Minding your manners in Latin America Minding your manners in Latin America

Minding your manners in Latin America
12 Oct 2017

Latin America, with a population of more than 400 million, is the fourth largest continent in the world and consists of 12 separate countries, not including French Guiana and the Falkland Islands. Here we explore the norms and societal customs of Brazil, Colombia and Argentina to provide a snapshot of the region:

 

Colombia

The third most populous country in Latin America after Brazil and Mexico, Colombia is a lively country with an intriguing culture. For example, unlike the US and Europe, egalitarianism is not a driving force in the country’s societal views on class and status.

This attitude can be seen in the high power distance that Colombia has compared to, say, the US, which means that its people believe inequality between different sections of society is a fact of life - a cultural facet that can be challenging for visitors to grasp. From a business perspective, this situation translates into a hierarchical model of decision-making and a low focus on empowering staff at lower levels of the organisation.

A popular saying in this Spanish-speaking country is ‘el que dirán?’ or ‘what will people say?’ In other words, there is a cultural perception that whatever is said or done by others is already in the public domain and so is ripe for dissecting and discussing at every possible opportunity. It also betrays the high regard that Columbians have for the good opinion of others and the importance placed on the values of their collectivist culture.

Behind only Ecuador, Panama and Guatemala, Colombia has the most collectivist culture in the region, which means its citizens’ motivations are always focused on the group, the family and the organisation as a whole rather than on individual needs. As a newcomer to the country, be prepared for a sociable bunch of workmates who are proud of their nation and keen to learn more about you and your family. Do not stint on small talk though as it is a pre-requisite to developing good working relationships.

Brazil

Brazil, which has a population of over 170 million, is the only Portuguese-speaking nation in the Americas but is considered one of the friendliest countries in the world. Moreover, the people are renowned for their openness and desire to help others.

As a result, when you meet new clients or colleagues, expect a lengthy greeting with much ebullience and handshakes all round. Business meetings will possibly be more lively affairs than you are used to and you will be expected to dive into the social life of the business, which can involve lots of office lunches.

Do not be put off by interruptions when talking, however, as encouraging debate is the order of the day and disagreements are part of the Brazilian process of getting the deal done. As befits the outgoing nature of most Brazilian people, their body language tends to effusive too. As well as lots of gesticulation while speaking, they also like to make a point or show empathy through gestures such as placing a hand on your arm while either you or they are talking.

But although Brazilians are demonstrative and sociable, they also have a strong need for rules and structure, which is portrayed by their high levels of uncertainty avoidance. To a lesser degree than Colombia, the country likewise has a collectivist culture, which is geared to the needs of the group rather than the individual.

Argentina

Argentina, which is known for its buzzing capital Buenos Aires and the tango, has a culture with a much lower tolerance of power inequality and class divides than other Latin American countries. It is also much more individualistic in nature.

This scenario may manifest itself in people being more inclined to put their own needs above those of others when compared with other countries in the region. A more marked work/home life separation is also noticeable too. But Argentina is still much less individualistic than countries such as the US or UK, which means that family, traditions and duty always come first.

In Argentina, bear in mind that first impressions are very important. This is a culture where you will be judged on your appearance so make an effort to be well groomed from head to toe.

The country also has a very masculine feel to it, which, according to Professor Geert Hofstede, means that its people tend to exhibit the masculine traits of wanting to be the best. In other words, the national work ethic is strong, working hours tend to be long and the focus is on achievement and professional excellence.

In this proud country, it also helps to demonstrate a good knowledge of its history. Argentina celebrates two independence days: 25 May, or Argentina Revolution Day, to commemorate their fight for independence from Spain and 9 July to mark the declaration of independence in 1816. Other important celebrations include the ‘Dia de la Virgen’ when many Catholic children make their First Holy Communion and ‘Viernes Santo’ or Good Friday.

 

Paul Russell is co-founder and director of Luxury Academy London, a private company specialising in leadership, communication and business etiquette training for organisations and private clients across a wide range of sectors. It has offices in London, Delhi, Visakhapatnam and Mumbai. Prior to founding the business, Paul worked in senior leadership roles across Europe, the US, Middle East and Asia. A dynamic trainer and seminar leader, Paul has designed and taught courses, workshops and seminars worldwide on a wide variety of soft skills.

