Top Ten Tips for Coming to America : Conducting Business in the Nation’s Capital
Washington, D.C. holds an allure of global possibility. For the United States, D.C. is akin to political stamina and decisive opportunities that influence the world and its people. For international and U.S.- based attendees to the 2016 Employer Healthcare & Benefits Congress and the World Medical Tourism & Global Healthcare Congress, Washington, D.C. is the place for conducting business.
For individuals traveling outside their home country to visit America’s capital, here are a few suggestions on what to know for conducting business meetings successfully.
When a “Yankee” isn’t a “Yankee”
In Great Britain a “Yankee” is anyone from the U.S.; in New York he’s a player on a baseball team. But in D.C. a “Yankee” likely refers to a Northerner as opposed to a Southerner. The north/south divide originated during the War Between the States, more commonly known as the American Civil War. These days, by and large, the word is simply used to identify a person’s location of native origin.
For example, generally speaking, Virginians are considered Southerners, while Washingtonians and Marylanders are Northerners. But be careful when referring to a person as a “Yankee”, as the term is more commonly used by Southerners, and can carry a somewhat derogatory meaning depending upon the circumstances.
You might be a Southerner if…
…you use the word “y’all” (the contraction of “you all”) for the plural form of “you”. Of course, this is as opposed to the term “you guys” which is more commonly used by Northerners. Incidentally, “you guys” can even refer to groups that are entirely female.
For example, when addressing a group of Girl Scout leaders, a Northerner might say, “How many boxes of cookies did you guys sell?” although there are, in fact, no “guys” (males) in the group.
Let Me Call You Sweetheart
Also, don’t get too taken aback, or, alternatively, too excited if someone with a Southern drawl calls you “Sugar” or “Honey”. As a native Virginian it behooves me to inform you that it’s considered perfectly natural for a well-mannered Southerner to use such terms of endearment even with perfect strangers, while conducting business in some cases . While you may feel the need to take all that sugar with a grain of salt, I say, “Why not enjoy it, ‘Sweetie Pie”?
Don’t talk politics?
Think about it, you will be in the nation’s capital a mere six weeks before the “showdown”! So, during what some would argue is the most hotly contested presidential campaign in U.S. history, this rule may be out the window. As a professional linguist I’m typically the last person to discourage communications of any kind.
However, you may do best to keep in mind one of my favorite Spanish- language sayings: “En boca cerrada no entran moscas”, or, as Mr. Miyagi might put it, “Flies cannot land in mouths which are not open”.
Tipping rates in D.C.
On a more cultural note, tipping rates here are a bit higher than in the average U.S. city. Lonely Planet recommends the following minimums: airport porters $2 per bag, valet parking attendants $2, hotel maids $2-$5 per night, restaurant servers 15 to 20 percent, and taxi drivers 10 percent. And, in the event you are inclined to memorialize your trip “in the flesh”, apparently, tattoo artists get 10 to 20 percent!
Grammar Lesson—Capitol or Capital?
Whether you are a native English-speaking American or not, this can be confusing. While in the city of D.C. you are visiting the Nation’s Capital. However, on a tour one of the stops might be the Capitol Building on Capitol Hill.
Just to clarify, or perhaps confuse things further, according to the Grammarist.com, “ the Capitol building located in Washington, D.C. is spelled with a capital C, but state capitol buildings ordinarily don’t have the capital C (which is not to say that some writers don’t capitalize them anyway)”. Got it?
Dress for Success…
OK, let’s just say it. Washingtonians are not known for their style. Black and charcoal are their colors of choice. So, of course, if you prefer to play it safe, you can never go wrong with a well-tailored suit in D.C. However, at this conference, with folks coming from all over the States, plus attendees flying in from more than one hundred countries, I, for one, am hoping to see some colorful, unique traditional garb from other cultures.
In other words, wear those cowboy boots if you’re from Texas, or tunics and kaftans if they are considered appropriate for conducting business where you come from. Go for it! After all, you want to be memorable, and you won’t be if you blend in to that vast sea of grey.
It’s All About Those Apps!
Google Translate for On-the-Go Signage Very cool and kind of freaky at the same time!!! Most of us already have this app, but may not have tried this function. Works great for getting the gist of simple text in signs, menus, etc. by pointing your phone’s camera at it.
Transit allows you to simultaneously compare transportation alternatives including Uber, Metro, bus, etc. – all on one easy to read screen. Honestly, I haven’t tried this one myself yet, but it gets rave reviews in DC chatrooms.
In case of emergency given the unpredictability of catastrophic weather (relatively uncommon in DC, by the way), emergency medical, and terror-related events, here are some helpful websites to mobile solutions you may want to check into before you leave home:
Facebook Safety Check
Google Public Alerts
US Government Weather Alerts
Emergency Medical Phone Options
About the Author
Bobbi Daren, JD, CHITM is the founder of CultúraSOL, a language and cultural services consultancy currently based in the Heart of America. CultúraSOL provides a variety of customized services running the gamut from language coaching for health care professionals, to systems and policy reviews for minority-owned and medical travel businesses.
For further information go to www.culturasol.com or firstname.lastname@example.org