By Ludmila (Mila) Rusakova Golovine
For American businesspeople looking to engage in international business ventures, one country stands out among all others – Mexico. First, the United States shares its entire southern border with the country. Second, there is already a longstanding history of business cooperation between our two countries. Last but not least, Mexico has the thirteenth largest economy in the world and it is only growing. All of these factors make Mexico an extremely attractive place to do business. Nevertheless, just because we are so close does not mean business etiquette is the same. There are subtle differences in Mexican culture that must be learned and adapted so that your business venture will be accomplished successfully.
The first issue is the concept of time. Quite simply, it is not viewed the same way in Mexico as it is in the United States. Americans typically think of time as money but this not how it is considered in Mexico. Most Mexicans prefer to take their time believing that you work in order to live and not vice versa. Punctuality is fairly lax. Do not be insulted if your Mexican counterpart is a half hour late. This is a standard business practice. Nevertheless, you should always be punctual to meetings. It is advisable to just take this cultural difference in stride and accept it as part of doing business.
Your appearance is also important. For all meetings, you should dress accordingly. Mexican businesspeople tend to dress formally, especially in large cities like Mexico City and Monterrey. For men, dark suits and ties are appropriate. Shirts should be either white or blue. White shirts are deemed necessary for extremely formal meetings, so please keep this in mind. For women, dark business suits or dresses are preferable. If the meeting is taking place in a more tropical area, more casual dress is allowed such as pants and a light shirt. Regardless of the situation, you should try to look as formal as possible just to be on the safe side.
Upon meeting your Mexican counterpart, it is customary to shake hands. If the relationship has already developed between businesspeople, it is not uncommon for a woman to give a small kiss on the cheek or for men to give each other a short hug. Bear in mind that there is more physical contact in Mexican business culture. It is not at all uncommon for a Mexican businessman to touch his counterpart’s shoulder or hold him by the arm. This is a friendly gesture. Any recoil will be taken as an insult and can harm the business relationship, so please adapt accordingly.
Your way of addressing your Mexican counterpart is also important. In Mexico, people usually have three names: the first name, the father’s last name, and the mother’s last name. As a rule, you should address someone by the father’s last name with the appropriate title, such as in the case that the person is a doctor. It is incorrect to use the mother’s last name. Typically American businesspeople will switch to first names very quickly upon the initial meeting. This is not done in Mexico where it takes longer for businesspeople to become comfortable with one another. Wait until your Mexican counterparts give you leave to address them by the first name. In this way, there will be no ambiguity and respect will always be maintained.
As with all cultures, Mexican speech has certain specifics of which you should be aware. When speaking English, very often they will end a statement with “no.” Usually in English, this indicates that a question is being posed. This is not the case. Consequently, you will have to be very attentive and derive the meaning from the context of the sentence. Moreover, Mexicans can be quite humble and actually degrade themselves in statements. For example, they will usually say something negative either about their appearance, city, country, etc. Your polite response to this should always be a positive disagreement stating that the subject is actually quite nice.
Body language is crucial when dealing with Mexicans. You must pay attention to it when negotiating because very often spoken language does not convey the actual meaning. For example, Mexicans sometimes say “no” meaning “maybe” and “yes” sometimes meaning “no.” This situation has to do with both politeness and negotiation tactics. The only way to discern the actual meaning is to observe how the person says the answer. The natural facial expression should be a good indicator.
Despite the cultural differences, Mexico is still a wonderful place to do business. The Mexican people are welcoming and enthusiastic to work with us. With just a little research, cultural sensitivity training, and patience, you can definitely prosper in the Mexican business world.
As a graduate of the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Houston, Ludmila (Mila) Rusakova Golovine, Founder, CEO, and President of MasterWord Services, Inc., started her company with a vision of seamlessly connecting people across any language, any time, and any culture. She understands the complexities of the global marketplace and excels at providing language solutions based on creative thinking and strategic planning.
Mila can be reached by email at [email protected], via the web at www.masterword.com, or by phone at 281-589-0810.