I get asked this question a lot, but the wrong people are asking me: it should be the Americans asking. When you understand your own culture well, really understand it, its a lot easier to figure out how to adapt to identified differences in other cultures.
Lets start with Truth a core concept to American Society.
Americans are extremely truthful. The foundation of American society is truth, justice for all. There is a belief that “truth reins” all else threaded through all aspects of American society.
Americans seek out truth with methods such as “looking someone in the eye” to see if they are lying. Does this work? Maybe.
It doesn’t matter. Its the allegiance to the idea that is important. Most foreigners have seen this in movies such as Jack Nicholson yells out “You can’t handle the truth” in a Few Good Men. There is a no tolerance policy for being untruthful. We don’t get mad about the action in America, we get mad about people trying to hid it. Case in point: Anthony Weiner. Americans didn’t really care so much about what he did on Twitter, until he tried to lie about it. This drives us insane. We do not like things that are “assumed” and not discussed. We have a president who smokes casually, but he talks about it. Americans hated Bush because he felt like a lair at the end of his presidency.
In American business transparency is first, foremost and last. Again we love a good scandal because we seek out the truth. Even the slightest notion that something may not be truthful is pursued. This is the basis of many TV shows in the US, particulatily lawyer oriented shows. This is also why people don’t like lawyers: they hid the truth.
I see this in negotiations–global counterparts believe that the Americans are holding a “silver bullet” when in fact most Americans negotiators prefer to get all of the “cards on the table” at the start of a negotiation. While this does not always serve them, particularly when negotiating with India and other relationship oriented cultures, it is nevertheless the preference.
The truth about Americans is that we are very direct and straightforward. We are as we appear, for better or worse.