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Houston - Local customs

Business etiquette- Do's and Don'ts of Business in Houston

The general attitude in Houston may suggest a casual, easy-going style, but the business pace is buzzing, both downtown and in suburban areas. Here, and as in most of America, you are expected to arrive on time.

Working environment
Office hours are normally from 8:30 or 9:00am to 5:00pm, and you are expected to arrive early rather than late at work.
Lunchtime is usually one hour, so if you are joining someone for lunch or are going to a lunchtime meeting, be prompt.
For job interviews, one should be about 10 minutes early.

Although you may see men greeting each other by shaking hands and holding the ‘other’ man's arm, this is appropriate only if you know each other well. In greeting, shake either a male or female by the hand, but extend the contact no further and at no time make body contact with a lady, unless you are ‘respectively’ good friends.

Business Attire
Business attire in Houston is less formal than in many other parts of the world. In suburban office locations, such as Sugar Land, Woodlands etc., people tend to dress smart but casual. In many offices, people, including women, wear jeans and polo shirts, especially on a Friday. An office in the downtown city center, tends to be more formal with men wearing ties and often suits. Ladies will wear suits/dresses or skirts/trousers and a blouse. If in doubt, slacks or chinos and a buttoned shirt will usually be acceptable, with alternatives in your suitcase!
Strong after-shave lotions or perfumes are not appropriate. Jewelry for both male and females in the work place is usually kept to a ring and discreet necklace.
At holiday times such as Christmas, one will often find people wearing seasonal ties or waste-coats; this is not compulsory and it can be amusing to find your normal formal lawyer wearing a waste-coat with jingle bells on it!!!
Wearing make up by women is acceptable, but should be appropriate for daytime wear.

Business gift giving depends on the office custom, which varies from office to office. It is therefore important to check with someone in the office whether this is appropriate. In some situations there are rules against giving gifts for 'favor reasons' or 'bribery connotations' so do try and find out the appropriate action in your particular office.
Some managers may take their secretary out to lunch or give them a seasonal gift, but in this day and age where a sexual harassment case can be conceived from an innocent compliment and secretaries may be of either sex, customs are constantly changing.

It is appropriate to tip people who service you regularly, the door people in your building, people who deliver your mail or newspaper.

Do's and Don'ts

Knowing what behavior is acceptable and unacceptable in your new environment, can make life easier for you. Here are some norms that Americans follow:

Smoke if there are no ashtrays laid out.
Smoke in ‘smoke free’ environments including certain areas of offices, restaurants, shopping malls and airports.
Sunbathe topless on public beaches or at pool parties.
Drive while intoxicated. All states have strict laws, and if you are caught, you will be fined and possibly have your license confiscated.
Speak in a foreign language with others, if there are other people in the room that don't speak the same language.
Wander around in dark areas of town that you are not familiar with.

Join local celebrations and functions; Americans appreciate this.
Tip porters, luggage handlers, chauffeurs, waiters, waitresses, hairdressers.

Eating out
Attire is informal, jeans being accepted in most restaurants, except the more expensive ones situated downtown. Most people eat early with demand between six and seven being heaviest and many suburban restaurants closing by 10.00pm.The majority of restaurants accept children and most if not all child friendly ones provide crayons and child menus.

Eating out with groups
Many groups meet at a restaurant for a meal and you should plan to arrive 10 minutes early or later than the agreed time whether you have a reservation or not. It is normal procedure to split the bill with an equal share or split according to what you / you and your partner have consumed.

National dress
It is appropriate to wear National dress should you wish, including head coverings whether at casual or formal gatherings.

In Houston each year at the end of february and for most of march the Rodeo takes place. Go Texan day is your chance to sport the famous hat and boots with the belt.

It is unusual to find many people smoking in groups in America and Houston is no exception. If you intend to smoke, ask for the smoking section in a restaurant, or if being entertained, check around you for ashtrays. If there are none, it is inappropriate (and maybe against the law) to smoke. Many offices are smoke free and you will see smokers standing outside the building during their break.It is inappropriate to smoke in a host’s house, unless specifically invited to do so.

Wine and beer are popular with dinner or at an evening get together but not usually in the workplace during working hours.

Americans tend to entertain less at home than many expatriates due to school, church or sport commitments. If you invite people over to your house, unless agreed, expect their children to accompany them. People arrive promptly and leave early.

Being entertained
Arrive at the time suggested below and take a token gesture of thanks or contribute to the food items. Following a party, it is acceptable and appreciated to call up or write a brief thank you letter to the host / hostess.
Casual wear is the norm, unless the invitation suggests what to wear, for example ‘Dress, smart/casual’ or ‘Black tie’ or Fancy dress’.
Operas and theatres may have a ‘formal’ attire policy – check before leaving home.

Parties at home
Usually, the invitation will signify the beginning and ending of any social engagement. If the invitation is from 2 – 5pm, you may arrive between 2 and 2.40. Do not arrive prior to 2, the hosts will be getting ready. People may stay 30 minutes after 5pm, but would rarely stay later.

Dinner parties
Arrive within 15 – 20 minutes after the time specified, as food has often planned to be eaten at a certain time. After the meal is over, it is courteous behavior to stay at least 30 minutes before leaving.

Informal parties
Arrive within 30 – 45 minutes of being invited.

Open house parties
Visit anytime between the hours mentioned on the invitation.

“Potluck” meal
is a get-together for supper or dinner where everyone brings a dish to share.

Housewarming party
is a party for someone who has moved into a new home.

Baby shower
Is a party for a woman or couple who are expecting a baby.


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