make sense.

“What did you” may be stated, “wadja.”

Avoid conjunctions whenever possible.

Global Etiquette with columnist Maralyn D Hill as featured in Luxe Beat Magazine


All silence does not need to be filled. Many cultures use that to think. Always remember that those who speak English as a second language may take every word you say quite literally.


Maybe you are an occasional curser or a regular one. Forget it when conducting business.  In Buddhist and Islamic cultures, “thank God” is considered blasphemy. Be careful, rather than being considered too casual or disrespectful.

After a day of meetings and you are going out, you may not have your briefcase, but business may just be starting. Stay aware. Your host wants to discover more of the real you. Avoid anything you may regret the next day.

Acronyms :

Americans are quick to use acronyms. When dealing with people from another country, spell it out. It may take longer, but you will be understood.

Senseless Names:

Frequently, Americans rename boardrooms or the like to launch pads, command central, or the like. Stay clear with your wording.

Grammar and Vocabulary

The idea may seem right, but you may be using the wrong word. Many of those who speak English as a second language are not privileged to an extensive vocabulary and sentence structure. However, the English they are apt to speak may be more technically accurate than ours. We stopped learning early, maybe in sixth or eighth grade. They would avoid dangling participles, misplaced modifiers or metaphors. I’m not sure those rules of grammar are taught in the U.S. schools any longer. It may be, but not like they used to be emphasized.

Frequently, in our excitement, we will use words like “fantastic,” “fabulous,” or “disaster,” i.e, “The meeting was absolutely fantastic and produced fabulous results.” The non-American may view those two words as make believe, imaginary, or unreal. “The service was a disaster.” “Disaster” to most non-Americans means hurricanes, war, deaths or the like. Using words accurately matters.

English is spoken around the world and every country has its own set of short cuts and sayings. Americans are not unique in this practice. But I do think we stand out more than most. “When an Englishman says a project will be done at the end of the day, he means it will be done when it’s done.”(from Dos and Taboos). When I was in Australia, I heard numerous different terms. However, when talking business, it can be the U.K., Switzerland, Germany, Australia, Singapore, or anywhere in the world, the English spoken is clear and concise. We Americans need to respond accordingly and gain good business negotiations, attention and respect.

To read the Luxe Beat Magazine version of this article click on the title Global Etiquette–American English