American Cheating: How to Protect Yourself in Business Relationships in the USA
Americans are mostly law-abiding - this simple truth is unlikely to be questioned by anyone who has the opportunity to compare life in the United States with the realities of the post-Soviet space. However, those Russian-speaking immigrants who do not have a lot of business experience should be careful to avoid the catch. If your business partner is an American, he, unlike a Russian-speaking fraudster, is unlikely to suggest that you break the law. But this is precisely why it is more difficult for a Russian-speaking immigrant to recognize the pitfalls located in the "gray zone" that is not associated with a direct violation of the law.
The story of one provocation
Anna worked in the field of analytics, was quite famous in her field, and therefore was not too surprised when unknown bloggers sent her an excerpt from an officially published book in Russian and asked her opinion about the text. It was not difficult to verify the identity of the authors of the letter, they did not know the Russian language, and therefore it seemed quite logical that they asked her opinion about the book. Having become interested in the material, Anna, on her own initiative, prepared his analytical review, translated it into English and showed it to her interlocutors, informing her that she plans to publish the resulting article.
Her new American acquaintances did not express any objections to this, and, in fact, they could not do this, since they did not take any part in writing the text, did not order it for themselves, and therefore did not have any copyright on it. Moreover, they directly stated that they approve of the idea of publication. Anna, in turn, even expressed her gratitude to them at the beginning of the article for their help in providing the material. Imagine her shock when, after the article was published, the Americans began to bombard the editorial office with letters that the Russian woman allegedly appropriated their work by “stealing” material allegedly created jointly.
Of course, from a legal point of view, an indication of an open source cannot be regarded as co-authorship. Moreover, it is rather difficult to imagine people who are unable to read and translate the text, but at the same time are able to make a competent analysis of it. However, it was possible to finally prove all these things only in court. Not every person, and especially an immigrant, is ready to spend money, time and effort on litigation over a single article, which, in fact, was what the fraudsters were counting on. As it turned out, they regularly did such things even in relation to people who did not use the materials they sent in any way, and just worked on the same topics as they did.
Honoring the criminal code
Such tricks are a typical example of untidiness in the so-called "gray zone". They may start "informal" business negotiations with you, in which they may impose on you some unnecessary materials (supplements, advice, intermediary services, goods, etc.) or ask you to perform actions you do not need yourself, after which such "well-wishers" appear a formal reason to demand something from you. At the same time, you can either offer help or ask for it, depending on the situation. For some people, this behavior is very profitable business, and they very well sense the naivety of potential victims.
In itself, their communication with you is not a violation of the law, however, if you did not formalize the relationship with an agreement, did not immediately say your terms or at least stop the overly helpful “partner” in time, in case of a dispute it will be quite difficult for you to prove what happened on really. If you belong to socially vulnerable category people, and your abuser has money and influence, the ability to defend their rights in case of possible problems is sharply reduced even in the United States.
Unfortunately, in the modern business world, good faith is increasingly becoming a consequence not of internal business ethics, but of external factors, that is, fear of arrest or trial. In the same cases, when arrest is practically impossible, and the gap in social status between partners is too high, there is room for abuse. Unlike the "straightforward" swindlers we are accustomed to encountering at home, an American who wants to deceive you is likely to do it subtly, imperceptibly and, in full accordance with the precepts of Ostap Bender, "honoring the criminal code." The situation is complicated by the fact that some things that are unambiguously regarded by a Russian-speaking person as fraud, at least from the point of view of morality, can be perceived here as a completely normal way of doing business.
Let's try to give some simple tips for people who have recently moved to the United States who have no business experience and are used to a more informal atmosphere in work teams. These simple rules will help you avoid unpleasant consequences when doing business not only with Americans, but also with any other partners.
1. If possible, try to stick to the procedure. As much as the American bureaucracy sometimes irritates “our people”, it is often the most reliable means of protection for you, especially at the beginning of your immigrant journey. The procedures are provided here not only in immigration matters, but also in any large companies, and their main advantage is that they are the same for everyone. How to apply, how to write a resume, how to get a job, what requirements must be met - these are the uniform criteria that both Americans and people from any country in the world must follow. Discrimination in such cases is unacceptable.