Latin America, with a population of more than 400 million, is the fourth largest continent in the world and consists of 12 separate countries, not including French Guiana and the Falkland Islands. Here we explore the norms and societal customs of Brazil, Colombia and Argentina to provide a snapshot of the region:

 

Colombia

The third most populous country in Latin America after Brazil and Mexico, Colombia is a lively country with an intriguing culture. For example, unlike the US and Europe, egalitarianism is not a driving force in the country’s societal views on class and status.

This attitude can be seen in the high power distance that Colombia has compared to, say, the US, which means that its people believe inequality between different sections of society is a fact of life - a cultural facet that can be challenging for visitors to grasp. From a business perspective, this situation translates into a hierarchical model of decision-making and a low focus on empowering staff at lower levels of the organisation.

A popular saying in this Spanish-speaking country is ‘el que dirán?’ or ‘what will people say?’ In other words, there is a cultural perception that whatever is said or done by others is already in the public domain and so is ripe for dissecting and discussing at every possible opportunity. It also betrays the high regard that Columbians have for the good opinion of others and the importance placed on the values of their collectivist culture.

Behind only Ecuador, Panama and Guatemala, Colombia has the most collectivist culture in the region, which means its citizens’ motivations are always focused on the group, the family and the organisation as a whole rather than on individual needs. As a newcomer to the country, be prepared for a sociable bunch of workmates who are proud of their nation and keen to learn more about you and your family. Do not stint on small talk though as it is a pre-requisite to developing good working relationships.

Brazil

Brazil, which has a population of over 170 million, is the only Portuguese-speaking nation in the Americas but is considered one of the friendliest countries in the world. Moreover, the people are renowned for their openness and desire to help others.

As a result, when you meet new clients or colleagues, expect a lengthy greeting with much ebullience and handshakes all round. Business meetings will possibly be more lively affairs than you are used to and you will be expected to dive into the social life of the business, which can involve lots of office lunches.

Do not be put off by interruptions when talking, however, as encouraging debate is the order of the day and disagreements are part of the Brazilian process of getting the deal done. As befits the outgoing nature of most Brazilian people, their body language tends to effusive too. As well as lots of gesticulation while speaking, they also like to make a point or show empathy through gestures such as placing a hand on your arm while either you or they are talking.

But although Brazilians are demonstrative and sociable, they also have a strong need for rules and structure, which is portrayed by their high levels of uncertainty avoidance. To a lesser degree than Colombia, the country likewise has a collectivist culture, which is geared to the needs of the group rather than the individual.

Argentina

Argentina, which is known for its buzzing capital Buenos Aires and the tango, has a culture with a much lower tolerance of power inequality and class divides than other Latin American countries. It is also much more individualistic in nature.

This scenario may manifest itself in people being more inclined to put their own needs above those of others when compared with other countries in the region. A more marked work/home life separation is also noticeable too. But Argentina is still much less individualistic than countries such as the US or UK, which means that family, traditions and duty always come first.

In Argentina, bear in mind that first impressions are very important. This is a culture where you will be judged on your appearance so make an effort to be well groomed from head to toe.

The country also has a very masculine feel to it, which, according to Professor Geert Hofstede, means that its people tend to exhibit the masculine traits of wanting to be the best. In other words, the national work ethic is strong, working hours tend to be long and the focus is on achievement and professional excellence.

In this proud country, it also helps to demonstrate a good knowledge of its history. Argentina celebrates two independence days: 25 May, or Argentina Revolution Day, to commemorate their fight for independence from Spain and 9 July to mark the declaration of independence in 1816. Other important celebrations include the ‘Dia de la Virgen’ when many Catholic children make their First Holy Communion and ‘Viernes Santo’ or Good Friday.

 

Paul Russell is co-founder and director of Luxury Academy London, a private company specialising in leadership, communication and business etiquette training for organisations and private clients across a wide range of sectors. It has offices in London, Delhi, Visakhapatnam and Mumbai. Prior to founding the business, Paul worked in senior leadership roles across Europe, the US, Middle East and Asia. A dynamic trainer and seminar leader, Paul has designed and taught courses, workshops and seminars worldwide on a wide variety of soft skills.