Business Etiquette in Latin America
Having grown up in Latin America before moving to the United States, I’ve found that certain elements of culture can differ very much between the two regions. Understanding how to navigate those differences has been critical to bridging the gap between our U.S. clients and our business relationships in Latin America.
The differences encompass a range of areas and one example is time or punctuality. The adherence to punctuality is not as strict in Latin America. Due to this, people often when scheduling meetings joke and ask “are you expecting me in hora Latina?” meaning “Latin time.” Some countries have even adapted this saying, becoming “hora Cubana” in Cuba or “hora Nica” in Nicaragua. Expect meetings to go over the scheduled time, especially during a meal, and avoid putting undue pressure on those who aren’t perfectly on-time.
Respect is also an important cultural marker. You should be aware of how to address the individual you’re speaking to by one of three options: “tu,” “usted” or “vos.” “Usted” is less personal and shows more respect when the individual is older. You’ll commonly hear “usted” in Colombia or Costa Rica, while in Argentina, you’ll typically use “vos.” Mexicans usually prefer “tu,” unless the individual is older, in which case you would address them by “usted.”
Physical space is also viewed differently in Latin America, where people are often friendly and warm. Females will always greet each other with a kiss on the cheek or a hug and two men will always shake hands and often hug.
When in Latin America, beware of using gestures that may be considered offensive. For example, it’s considered rude in Mexico to place your hands in your pockets. Pointing is also considered rude in some Latin American countries. Be aware of these small details when meeting clients or attending business meetings. Every country in Latin America has their distinct etiquette but rest assured, Latin Americans will always welcome you with warmth and friendliness.