Thursday, June 20, 2024

Doing business in Mexico? Don’t get lost in translation

From long lunches to friendly greetings and a deep respect for hierarchy, Mexicans do business differently than people in the United States, Canada or Europe.  

Whether you’re an expat working for a company in Mexico or a foreigner doing business in the country, understanding the role that culture plays in shaping the Mexican business landscape is vital. 

Shaking hands is a sure-fire way to start any business meeting in Mexico. (Freepik)

To help you familiarize yourself with local business etiquette and ensure success for your business in the country, we have created an insider’s guide to social conduct in the Mexican business world. 

Dress code and first impressions

Appearances matter in Mexico. While this is true of any business setting in any country, formal business attire is expected from both men and women in big corporations and law firms. 

Men usually wear suits and ties, while women wear business attire and often wear high heels and makeup to work. 

When meeting potential business partners in Mexico or attending an interview for a corporate job, we recommend wearing professional attire and avoiding overly casual clothes or athletic shoes.

Black clothing with suitable shoes will always add a professional touch to your outfit. (Victoria Valtierra/Cuartoscuro)

Greetings 

At a first meeting, handshakes are common when greeting business associates, and greeting women or the most senior person first is customary. 

Between women, one kiss on the cheek is a typical greeting. Instead of a handshake, women sometimes rest a hand on each other’s shoulders before kissing on the cheek. 

At the end of the meeting, it is not rare for women to shake hands with men and kiss one time on the cheek, depending on how well the interaction went.

In the workplace, male and female employees usually greet each other with a kiss on the cheek when they first meet or say goodbye. However, the cheek-kiss practice declined during the COVID-19 pandemic and has not been resumed by everyone since. 

A good handshake is recommended when you meet someone new. (Freepik)

The business day

Business hours are from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 4 to 7 p.m, with a lunch break between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Fridays are commonly known as “casual Fridays,” and businesses usually close between 2 and 5 p.m.  

However, business meetings do tend to happen during lunchtime. More on that below.

Punctuality and arranging meetings

Patience is key when doing business in Mexico. Mexicans have a more relaxed sense of time compared to other Northern Hemisphere countries, so it is not unusual for them to arrive up to half an hour late for an arranged meeting, though they will offer apologies. However, punctuality is still important for expats and other foreigners looking to show respect. 

In Mexico, it is common practice to cancel business meetings at very short notice, which may be considered inappropriate in countries such as the U.K. or the U.S. 

As with many elements of life in Mexico, patience is a virtue. (Unsplash)

When arranging a meeting, you should request and confirm it in writing at least two to four weeks in advance. The confirmation should be sent again a week before the meeting is scheduled and finally confirmed on the day of the meeting itself. 

Business lunches

Many business deals are discussed over lunch. Use this setting to build relationships and to discuss matters with more leisure. 

Before diving into business, it is common to discuss family, recent events or other social matters. Mexicans value personal relationships, and business meetings are usually more productive once you’ve built those relationships. 

Mexican businesspeople and government officials may smoke and drink during business meals. Mexican businessmen are splendid, and it is not unusual for them to offer to pay the bill at the end of a business meeting.   

Don’t be surprised if a business lunch extends a couple of hours after 4 p.m. Set aside some time in case this happens. Staying after lunch at a restaurant to discuss social matters or business issues is called “sobremesa,” the same word used to refer to the conversation that traditionally follows a meal.

Negotiations

Mexicans use indirect language in both social and professional contexts, as they consider that being direct may offend the other party. Don’t expect direct answers to direct questions and try to read between the lines. 

Don’t be overly aggressive when negotiating, as it is considered rude. 

Negotiations in Mexico are often a lengthy process, and deadlines are usually seen as flexible rather than strict. Keep in mind that such behavior is not meant to be disrespectful or an attempt to derail negotiations.

Expect delays when dealing with the government. Private parties are expected to attend to government deadlines, but the reverse is not true. However, courthouse deadlines are always met. 

Written communication

‘Saludos cordiales’ are the most formal type of greeting that you should use when signing off formal work emails. (Unsplash)

E-mail is the primary communication method, but WhatsApp is also a common channel for fast responses. E-mail communication should always be conducted in formal language.

When sending an email, always use “Saludos” as a closing expression, followed by your name. If you’re writing  to a senior executive and prefer to convey a more formal tone, end with “Saludos cordiales.”

Hierarchy

Social hierarchies are held in high esteem in Mexico. If your counterpart is senior to you, address the other person formally using their official title and surname until an invitation is extended to use a less formal form of address — usually the person’s first name. One invitation of this type refers to a person using the informal pronoun “tú” instead of the formal “usted,” a practice described by the verb “tutear” — literally, “tú-ing.” If your counterpart uses “tú” in addressing you, they will expect you to do likewise immediately.

Because hierarchy is important to Mexicans, it is considered disrespectful not to have an executive on your negotiating team. Try to make sure an executive always attends decision-making meetings. 

Gabriela Solis is a Mexican lawyer turned full-time writer. She was born and raised in Guadalajara and covers business, culture, lifestyle and travel for Mexico News Daily. You can follow her lifestyle blog Dunas y Palmeras.

3 COMMENTS

Have something to say? Paid Subscribers get all access to make & read comments.
The skull fossil known as Chimalhuacan Man It's black with some filled-in holes in the skull with an orange substance that may be plastic or clay.

Prehistoric human skeleton ‘Yotzin’ could be oldest from Valley of Mexico

0
The nearly complete skeleton is at least one of the oldest, and could indeed be the oldest human remains ever found in the Valley of Mexico.
Knife sharpener on his bike

Who are the traditional vendors that soundtrack Mexico’s streets?

1
The art of knife sharpening in Mexico is fading, but the whistle of the tradesman still plays an important role in the city's soundtrack.
5 human bones, many of them femurs, in a cardboard box. They're among many ancient artifacts found on the island located in Lake Patzcuaro, Michoacan.

Ancient artifacts found near island of Janitzio in Lake Pátzcuaro

0
A cleanup effort of drought-stricken Lake Pátzcuaro led to the discovery of a pre-Columbian canoe, human remains and other ancient artifacts.