It begins and ends with “Gracias” in Mexico.
The United States, Canada, and Mexico may share common borders, but business in Mexico is far different than in the other North American countries.
Mexicans are some of the most gracious, hospitable and courteous people you will come across, and doing business in the country begins and ends with respect and courtesy. A typical Mexican business meeting is 90% hospitality and 10% business. You start off a business conversation inquiring about the person’s family, as family comes first in Mexico. Small talk about non-controversial topics comes next, and then – and only then – can you bring up business.
Mexico is the land of mañana, and lateness is accepted at business meetings, and is not seen as a sign of incompetence or disrespect. You, the foreigner, should still be on time, as in Mexico, you never know when someone will show up. It pays to reconfirm your meeting arrangements several times – just to be sure you are going to a meeting at least on the correct day!
Business cards are very important, even in non-business situations. I think even little children carry “tarjetas de presentacion” to play-dates! Relationships are what count in Mexico and developing them can be tricky, even if you speak a little Spanish. Don’t be surprised when you’re meeting your business counterparts for the first time, both men and women walk right up to you and kiss you on the cheeks! Mexicans are very touchy-feely and cheek-kissing often takes the place of a handshake!
Women are becoming more and more visible in Mexican business, but old customs die hard. Women in Mexico are ultra-feminine and wear towering high heels and designer attire in every situation, including business.
Business is conducted over meals often and breakfast meetings are quite common. Lunch in Mexico is an occasion, beginning at 2 and ending around 4; and although business can be conducted, you must socialize first and negotiate later, if appropriate. Establishing relationship is of the utmost importance and it might pay to have a few social, family lunches before jumping into a talk about products and prices and contracts.
Most educated Mexicans speak English, but you will go a lot further in the country if you speak Spanish – however, if your Spanish is limited, you might want to bring an interpreter for important meetings. I have been mistakenly accused of being demanding in Spanish, as the sound of the present tense and the imperative tense (demanding!) are very similar.
Unless you are a member of the family or really know someone well, always use the formal “usted” form of verbs, never the informal “tu.” Even in families, children address their mamas and especially their papas as “tu.”Don’t expect a direct answer from your Mexican business counterparts, especially if the answer is “no.” That’s not a Mexican thing – saying “no” directly. A Mexican might say, “I’ll get back to you later,” or give you an unrelated response, leaving you wondering if your question was actually understood. A Mexican will almost never say, “I don’t know” in response, so get specific information if you can. (This holds true for getting directions in Mexico, and I find it best to ask for directions, walk to the next corner and ask for directions again, just to be sure!)
The most important word in the Spanish language is “Gracias.” And using that word repeatedly will make you a welcome visitor in Mexico.
Carole Schor, MS Nutrition, has written freelance articles on motivation, wellness and nutrition for magazines and newspapers; and has appeared in TV and radio as a wellness expert. She has owned a Destination Management Company and a low-fat catering business; has been in charge of Fund Development for Agape International Spiritual Center; Logistics Director for the Ocean of Gratitude Cruise; and has been a luxury Spa Director in the United States and the Dominican Republic. She now writes a daily blog on Natural Health and Beauty for Women – http://naturallybeautifulwomen.com.
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