There is a kinder, gentler, more genteel world south of the border, a world where gentlemen still carry a woman’s bags, chivalrously open doors for her, and heroically give up their seats for her on a packed bus.
It’s the proper thing to do and in Latin American countries where machismo is alive and well and seemingly here to stay, there is also an unspoken etiquette for getting down to business which savvy business travelers should be aware of.
Nowadays, with global negotiations catapulting us around the world with just the click of a mouse, it's often difficult to change gears and soften that hardened “edge” which many of today’s US executives have acquired.
Happily, Latin American businessmen - and women - are eager to work with visitors to their country. It’s all a matter of attitude - yours.
- Hora inglesa - It’s very important, when making plans in Latin America, to clearly define the time of your appointment. In Mexico, if you ask someone if the agreed time is, hora inglesa (English time), you are asking if they will be punctual. If they respond with, hora mexicana, expect them to be “a little” late.
- If they are late, deal with it politely. Surely, you’ve heard of mañana time? The best thing you can do is kick back, have another cup of coffee and read the paper while you wait. Then, greet them with a warm smile.
- That is not artillery you see lined up on the table: those are cell phones. Celulares reign throughout Latin America and you will inevitably see them lined up alongside the entrée in every restaurant you visit.
- No, the restaurant, club, airport etc. is not on fire. This is still a smoking society. Just take shallow breaths and deal with it amiably. You're not going to change it so accept it.
- "Schmoozing" over a very late dinner. Things typically get a late start. Smile and enjoy yourself and no, you will not turn into a pumpkin at midnight.
- Dealing with the inevitable long “liquid lunch.” Alcohol is standard cultural procedure. Just sip slowly - especially in high altitude cities.
- Hand-shaking traditionally leads to a peck on the cheek between men and women, or two women. This is not a sexual harassment issue - it is merely a “touchy, feely” society.
- "San lunes” or “San viernes” - Try not to schedule appointments on Monday or Friday, because these days typically disappear into long weekends.
It’s important to remember that you’ve crossed into a different cultural zone as well as time zone and things are done at a less frenetic pace than you’re accustomed to. This is a very polite society so smile sincerely and often, and remember the adage: “When in Rome........”