Moving to another country comes with an array of challenges, the most difficult of which is adapting to a new culture. Not understanding the culture of those around you could cause misunderstandings when something that is meant to be polite is culturally branded as rude or offensive, leading to serious problems. The best thing before considering a move to another country is to ensure you understand the main differences between your culture and theirs. Increase your understanding of the people and their actions, allow you to integrate more seamlessly into business and reduce the risk of unnecessary altercations.

While the cultures in each country are vastly different from their neighbors, those from countries on other continents are even more so, and this is never as evident than when considering the differences between the USA and China.

The concept of individuality

In the US a person is encouraged to chase after your ambitions, to stand out as an individual and to make a difference. Individualism is highly effective in driving individuals to succeed in whatever they do but could also lead to a dangerous amount of selfishness as people are not encouraged to consider others when making choices. China, on the other hand, focuses on collectivism which is individuals seen as part of a group. Before making any major decisions, Chinese will first consider their family, colleagues and friends and how this choice will affect them. Although this is a better way to promote countrywide prosperity, it also puts significant limitations on what individuals can achieve and frequently results in having to be content even when you are not happy.

Freedom of speech

The freedom to speak your mind and defend your ideas and beliefs have never been more evident in the US than in recent years with a variety of controversial subjects coming to light and causing a significant divide in the country. Americans feel that it’s their right to speak out for what they believe which often leads to uncomfortable debates and confrontations. Chinese are not used to this and would much rather agree to disagree. You’ll often find someone from China nod along to your statements even when they don’t agree with you as this is considered to be respectful to others’ opinions.

Relationships and efficiency

When conducting business in America, it’s encouraged to do so as quickly and efficiently as possible as not to waste time. Social interactions between businesspeople and their clients are casual, used more as a means to an end. While strong relationships are not discouraged, the value of the transaction should always take priority. While this helps in a country where time is precious, and everyone feels the rush of our everyday lives, China prefers to take the time to meet face to face and get acquainted with their customers before doing any business. By building a social network with your client base, they ensure a constant state of trust which makes for easier business dealings.

Personal vs. professional

The same principal of relationship applies to many things in China. Because Chinese prefer to know their customers, colleagues and partners personally, they’ll often ask a lot of personal questions to get to know you. The questions are a sign of interest and not an invasion of privacy, and you’ll also find that the professional manner in which they conduct themselves within the workplace is the same way they conduct themselves elsewhere. Americans, on the other hand, put a clear separation between personal and professional lives which leads to people developing a different personality for their workplace. Should colleagues meet outside the office at a function or party, many of them will seem like completely different individuals.

Keeping up appearances

Humiliation can be a primary source of entertainment in the US. In fact, many hours are spent watching online videos of “fails”. In China, they have a keen awareness of reputation, and it’s never acceptable to lose self-control or act a fool. Chinese might appear emotionless as they tend to keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves to avoid embarrassment. In the US, however, making mistakes is seen as part of the learning process and is necessary for a person to grow, something that especially needs to be taken into account by teachers in China when teaching a class of different children.

Social structures

Chinese families have a clear hierarchy, typically determined by age. Older individuals carry authority. They have even assigned various terminologies to siblings by order of birth, and you’ll see this even with extended family members as an older uncle will be referred to differently than a younger one. This structure extends to the Chinese business world, and you’ll find that the person with the highest authority in a company will have the final say on those ranked lower accepting decisions without question. Americans enjoy a more casual social structure in both family and business. In a corporate environment, meetings are held to discuss issues and may often result in significant arguments between workers and management before finalization of a decision.

Communication style

Conducting business in the US often requires aggression and tough negotiations. Businesspeople are a force to be reckoned with, as that is automatically accompanied with respect in the business world. Chinese people do not favor this approach at all and can be seen as unprofessional. Chinese will take their time with a contract, consider all the risks and gains and when negotiations become too aggressive they may even decide to turn to another party.


No business transaction can be completed in the US without the signing of a contract while the strong relationships built in China means a higher level of trust. It’s therefore not uncommon for companies in China to agree to a business arrangement with nothing more than a handshake and even with a contract, the success of the deal is much more dependent on the relationship between the various parties.

Gifts and entertainment

Americans often send gifts or take a potential client out for a meal with the intention of outdoing the competition and closing a contract. In China, however, when taking someone out for a meal, the objective is simply for all parties to be entertained and often business conversations are discouraged. In the same manner, Chinese do not give gifts with motives in mind but indicate respect and should be highly valued.