Before you begin working your way to foreign language fluency, it helps to understand the culture behind the language you’re learning. After all, language exists to help a group of people express their ideas and beliefs. Spain is an old country with a rich history and culture. As you begin your Spanish language program, gaining a strong grasp on this history, the values, and the etiquette will help you rapidly achieve success. In particular, if you want to do business in Latin America or Spain, it helps to understand the proper business protocols even before you begin talking to any potential partners.
Latin America is continually working to diversify their business community and increase foreign investment, in efforts to counteract low oil prices, but there are many obstacles to overcome. The laws in Latin America make the process more time consuming and corruption is still a major problem. In addition, the cost of security to operate in some areas of Latin America are higher than average.
In general, efforts to set up shop in Latin America can be hampered by the above mentioned factors, among other things. It takes a lot of time and patience. You won’t be able to jet in with a handshake to seal the deal after a few emails and Skype sessions. Business ventures will require numerous meetings, networking, and time to make the right connections, before you even get to the actual business deal. Not to mention unanticipated issues that may surface. It can be very frustrating and trying, even for the most dedicated business person.
You can start the process by getting in touch with the business attaché in your country’s consulate in Latin America for assistance. They will normally have a current listing of local companies that offer legal advice, and the ability to generate and translate contracts. You should also contact the local Chamber of Commerce.
Who you know and the connections you have in Latin America is still a main factor in determining the success or failure of a business venture; it is just as important as what you have to sell. You will have to put in the time, however long it takes, to network and meet with people face to face, if you want to get your business up and running and achieve any level of success. The key is to locate people who can set up a meeting with decision makers or other top level people in the company, the movers and shakers so to speak.
The people of Latin America and Spain take their leisure time very seriously and little to no business is conducted over the weekend, on public holidays, or during long holiday seasons such as Christmas, New Year, Carnival, and Easter. When scheduling business meetings, you should keep this in mind. Friday afternoon is probably not a good time either.
The best time of day to schedule a meeting is mornings, and the first meeting is usually used to get acquainted instead of dealing with the actual business at hand. This is also the case for meetings held during lunch hours. Larger companies may invite you to a breakfast or lunch meeting with a group of executives and decision makers, to discuss business over coffee and a pastry or local fare.
Likewise, an invitation to dinner from a business associate during your first time in the city will more than likely be due to hospitality, and not an attempt at a business transaction. It is important to exhibit professionalism at all times, even if you continue a dinner date with a night on the town. The etiquette in Latin America and Spain in the case of an invitation, is for them to cover expenses. You may offer to pay the bill, but under no circumstances should you suggest paying for only your portion, as this would be viewed unfavorably, and you as being cheap. If your host is firm about paying, don’t keep insisting, as this may cause offense. You should graciously accept and you can take care of the invitation and bill the next time.
There is a perception that people in Latin America and Spain do not take punctuality seriously, but still expect you to be on time or to call and explain any delay. There is some truth in this, as some Spanish people do not share the same concept of time as other countries do. Being late is normally not considered discourteous, and deadlines are often viewed as objectives to be met when possible, but are not viewed as obligatory. The attitudes in Latin America and Spain are a bit more laid back, especially in smaller towns, so a late start to a meeting is not a big deal, but everyone is still expected to be on time.
A foreign business person should always be on time regardless, but not before the start time. You should factor in all the things you normally do, such as traffic, and allow extra time as more than likely, you won’t be familiar with the area or commute. You may have to wait, or reschedule for another day, “mañana” is the term often used. This may be the norm, nothing out of the ordinary for the area, so it should be taken in stride. Although this may be frustrating or annoying, keep your emotions in check and don’t show any signs of irritation. Also, be sure to leave your schedule open for these type of situations.
The dress code for business related meetings and events in Latin America and Spain is formal for both men and women. Men normally wear dark colored two-piece, and sometimes three-piece, suits with ties. Women wear a variety of combinations similar to the corporate dress of the US and Europe. Business suits, skirts, jackets, and trousers are all appropriate. Women take care to wear conservative clothing that doesn’t attract any attention to their body, making sure their skirts are below the knee, and makeup is light. The outfits are usually very well put together and often designer brands with matching accessories. Business attire sometimes signifies one’s level of authority and great care is taken to dress properly and appropriately.
Breakfast and lunch meetings should also be considered formal, unless otherwise noted. Evening events or dinner are usually formal as well, but depending on the venue, you may be able to wear a bit of color or a modest cocktail dress. For all business occasions, it’s important to be well put together, from head to toe. When in doubt, just follow what your host is doing. For example, it may be considered inappropriate in some situations to wear a tie without a jacket or to remove your jacket once seated, but if your host does, it should be fine for you to do it too.