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Mexico Business Culture Guide

12 | 06 | 2006

Appointment Alert! Making appointments 

  • Mexicans place considerable reliance on personal relationships. Indeed, good personal relationships are the basis of business success in Mexico. Don't confuse these with "contacts", the superficial address-book entries with no established substance that drive so much sales activity at home.
  • This means that homework for the visiting North American businessperson includes securing credible personal introductions to appropriate Mexicans in the organization where he or she wants to do business. These introductions are suitable when arranged by a mutual friend or an appropriate professional. Few activities are more crucial for the North American businessperson.
  • Mexican business hours in the cities are 9:00 a.m. until perhaps 6:00 p.m. Government offices may be open much later, until 9:00 p.m. or more. Lunch is often a key business venue that extends from about 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Senior government people can begin lunch as late as 4:30 p.m.
  • Mexicans seldom work on Saturdays or Sundays. The latter is reserved for family activities.
  • Many Mexicans treat appointments with foreigners as tentative until they know their person is actually in Mexico. Veteran foreign businesspeople call from their hotels on arrival to confirm appointments or send confirming faxes. Either way, they ensure that the secretary knows that they are in Mexico and how to reach them.
  • Punctuality is not always as much of a priority in Mexican business culture. Nonetheless, Mexicans are accustomed to North Americans arriving on time, and most Mexicans in business, if not government, will try to return the favor.
  • Many business meetings in Mexico have an important social component and meetings may take place at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Allow your Mexican counterpart to select the time, but remember that you are at 7,300 feet (Mexico city). Don't schedule breakfast too early.
  • Punctuality is not expected at social events such as parties and dinners. When invited to a party in a Mexican home, arrive at least 30 minutes late.
  • An important word for the foreigner to understand is “mañana”, which literally means "morning" or "tomorrow" or in many cases, simply "later." When one hears that something will happen “mañana”, he might expect it to be accomplished sometime in the near future. One should understand also that a Mexican, not wanting to be unkind, may substitute "mañana" for "no."

Business Dress

  • Dark, conservative, suits and ties are the norm for most men in Mexican business culture. Junior execs in some industries, notably technology, may dress more casually or less expensively. But visitors will seldom err if they adopt conservative ways. Ensure that your shirts are well-pressed and that your shoes are polished to a high gloss.
  • Standard office attire for women includes dresses, skirted suits, or skirts and blouses. In Mexico, femininity is strongly encouraged in women's dress. Women business travelers will want to bring hosiery and high heels. They will also appreciate a light coat for evening wear.
  • The rainy season in Mexico City is typically from May to November. Mexican men do not favor raincoats, but umbrellas are popular. Personal security is a problem in Mexico city today, and both women and men should leave valuable jewelry and watches at home.
  • Generally speaking, Mexicans, regardless of their social class, dress as meticulously as they can afford.
  • Suitable casual wear for men includes pants and a light shirt with a sweater for the sometimes chilly evenings. Women can wear a skirt or a pair of stylish pants.
  • Jeans are acceptable casual wear if they are clean and in good condition.
  • Shorts are never acceptable in Mexico City, except for children.
  • Tennis shoes are never appropriate for business meetings.
  • The guayabera is formal resort wear for men. It is not worn in public in Mexico City except by waiters and other servants.
  • Revealing clothing may be worn only within the confines of a resort.

Welcome Topics of Conversation 

  • We do well to remember that, as North Americans in Mexico, we are visitors and that our hosts will appreciate our respecting their country, their institutions and their culture. In particular, our hosts will usually respond more positively if we demonstrate an enthusiasm in visiting their country and a genuine interest in learning more about it.
  • Visitors who take the time to arrive a day early and see a bit of Mexico before settling into business will be richer in several ways. Certainly they will have interesting things to talk about in their initial discussions with prospective business associates.
    · Welcome first topics of conversation in Mexico include positive comments about the city and the people whom one has encountered. If you have arrived early enough to have visited one of Mexico's spectacular museums or toured the city, there will be many topics that will interest your host.
  • Mexicans are often curious about comparing the relative prices of items sold in Mexico and other countries. Consequently, don't be surprised if you are asked about the price of certain goods in your home country.
  • Sometimes, Mexicans avoid directly saying “no.” A “no” may be really mean “maybe” or “We'll see.” The North American tendency to get down to business and take direct positions can be perceived as rude and pushy.
    • Welcome Topics of Conversation
      • Mexican scenery and landmarks
      • Your immediate surroundings
      • Mexican culture and history
      • Sports--particularly Mexican “futbol” [soccer]
      • The weather [Mexicans do not share the fascination with weather that so many North Americans have. Air pollution in Mexico City is a major problem, and Mexicans are not proud of it. On the other hand, the weather in Mexico City is generally temperate, and the visitor might make pleasant comparisons with the winter back home.]
    • Topics That One Should Avoid in General Include
      • Religion
      • Mexican politics
      • The Mexican-American War and its consequences for Mexico
      • Illegal aliens
      • Comparing Mexico unfavorably to the United States

Addressing others with respect First Name or Title? 

