In October of 2013 I wrote an article about Marketing in Latin America. We explored the differences in Latin American cultures from country to country and even within the same countries. As a refresh, Latin America is actually defined by language – those countries that speak the romance languages. That gives us an incredibly vast geographic area to speak about. Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru are probably the most popular Latin American countries for trade shows.
I often find myself asking the question of validity when grouping these countries together. What does it mean? What can we learn from this region as a group? Is it fair to group these countries together when talking about business, marketing and trade shows? Does defining a region by a type of linguistic grouping actually make sense?
I’m not sure there is a solid answer to any of those questions. We’ve explored the regional differences in the past from a very high level perspective. Let’s now explore some of those similarities.
Language – The majority of countries speak Spanish, however, Brazil’s dominant language is Portuguese. You will still find some areas speaking French or Italian, but Spanish is dominant within Latin America.
Religion- The majority of citizens practice Christianity – specifically Roman Catholicism. This means a lot more to a business culture than you might think. Often companies are shut down around the holidays – not just on the holiday itself. Easter Week, Carnival and Christmas are all important holidays in this culture. If you happen to be traveling in the area during this time, you very well may receive an invite to join a family for their festivities. It would be considered rude to not accept or partake in eating, drinking etc.
Personal Relationships – It is imperative to get to know the people you are doing business with in Latin America. What we consider small talk in the US is common and means quite a bit in Latin America. Building those personal relationships in Latin America is nearly as important as understanding their company and business.
Time – Typically, Latin Americans put less emphasis on strict time schedules than those in North American and parts of Europe. It’s common to start a meeting 30min late and it is not considered rude to do so. Ensure, if you are making an appointment, that you address whether you are meeting on “Latin Hour” or the “English Hour.” Remember, time is “flexible” in Latin America.
Personal Space – Latin Americans tend to stand in a closer proximity to each other than those in the US would. Taking a step back is often considered inappropriate, and they may just take a step closer to close the distance between you.
Formality – Latin Americans tend to be more formal in both the way they address each other and the way they dress for business meetings. Only address business associates by their first name after invited to do so; until then, use Mr., Ms., or the local equivalent. When dressing, it’s important to dress formal for business meetings – suit and tie for men and a proper length skirt or pants suit for women.
Greeting One Another – Handshakes are not as strong when given in the Latin American culture as they are in North America. More often you’ll be greeted with a hug or a kiss(s) to both cheeks.
As you can see, there are a lot of similarities, as well as the earlier mentioned differences, within Latin America. I believe the important take away here is to always do your research. While we can group countries, languages or a region together often times for business purposes – there are just as many reasons not to, as there are to do. Read up on the specific country you are traveling to before you get there, so you understand exactly what to expect from that area. It would be mighty embarrassing to show up and assume Brazilians speak Spanish, because most of the other countries within Latin America do. Just as it’s inappropriate to assume Canadians celebrate the US Thanksgiving holiday, simply because they live right next door to the US!