Business etiquette in Latin America has been very much influenced by its colorful history from the Spanish invasion onwards. However, it cannot be said that the region is a homogeneous community with shared business etiquette. In general, business people in Latin America are seen to be pre-disposed to be effusive, garrulous and inquisitive, although business etiquette in some areas such as Bolivia or Peru tends to be more reserved in nature.
Just at the countries across Latin America are diverse in nature, so are are their weather patterns. When planning a business trip to the region it pays to check the weather and climate setting off.
It is advisable to ensure when setting out on a business visit to Latin America that documents and material relating to business has been translated into Spanish. Indeed this would be seen as correct etiquette. It is further advised that close attention should be paid when in Latin America to timing. It would not be etiquette to arrive late for a meeting and it is essential to allow for traffic in heavily congested areas.
An accepted etiquette in most Latin American countries is that of the concept of family which can extend beyond ties to fellow colleagues, so that they may mix business with leisure including members of family and nepotism is common. Seniority relating to age in business, especially in family concerns in Latin America is regarded as appropriate etiquette and the older member is often the person to have the last say.
It is also common etiquette in Latin America to conduct matters of business in a more relaxed manner than that of their western counterparts. They tend to consider that it is good business to become more acquainted through convivial conversation so that patience becomes a must. It would not be good etiquette to attempt to take over a conversation. Latin Americans prefer to leave the managers to have the control.
Another form of accepted etiquette during business discussion in Latin America often involves sitting closer to one another than would be seen as general practice in North America or Europe. It would not be etiquette however, to try to change position and move away as this could be construed as hostile.
Business people in the region are predominantly conservative in their dress and can be quite status conscious so it is essential etiquette to dress accordingly so as not to cause offence by dressing down.
An important fact to know about Latin American culture is that it is predominantly patriarchal, and very rigid divisions between work and home exist. Men are in business, and women are at home. If you happen to be visiting Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, Chile, Nicaragua, or Peru make sure you familiarize yourself with the current affairs and political dealings that are going on within those countries and avoid any discussions about these subjects for it most certainly will destroy any business dealings you hope establish with any companies therein.
When first meeting prospective business clients, handshakes are important so be firm but brief, and always make sure you keep constant eye contact throughout the handshake. When shaking hands with a woman, remember to be courteous and allow her to extend her hand first. Expect the person you’re speaking with to stand close to you and look you in the eyes, don’t move back or break eye contact because you could offend the person talking to you.
Below are some social taboos you should be aware of since using any of the following gestures can cause problems.
- The “OK” sign made with your forefinger and thumb is an offensive gesture in Brazil.
- Placing your hands on your hips in Argentina means you’re signaling a challenge.
- Raising your fist to your head in Chile is a sign of Communism.
Latin America enjoys the business lunch and they are usually pretty long, at least two hours or longer. Dinners are considered purely social events and start late at night, usually around 10:00 or 11:00 pm. When at a social dinner, remember to keep your hands above the table at all times when eating and always pass food with your right hand.