  • First names are reserved for family and closer acquaintances. Follow Mexican business etiquette and wait to be invited before using first names.
  • Professional titles [i.e. “Doctor”, “Profesor”] are an extremely important part of Mexican business protocol. Doctors, professors, engineers, lawyers, CPAs, and architects are always addressed by their professional titles.
  • During initial meetings, use a professional title [i.e. “Ingeniero”, meaning “engineer”] followed by a surname. When you develop a closer acquaintance with a Mexican professional, you may be invited to use the title without the surname.
  • Anyone without a professional title should be addressed by a courtesy title such as “Mr.”, “Mrs.” or “Miss” followed by a surname. If you don't know someone's last name, just use the courtesy title.
    • Mr. = “Señor”
    • Mrs. = “Señora”
    • Miss = “Señorita”
  • Mexican men either carry their father's surname alone or may follow it with their mother's surname. In the latter case, one should address the man by either both names or the father's name alone but never by just the mother's surname.
  • In writing, you'll notice that a Mexican will sometimes reduce his or her second surname to an initial.

Gift Giving (Selecting and presenting an appropriate business gift)

  • Gift giving is not usually a requirement in Mexican business culture. Presenting a small gift, however, will generally be appreciated as a gesture of good will.
  • If you do want to give a gift, be aware that inquiring about what he or she would like to receive as presents can be offensive.
  • If you are invited to a home, there is no obligation to bring a gift. If you would like to reciprocate, an invitation out for a meal is often appreciated.
  • If you do present a gift to your hosts, your thoughtful gesture will be appreciated. Bring candy, flowers, or a souvenir from your home region. An illustrated book about the city you represent is a good choice.
  • According to Mexican folklore, yellow flowers symbolize death, red flowers cast spells, and white flowers lift spells. Ask the florist or another Mexican for help.
  • Appreciated Gifts
    • items with your company's logo [for your initial visit and if appropriate]
    • A bottle of wine or scotch [for subsequent visits]
    • Expensive gifts are seldom appropriate unless a considerable degree of friendship has been established.
    • Secretaries always appreciate receiving a small but thoughtful gift such as a souvenir of your area. It's best to wait until the second or third visit and until she has become a part of your project. Expensive gifts are never appropriate.

Gifts for Children

  • It is also thoughtful to bring a small gift to any child that may be present at a home you visit. Good gift choices for children include:
  • Toys associated with the United States or Canada
  • Appropriate computer related software, if not available in Mexico
  •  If the child is interested in sports, bring a sports team shirt or cap, preferably from your area.
  •  If you're still undecided, ask your Mexican host ahead of time about his or her child's interests. Try to be indirect; again, enquiring about what others would like to receive as a present may be offensive.

Gifts to Avoid 

  • Don’t bring silver. Mexicans are justly proud of their silver which is among the purest in the world. Products made from it win awards world-wide.

What you should know before negotiating 

  • Mexicans prefer to do business only with people whom they "know." The road to knowing a person in Mexico is long and can be arduous, but it begins with a dedication to achieving success in Mexico. Perceptive Mexicans will sense this and extend a hand.
  • Families play a dominant role in Mexican society and are a major influence on individual behavior. Mexican families can be large and blood relationships can be augmented by a man's extended family. It can include college friends, business associates and others. One does well to consider the entire context of his prospect partner. He will also find that many Mexican companies are family-owned or controlled.
  • In Mexican business culture, interpersonal skills such as “fitting in”, cultivating relationships, and, most importantly, winning the favor of others, are sometimes considered more important than professional competence or experience.
  • Because establishing close relationships, trust, and favor are so important in Mexico, one may return many times to Mexico to build these bonds.
  • You’ll find that Mexican business culture has a warm, friendly atmosphere, with a slower pace.
  • For the purpose of discussion, Mexicans are often willing to embrace new ideas and concepts. You may notice, however, very little change in their opinions.
  • Mexicans may look less to rules or laws for guidance in solving problems. Rather, they will look at the particulars of each situation and involve themselves personally in finding a solution.
  • Subjective feelings tend to be the basis of truth in Mexican business culture. Emotional appeals are often effective here, so one can do well to emphasize how your Mexican counterparts will achieve personal satisfaction from your proposal. You may also mention how your proposal will heighten your counterparts' sense of honor and family pride. But remember that Mexicans see many North Americans and are quick to recognize shallow ploys.
  • Empirical evidence and other objective facts will frequently be considered and used by Mexicans with a higher education.
  • Use excellent visuals in your presentations. [Presentations have little value unless and until the Mexican wants to see them. They are no substitute for good relationships.]
  • Negotiations are usually lengthy, and will include a lot of “haggling.” [--although the North American may not perceive it as haggling.]
  • Mexicans avoid directly saying “no.” A “no” is often disguised in responses such as “maybe” or “We'll see.” You should also use this indirect approach in your dealings. Otherwise, your Mexican counterparts may perceive you as being rude and pushy.
  • Be aware that Mexican businesspeople are often well-informed about their counterparts. Before even considering negotiations, you must understand the detail of the proposed venture and have established that you have the authority to act.
  • The appearance and presentation of letters, memos, reports, promotional literature, or any other type of document you present in your business dealings, are considered very important and will be subject to scrutiny.
  • One should never throw documents on the table during a business meeting. This gesture is considered highly offensive.
  • In Mexican business culture, although subordinates are encouraged to give their input, only the highest person in authority [frequently the owner of the company] makes the final decision.
  • When the final decision is made, ensure that it is followed by a written agreement.

