Whether traveling to Latin America for business or pleasure, it is extremely important to understand and respect common etiquette practices in the countries that you visit. Understanding the local etiquette of the places that you visit is a sign of respect. It also helps you minimize the chances of accidentally saying or doing things that are rude, insulting, or disrespectful without even realizing it.
As an information technology company with offices in the U.S. and Costa Rica, Prosoft Nearshore understands many of the nuances about doing business in Latin America.
Here is a list of the most important areas of etiquette in Latin America and how to address them.
- Greetings: In Latin America, it is commonplace for physical contact to be involved in your greeting. You are expected to say “hello” and “good-bye” during an encounter. Shaking hands is the most commonly accepted greeting among business colleagues or clients. Eye contact and physical contact is regional; if you tend to have a strong gaze, it might be ignored.
- Business Attire: For business professionals wanting to make a strong impression, don’t hesitate to dress to impress. With a fashion conscious eye, it is important to dress smartly, as well as conservatively. However, a suit and tie for men and a dress or suit for women is perfectly permissible.
- Personal Space: For English-speaking cultures, personal space tends to be more of a necessity. This is not the case for those in Latin America. Expect your conversation to take place in closer quarters, as well as some casual touching. Latin Americans are very engaged when conversing as a way to show a sign of respect.
- Concept of Time: Punctuality is sometimes regarded more flexibly in Latin America. People in this region often believe that time can be altered for personal obligations. Arriving somewhere—even a business meeting 30 minutes late—is no problem at all. Some talk about meeting at “the English hour” or “the Latin hour.” This will give you a better understanding of the expectations around the rigidity of time.
- Expression: Prepare yourself for warm, friendly expressions or gestures. In the English-speaking world, communicating can be very relaxed and almost stand-offish, this not the case for Latinos. They prefer to show large amounts of enthusiasm and interest in the subject matter.
- Politeness: Males in Latin America are sometimes expected to show respect towards women by performing a variety of tasks. These actions include: holding the door, turning off mobile devices when together and even helping women to their seat. There is nothing romantic or flirtatious associated with these gestures, it is simply considered respectful and polite.
- Table Manners: In Latin America, it may be considered rude for a person to wear sunglasses or hats inside or at the dinner table. Also, all displays of bodily functions should be done so in private.
- Gestures: It is best to avoid making any gestures that may convey the wrong message. Some of these commonly used gestures in English-speaking countries may be frowned upon in Latin American countries. This includes pointing with one finger. If you need to direct someone, use your whole hand or head to point in a direction. Also, it is seen as a rude gesture to place your hands in your pockets or under the table, since hands should be visible at all times.
- Names and Title: When conducting a business meeting, it is always suggested to ask your client what he or she wishes to be called. In general, it is best to address your colleagues, new acquaintances and others by title and surname.
Understanding another culture can become complex and confusing, but there is nothing worse than making a rude blunder during a business deal or social interaction. While visiting Latin America, you want to be perceived as educated, professional and respectful. Taking the time to understand the values, expressions, and manners used in the regions that you are visiting is a great way to prepare for your trip.