The only drawback is that not every immigrant can immediately find a procedure suitable for him, or at the time of arrival may not formally meet the criteria that help him get on the "conveyor" of a particular process. Sometimes, this requires appropriate immigration status, American education, or work experience. But there are often organizations and procedures to deal with these issues. If possible, it is better to use them. It may be a boring and time-consuming method, but the most reliable one.
2. If you act as a private entrepreneur, that is, you define the rules of interaction yourself, then the main advice is - do not be afraid to define them. In particular:
2.1. Don't be afraid to define your own negotiation procedure. Try not to discuss business issues informally. The person can act like your best friend, he can tell you the most personal things, but if he suddenly starts to speak on behalf of the organization in which he works, it is better to ask that an authorized person from this organization send you an official offer or a possible contract for your official e-mail. At the very least, this will clearly show who is actually the initiator of the transaction, which under certain conditions can be very important.
Avoid entering into any agreements that cannot be documented, and try to consult with a lawyer before entering into any agreements. Do not be afraid that this will ruin your relationship with your friend. Any American takes the phrase quite normally: "Please send me an official offer and a list of conditions, I will need to consult a lawyer." If this phrase, natural to the American mentality, provokes a wary reaction, perhaps your partner's intentions are not very clear.
2.2. Do not be afraid to define boundaries and clearly articulate where your interest is and where is someone else's. American "predators" rather quickly notice the simpleton immigrant who tends to idealize their country, and may start playing on patriotic motives or simply emphasize the need for your work. However, here in the United States, no one but you will take care of your needs. You should not be like Semyon Semenovich Gorbunkov from the well-known comedy, who tried to understand, "maybe she needs something?", And thereby confused his own and others' needs. It is no coincidence that the famous phrase “this is not my problem” is much more popular in the States than in Russia. Remember that if you allow yourself to be persuaded, it will be very difficult for you to explain that you did something at someone else's request and for the sake of someone else. In America, if you agree to something, it is believed that you yourself need it, and therefore no one will appreciate your sacrifice.
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2.3. Do not be afraid to ask questions, clarify requirements, conditions and other points for you. If something is sent to you "free of charge and out of friendship", especially if it comes from an unfamiliar person, try to find out from him right away whether he claims in any form for the rights to the final product.
2.4. Treat any business letter through the lens that you may have to present it in court. Sad but true. Even if you were asked to do some work for free and you agreed, try to keep all communication on this topic. Unfortunately, the person whom you yourself helped can commit meanness towards you. At the same time, he will not feel any moral obligations towards you. For example, I know of a case when a fairly high-ranking American turned to an immigrant for help, thereby violating the internal rules of the organization in which he worked. Since then, he was only concerned with all possible means to ruin the career of a dangerous witness. His partner had no idea of the violation, and therefore sincerely could not understand what was happening and why.
2.5. Don't bet on relationships. If for the post-Soviet business mentality a good relationship with a person is perceived as a valuable asset, then Americans most often do not see it as a long-term investment. Relations with a person in their understanding is a rather amorphous, unreliable thing, and most importantly, not amenable to full control on their part. Therefore, even if you are extremely valuable and useful, it is far from the fact that they will try to keep you. American pragmatism is often shortsighted, and short-term benefits may seem to some to be more valuable than the long-term.
2.6. Try to avoid middlemen. Yes, in certain things, mediation can be very valuable, for example, you can be recommended to an employer or help to get an article or resume in the right hands. However, such mediation cannot and should not be long. After the first introduction, the intermediary usually disappears and normal business communication begins. If the “mediation” is prolonged, it is best to stop it. You cannot find out and control what exactly such an "unofficial" intermediary does and speaks on your behalf. The only intermediary who has the right to represent you in any matter is your personal lawyer. Otherwise, it may turn out that such a "mediator" will not protect your interests on your behalf or ascribe to you words or initiatives that you have never shown. It is especially important to be wary of such intermediaries in relations with government agencies - in such cases, we can talk about corruption.
2.7. It is important to communicate with any government agencies not only directly and exclusively in accordance with the official procedure, but also preferably in the presence of a lawyer. This is not an area where you can rely on trust.
With all of the above, it is quite possible to communicate informally and make friends with the Americans. However, unlike the post-Soviet mentality, where the issues of friendship and work can be strongly intertwined, it is customary here to separate these things. Until you have a solid social status and an automatic habit of defining your boundaries, it can be useful to put in some effort not only to build a career and make business connections, but also to protect yourself from unscrupulous partners.
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