March 1, 2017

3 Uniquely American Phrases You May Hear at Work

As an American born and raised, there are certain English phrases that, while I know can be habitual, I realize are uniquely American after having lived and worked in Kerala, India for the last six years. Though some of these phrases could be regional, from the Northeast of the U.S., I have had many of my Indian clients who have visited various places in the U.S. also ask me about these phrases. So, what are some of the common phrases you may hear in the U.S.? Let’s see! 


“Have fun!” or “Have a good day!”
I always tell people in India, when asking people in the U.S. about their ‘weekend plans,’ to ask, “Doing anything fun this weekend?” because many Americans like to use the word ‘fun’ to make things sound more positive. The phrases ‘Have fun!’ and “Have a good day!” are common ways spouses or families say ‘see you later’ when leaving to school or work for the day. Also, you may hear Americans say this (either "Have fun this weekend!' or 'Have a good weekend!') to you at work as you leave on a Friday evening in place of ‘Happy weekend!” Of course, this is also a simple and friendly way to end a conference call with your distributed, offshore team.


American English vs. Indian English:
How to say goodbye at work on a Friday.

“I’m so excited to get going!” 
Using the word “excited” is commonly used at work (even if said without a tone of excitement). Another way of saying this may be, “Let’s hit the ground running.” (One of many American English idioms used at work that has a similar unsaid meaning.) It is rare to hear the word ‘excited’ or ‘exciting’ in conversations at work in India, unless we are talking about celebrating holidays (such as Christmas or Onam), planning cultural programs or employment engagement programs. Americans working with Indians should not expect most Indians to show this kind of anticipation when starting off a project even though in American corporate culture not to express excitement to start new things may show American managers that there is a lack of interest, a lack of liking the job, or even not being a ‘team player’. In many cases, Americans may say these things because they have to be said, but do not say them with the right tone of voice (For example, in one case study I helped my Indian client understand the American team was reluctant to work with them due to their tone of voice when expressing their excitement.) Americans who work on teams with Indians often get confused or worried that Indian team members do not really want to work with them when the offshore teams don’t get excited in the initial stages. I know being an American in India, I have got to the point where I have toned down my ‘excitement’ to get things started because I have seen in some circles in India to show this excitement is not returned or that the extended team may wonder if I am being ‘overconfident’ that the project will actually happen or go well or go in the matter we expect it to. 


“I’ll miss you!” or “I’m so happy to see you again!”
I am guessing some of these phrases are used because in general Americans need a lot of words to express and understand each other. Then, again some of these phrases do become like pleasantries and depending on your relationship with that person you will know how authentic these phrases really are. In one case study, an Indian female IT professional I coached on making small talk with her US counterparts returned from America saying, “I had a great experience, and everyone was so friendly, but why did a lady I only saw maybe five times in three weeks tell me she’d miss me on my last day? We rarely ever tell people that we will miss them in India.” When speaking to her, I understood she took my advice to wish everyone in her smaller office good morning everyday with a warm smile. It seems that no one else did this in the onshore office. In my estimation, she provided a warm approach that left a long-lasting impression. It was probably due to this, people appreciated her interactive and approachable nature, and this is why some told her she’d be ‘missed.’ Also, likewise, saying “I’m so happy to see you again!” can feel like an overblown expression of emotion at work to some Indians, but again as Americans are taught to express happiness, excitement or passion at work, many may say this. Again, for some these things are more like habitual phrases which many expats pick up to say as well, even though the real meaning come from your relationship with that particular person.

Have you noticed any other interesting phrases or words being used in the U.S. when you came onsite for work? What are some common phrases or words used at work in India you did not hear in the U.S.? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. 

Author, Jennifer Kumar is an India-America cross-culture expert.

Related Posts:
4 Good Things About Working in Kerala, India 
Culture Differences at Work in the US vs. India 
Fitting Into US Office Culture, Indian Style

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