Guest Author - Sarah Salas
Personal space in Latin America is much closer to the body that many people from the United States and other cultures are used to. You may find yourself conversing with some one who is closer to you than you are comfortable with. Be aware that moving back may be seen as a sign of aloofness or that you are uninterested in the conversation or speaker.
Personal interaction is more important than timelines to most Latinos. In many Hispanic cultures, not being on time is considered culturally acceptable, and it is the norm to be late to a meeting or appointment if one gets caught up talking to a friend. This is not a sign that you are not important or that they are not excited to be at your event, there is simply a much more flexible attitude towards punctuality prevalent in many Hispanic cultures. It is not considered polite to be early to a meeting or event, as your host may not be ready or prepared for you.
Business Dress Code
Latin American countries, especially those in South America, are very formal when it comes to business attire. When conducting business you would be best advised to wear a suit in conservative colors until you are aware of the specific culture of the business. Women should be sure to where appropriate length skirts to be taken seriously. Cut and color is very important and be sure to go for quality light weight fabrics do to the warm climate.
When discussing business, keep conversations formal until invited to do otherwise. If you are speaking in Spanish, use the formal Usted and not the more casual Tu. Use Sr. or Sra. and last names, and make sure you say please and thank you (or gracias and de nada!). Be careful when using hand gestures as they may have different meaning in different regions. For example the ok gesture of a circle with the thumb and forefinger is offensive in many areas, and if you pat your elbow you are calling someone cheap.
Business is often conducted over lunch or dinner. Be prepared for a long meal – usually one hour or more, beginning with small talk and easing into business matters as the meal progresses. This small talk is important to building trust, so treat it with respect. Table manners are much the same as in the United States, and should always be used in business or personal settings. Offer to pay (especially if you instigated the meeting), but do not insist or push the issue if the other person offers– this is offensive in most cultures. You will rarely split the bill. Graciousness will go a long way.
Be sensitive to local holidays and be aware that business is not usually conducted on or around holidays. However, Latinos tend to be an open and family oriented people. If you are from out of town around the holidays do not be surprised if you are invited to join in a celebration or invited to a family dinner! Be aware that you may cause offense if you refuse to go, or if you go to a celebration but do not eat or take part in the festivities. Many businesses are closed on religious days and during Carnival throughout Central and South America, and hotel rooms are hard to get if not impossible.