Latin America is made up of a colourful rainbow of 22 countries with a diversity of landscapes, politics, food and people. Predominantly speaking Spanish and some Portuguese, it is a treasure trove of cultural nuances. Nevertheless, as a whole, it has several things in common, like its cultural warmth, whereby business associates are treated almost like family, conducting meetings outside the office over food and wine of the local region.
As mentioned in the Culture Blog, it is not enough to simply take language into consideration when doing business abroad, but to understand the target country’s culture.
A few cultural considerations
Face to face communication is as much an integrated part of Latin American culture as tea is in Britain. Whilst communicating electronically quickly crosses cultural barriers, social networking in Latin American countries is imperative, creating influential ties. Travelling across oceans to speak in person may not always be feasible, however, picking up the phone or Skyping can help maintain relations more than emails, which often get ‘lost in cyberspace’. Certain topics of conversation should also be avoided at all costs, like politics, religion and class, whereas it is quite acceptable to talk openly about family, wine, food and football.
First impressions count, and subsequently, if body language is misinterpreted, it could cause business negotiations to crash and burn. With men for instance, handshakes appear to be protocol on first meetings, but afterwards it can quickly transform to a jovial back slap or a hug.
Much closer than in the UK, it is not unusual to be almost embraced by a Latin American business associate, whilst eye contact is respectfully attentive. Pulling back or avoiding eye contact could be seen as a lack of trust, which could have a negative impact, as Latin Americans are all about building trust.
Most cultures celebrate religious and national holidays, even shutting down for a couple of months, like in Brazil, during Rio Carnival. If any negotiations need to be quickly dealt with over these periods of time, fore planning is of vital importance.
Similar to Spain, Latin America keeps its own time ‘mañana’, which could be frustrating when trying to wrap up business meetings promptly. Imposing deadlines could also scare business away suggesting a lack of trust. Thus, it bodes well to soak up some of that laid back attitude and kick back to their way of doing business, although there are some occasions the punctual time of ‘hora inglesa’ [English hour] plays its part.
The etiquette of opening gifts in front of recipients could cause offence if incorrectly judged, therefore finding out the custom would be advantageous. In Columbia for instance, it is respectful to open them during negotiations. Choosing the right gift is also important and emphasises respect. Latin Americans love the British brand, ergo something quintessentially British like gin would be apt.
Narrowing cultural barriers through translation and localisation of websites for instance, like making sure that colours are not controversial, e.g. purple is associated with death in Brazil, can increase a company’s international presence. Business cards should also show native language one side and Spanish or Portuguese translation on the opposite.
By Madeline Prusmann (Project Manager), June 2016