Entertaining for business success

  • Breakfast and lunch are good occasions for business meetings. Keep in mind that these meetings are primarily for socializing. Business should be discussed only if the host brings up the subject.
  • The Mexican breakfast [7 a.m. - 8 a.m.] tends to be a heartier meal than in the U.S. or Canada, including foods such as fruit, meat, and eggs. A business breakfast, if progressing well, may last for more than just an hour.
  • Lunch [1:30 or 2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. or later] is the main meal of the day. Business lunches can last several hours.
  • Dinner is usually served around 9:00 p.m. and is usually a light meal.
  • Because of the difference in altitude in Mexico, you'll feel much better if you refrain from heavily eating, drinking, and smoking.
  • You’ll find that Mexicans are warm, hospitable, and treat others with courtesy and respect.
  • A woman alone should not invite a man to a business meal unless he is accompanied a spouse or a colleague.
  • A woman should hold a business luncheon in her hotel restaurant and sign the bill in advance. Otherwise, a Mexican businessman will usually resist allowing her to pay.
  • When paying for a meal at a Mexican restaurant, one should place his cash or credit card directly into the waiter's hand, if possible. Leaving your payment on the table is considered rude.
  • If one is invited to a Mexican home; this is usually not the occasion to discuss business. The Mexican sees the purpose of such a visit as an opportunity to further and expand a pleasant personal relationship. If he wants to discuss business, let him bring it up.
  • Being invited into a Mexican counterpart's home signifies that your relationship has developed from an acquaintance into a friendship. Consider this invitation a big step, since friendship is vital to Mexican business culture and signifies trust--the key element in a successful relationship.
  • At a party, one might give a slight bow to the company as he enters the room. After the host's introductions, greeting and shaking hands with each guest are also customary. Moreover, one is expected to shake hands with each guest when you leave.

Acceptable Public Conduct

  • Men will shake hands during greetings that may become particularly warm between close friends. Women, however, will often pat each other on the right forearm or shoulder. If they are particularly close, women will hug or kiss each other on the cheek.
  • Women should initiate handshakes with men.
  • A gentle grip is all that is required when shaking hands.
  • Mexican men may exchange a sort of bear-hug, called an "abrazo." It follows a simple but defined protocol. If you find yourself in an abrazo, relax, participate--you have arrived.
  • Handshakes at the conclusion of a meeting are intended to affirm what was discussed or agreed to. Your Mexican host will probably walk you to the door or elevator.
  • Conversations occur at a much closer physical distance than you may be accustomed to in the United States. Moving away to establish distance is considered unfriendly. In response, a Mexican will often step forward and close the distance again.
  • Mexican men are warm, friendly, and may initiate physical contact. They often touch shoulders or hold the arm of another. Withdrawing from these affectionate gestures can be perceived as an insult.
  • One useful gesture to learn and use is the “abrazo,” a warm hug accompanied by hearty back-slapping, followed by a handshake. The “abrazo” is used among closer male acquaintances; it is welcomed as a sign of good will, a vital asset in Mexican business culture.
  • Eye contact should be infrequent; avoid looking at others too intently.
  • Some Mexicans use the “psst-psst” sound to get another's attention in public. In Mexican business etiquette, this is not considered rude.
  • Men should avoid putting their hands in their pockets when in public.
  • Putting your hands on your hips signifies that you're making a challenge.
  • Using the Lord's name in vain, especially in public, is considered deeply offensive to Mexicans.
  • Use the index finger when gesturing to indicate height. The whole hand is used to indicate the height of an animal.
  • The “O.K.” gesture with the thumb and index finger is considered vulgar.
  • In a store, Mexicans pay for their purchases by placing the money directly in the clerk's hand, rather than on the counter. Leaving a payment on the counter is generally rude.

Daily Greetings 

  • Morning greeting = “Buenos días”, literally "Good day"
  • Afternoon greeting = “Buenas tardes” "Good Afternoon"
  • Any time greeting = “Hola” "Hello" OR “Cómo esta?” "How Are You?"

 Updated October 18, 2007)


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