Traveling with ESTA authorization: practical advice
Will the cultural differences between Europe and the United States lead to friction? Below we give you some important tips on how to improve cross-cultural communication.
We can certainly say that Americans are kind and friendly but do strictly follow the rules and laws. Equipped with a good deal of sense of humor, they are direct in conversations.
Americans do not like to beat around the bush – they are direct. This is reflected, for example, in their way of writing, where communication is brief and almost always to the point. In general, an insecure or submissive attitude could create the impression that you have something to hide.
Remember this when you present your ESTA authorization on arrival at the airport. The US immigration officer will be courteous but will also pay close attention to how you answer questions that he or she asks. Do not be inhibited at the questions they ask even if they are personal such as where you will go during your trip or where you will stay. Answer truthfully and confidently and you will be fine.
Stick to neutral topics:
As mentioned above, European and American cultures have some differences. Although you will be seen with curiosity, some general unwritten rules should be followed.
If you know your interlocutors, any question about their family is welcomed such as how their children are or they could ask about your own family. Questions about family are generally a good starting point for a friendly conversation.
Work has a central role in American society, so why not share your own experience on this subject? The European economy and the US have many similarities but also many differences; the exchange of experiences could be highly educational and interesting for both sides.
Another possible topic of conversation is sports. Unlike Europe however, football or soccer as Americans call it, is not the most popular sport. Basketball, baseball and certainly American football – the NFL (National Football League) are. The Super Bowl in fact (the final championship game in the NFL) is among the most watched sport events in the world. The more you learn and know about these sports, the more it will endear you to Americans.
Topics to avoid:
Some social issues, often discussed at the table with friends in your home country can be very controversial or insulting in the United States. Although the US is a very diverse country, it is best to refrain from discussing political, racial or religious subjects.
If you are curious about laws that allow Americans to carry and possess guns, take a neutral approach in your questions and be willing to listen to the reasons or motives of the other side without necessarily having to agree with their views. We do not recommend discussing subjects like sexual freedom, abortion or the death penalty in the US justice system. These subjects tend to elicit strong responses from both sides.
In general, you could face an uncomfortable situation if you only decide to impose your own viewpoints without respecting the positions of others. USA is famous for respecting and tolerating differences of opinion, but you should not discuss these issues unless you are with friends or people you are close with.
Americans are as a majority a very friendly nation. Common courtesies such as saying “good morning”, “please” or “thank you” are common and are expected. Men usually greet with a firm handshake while making eye contact. Maintaining eye contact is very important in the United States as it indicates self-confidence and trustworthiness. Americans like to smile a lot and perfect strangers walking in the street will look you in the eye and smile at you and you are expected to to the same.
Body language to avoid:
Unlike many places in Europe, Americans are not very prone to physical contact. Kissing someone you have just met or even an acquaintance in many cases is not common. When talking with Americans avoid body contact and always try and maintain a “safe” distance. This is unlike the Latin culture (of Spain or Italy) and more similar to the likes of Germany and Sweden, for example.
Body language with your partner:
As mentioned Americans tend to be more formal and more conservative than Europeans. In case you travel with your significant other, be careful with overt public displays of affection as they are not well perceived.
Do not be afraid of cultural differences. The cultural differences between the United States and your own country will make you ask many questions and will open a new perspective of views for you. This process can make your trip an enjoyable one and will further enrich your experience in the US.