Latin American culture is a mixture of many cultural expressions, but Latinos are generally hospitable and polite. No matter where you are in Latin America, you will be welcomed with courtesy and respect. The general western style of greeting applies, so feel free to shake hands with your Latin counterparts.
Language – to learn or not to learn?
If you can speak Spanish or Portuguese, your life there will be a lot easier as English is not commonly used. But unless you are able to speak these languages very fluently, it is a much better idea to hire a good interpreter as many Spanish words and phrases carry different meanings in different regions. The accent is also very heavy and varies a lot among these Latin American countries, which might make verbal communication a bit tricky for those who have not mastered the languages perfectly.
To help keep your business or company top of mind with local people, you can prepare bilingual name cards and promotional items, in English and Spanish or in Portuguese, as appropriate. Being able to integrate into the local culture will allow you to gain a presence and win trust quicker.
Business is often based on personal relationships. Latinos like to get to know their business partners well before everything starts. So don’t get frustrated if your Latin partners still have not signed a contract with you even after several months of discussion. In some cases it has taken more than a year to get the ball rolling. Be patient and develop your client or vendor relationships for the long term.
When it comes to meetings with Latin Americans, business attire is always the smart choice. Formal wear is regarded by Latinos as decent and polite, with dark tones being preferred most of all. No matter how high the temperature is, please bring a suit and tie, together with leather shoes or heels.
While Latinos are very strict in observing the dress code, it is interesting to note that they are not quite so punctual. So get yourself something to help kill the time when waiting for your Latin partners—you might have to wait up to two hours!
Coffee, particularly espresso, is the soul-mate of Latinos. They drink it during business negotiations and at social gatherings. You might want to start developing a taste for this black liquid now, or explore the different types of coffee produced in Latin America.
As regards their social life, Latinos enjoy food, music and laughter. They attach great importance to family life and family celebrations such as birthdays, weddings, and holidays. In your first few meetings or gatherings with Latinos, you can avoid embarrassment, or even trouble, by carefully avoiding sensitive subjects such as politics and religion. The best topics are always football (probably the easiest for almost everyone!), family life and the outstanding natural scenery of this continent. Try to fit in by doing some research on conversation topics before heading out to lunch and dinner.
As far as day-to-day business is concerned, be aware of holidays and special seasons or celebrations. Latinos place a big emphasis on these big social occasions, and their observance of them is so time-consuming that you will receive very slow replies or no response at all to your emails and phone calls for several weeks! In Brazil, for example, you might need to schedule everything for before the end of November (about one month before Christmas) and for after the world-famous Rio Carnival in February next year.
Of course, when we talk about cultural differences there are many other items too numerous to list here, but if you immerse yourself in the market, the rewards are sure to be above your expectations!