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Latin American business culture

Latin American culture is different than European or American culture. While in the United States everything is fast and people tend to work long hours, things in Latin America go by another pace. That doesn't mean Latinos are lazy, they do work hard, but they spend quite some time on social stuff like proper introductions at the beginning of a meeting and caring for personal relationships.

What you wear and how you speak determines how they treat you and how far you will get. Everybody in the office of a typical Latin company is properly dressed. Women wear perfect make-up and you won't find men without a tie and perfectly clean shoes - and those are not sneakers. It doesn't matter how important their work is, whether they receive clients in the office or are just working on internal stuff.

People address each-other with the proper title. A customer service technician named Carlos Rodriguez at the local cable company becomes Engineer Carlos. The higher the social rank more attention is paid to the right way of addressing a person or speaking about somebody, even if that person isn't present. In front of customers Carlos is always Engineer Carlos, because he had to study at the University in order to know how to install cable TV or how to use the provisioning system. His fellow technicians will call him just Carlos, if there is no customer around. But the receptionist, messenger or a sales guy will always refer to him as Engineer Carlos.

The social rank of a person depends on several factors such as your position in a company, your wealth, the name and rank of your family, whether you are a foreigner, your profession and on how you act and dress.

As a foreigner you are seen as a powerful person by default, because you need to posses some wealth in order to come to the country in the first place. Secondly, if you don't come as a tourist, you are seen as an important business person, as an investor and it's presumed you play an important role in the company you work for. While Latinos between themselves pay great attention to the clothes the other person wears, in some areas they do understand that foreigners might be important persons although they don't dress like a high-ranking executive.

How you are supposed to treat other people depends on the social rank of both parties involved. If you happen to talk to Engineer Carlos as the owner of a business, then you will address him simply as Carlos and never ever call him Engineer Carlos. You are the boss and Carlos is the guy who has to do something for you and Carlos has to respect you. It's important not to appear weak, but powerful. If Carlos has reason to believe, you might have the power to make his life hard, then he will work well. In those cases you don't ask for something, you demand it. But still with polite words and a regular tone, because you need to respect Carlos as well.

Another important detail is how you introduce yourself to other people and how your company introduces you. The Spanish language knows two different words for the English you. tu is used to address persons you know well or who are of similar or lower social rank as yourself. usted is more formal and generally used to express respect for the other person, but sometimes it's used as well to make clear that you are serious about something you are saying. Parents use usted talking to their children, if the boy or girl has done something wrong. The younger person addresses the older person with usted as well - even it's within the same family.

Let's say your name is Walter R. Smith. You are the owner of the company and have a meeting with a client. All your employees will address you and your client saying usted and refer to you or address you as Senior Smith - in front of the client. While in regular office communication they well use usted and you become Senior Walter, because the environment is less formal. On the other hand you will refer to your employee Roberto Rodriguez in front of the client as Senior Rodriguez and without the client's presence simply as Roberto. Of course you won't say usted, but tu, because he works for you and you don't have to respect him that much as he has to respect you.