Business Culture and Etiquette


“Latino American Business Culture and Etiquette”

South America is the fourth largest continent on the planet, making up 12% of the earth’s superficies. South America has a diverse population due to its large size. There are small units of native Indian and significant European descendents of Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and German. There are also a large number of Chinese and Japanese. Approximately 90 to 95% of South Americans are Roman Catholic.

Latin America is comprised of Central and South America. As an important trade partner, United States trade with Latin America is approximately $134.5 billion in exports (20% of total exports).Even though there are important and distinct differences within this major region of the world, there are some common habits and similarities within the Latin-American culture: all individuals speak Spanish, with the exception of Brazil where the national language is Portuguese (Brazil was a Colony of Portugal and the rest are colonies of Spain).

Latinos usually stand closer together during conversations, so be prepared for that plus casual touching and, of course, the abrazo, or embrace, among good friends. You may even be startled to have a Latin businessman hold your elbow while conversing or walking. Latinos are very warm and friendly people and enjoy social conversation before getting down to business. This is a calculated process aimed at getting to know you personally. Latinos tend to be more interested in you, the person, than you as a representative of some faceless corporation.

The main meal of the day is usually taken at midday throughout all Latin-American countries. However, this should not stop you from also hosting your business guests over dinner in the evening. Most Latin business people know about American dining customs and in their own country will spend the evening at a restaurant for special occasions. When toasting, the host is customarily expected to make the first toast with the guest then probably responding in return.

In all Latin countries, the attitude toward time is less rigid than among North Americans, and a thirty-minute delay should not be a surprise. Some Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America are not very rigid about punctuality. One source states that in Argentina, you should be prepared for meetings to start after the scheduled time. However, it should be noted that this is not always the case in other Spanish-speaking countries. For example, attempts to arrive on time for business appointments are respected in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. However, for social events such as dinners, coming late by at least fifteen minutes is not usually considered bad manners.

Expect some small talk or discussion of extraneous topics at the beginning of business meetings. This helps to establish some rapport, especially for older businessmen who would prefer to know something about the person with whom they are dealing. However, on the contrary younger individuals may be less concerned about this social aspect.

It would probably be a good idea to get to know something about what certain gestures may mean in the Latin-American country of interest. This is important if you do not want to offend hosts and others with whom you may interact. For example, one source reports that you should never decline an offer for coffee in Venezuela since it is a symbol of hospitality. Eating with the hands or drinking from the bottle is bad! It is also said that in some Latin-American countries, people converse at proximities that are much closer than that which is usually normal to those in tune with a more North American or British cultural approach. However, even though you may be uncomfortable with this type of intimacy, moving away might be considered unfriendly.

The American symbol for “okay” is considered a rude gesture in Brazil. Slapping your right fist into your left palm in Chile is also obscene. Holding your palm up with your fingers spread means “stupid” to Chileans. Don’t ruin your presentation by inadvertently including vulgar gestures, and don’t fidget. It’s particularly annoying in Ecuador when someone makes repeated movements, fiddles with his tie, or taps a pen. If you’re looking for an additional source of luck in your meeting in Paraguay, don’t cross your fingers because this denotes no respect at all. As in other countries, firm handshakes, direct eye contact, and a welcoming smile when you are introducing yourself to someone is standard if you want to make a good first impression. It may also be best to use the appropriate greeting for the time of day: buenas días for “good morning,” buenas tardes for “good afternoon,” and buenas noches for “good evening.”
If unsure about how to address someone, the best policy is to always ask what he or she may prefer. They can be addressed by their professional titles (for example, if they are a doctor you can refer to them as such). Or you can address them as señor, señora or señorita, (mister, missus, and miss) followed by their surnames. Of course, many Latin Americans use both their paternal and maternal surnames with the father’s surname listed first. In some instances, it might be okay to address your Latin-American associate with just the father’s surname. Appearances are also very important in most Latin-American countries. Most will respond better to those who come to meetings dressed in proper business attire. For example, men should wear conservative dark suits and women stylish business suits. In Argentina, it is said that they evaluate someone’s attire starting with the quality of their shoes!

Bienvenido ! Welcome !

Buena Suerte ! Good Luck !

Hasta Luego ! See you Later !

Chau, Adios ! By; Goodbye !

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    About the Books

    Author Lucila Ortiz offers an easy Spanish reference guide for business's people; travelers and anyone that has the desire to learn the Spanish Language and Culture. Trade is one of the most enduring issues in the contemporary US-Latin America relations. To strengthen the development of this trade relationship, author Lucila Ortiz presents the Spanish Instructive Planner: Spanish for Beguiners, and A Primer for Spanish Language, Culture and Economics; an informative guide that helps English-speaking individuals grasp, manage, understand, and conduct business in Spanish, and for all travelers as well.


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