Business hours, lunch meetings, proper attire. All of these are important issues to consider before you head to Mexico to start up operations or even for a one-time business trip. Understanding the ins and outs of Mexican culture can go a long way. Following are some guidelines to help you and your company enjoy success south of the border.
Most companies keep their doors open between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. This varies slightly, however, depending on the industry and location. Factories often operate around the clock, with three eight-hour shifts rotating in and out.
Lunch is the biggest meal of the day in Mexico, and many employees take a long break for it. Eating between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. is the norm in most cities. If you’re invited out for a business lunch, expect it to last at least two to three hours. You’ll be served a variety of courses, including soup, a main dish, and a dessert. Be prepared to talk about many topics besides business. Mexicans often discuss conceptual ideas during a lunch meeting and may even make a deal, but by and large the time is used to get to know each other.
Breakfasts, which generally start around 8:30 a.m., are another popular time for business meetings. These are usually more productive than lunches. Expect to see files and charts pulled out, with deals proposed and closed.
Supper in Mexico is served later in the evening, beginning at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. This meal is usually light and not a common time for business to be discussed. If you’re invited out for dinner, it will most likely be a strictly social event.
Most meetings in Mexico do not follow a bullet-pointed list (even if one is handed out). Generally speaking, Mexicans tend to be creative and prefer not to be tied to a strict agenda. Don’t be surprised if the meeting seems long or you feel the group is getting sidetracked. Meetings may take longer than anticipated, but they do usually end with important decisions being made and carried out.
When you get together with company officials in Mexico, be aware that hierarchy plays an important role in the business structure. Most of the big decisions are made by top executives. If you meet with lower-level managers, you may find that senior officers override the decisions made. Also, if top executives of the company in Mexico are coming to the meeting, you won’t want to send business people from your end with a lower status; those receiving them will feel offended.
Relationships are vital to Mexico’s culture, and this carries into the work environment. When introduced to someone, it is customary to shake their hand. Men that know each other may even embrace or pat each other on the back. A kiss is sometimes exchanged between men and women, although it is considered polite to let the woman make the first move. Women who know each other often exchange a kiss on the cheek.
To make a good first impression, start by shaking hands. Then work on building friendships with the people you’ll be working with. For the most part, Mexicans don’t believe in doing business with strangers. If they do not feel comfortable around you, your chances of closing a deal will plummet. Ask them about their family, their country, and customs, however, and you’ll be on your way to building a lasting business relationship.
What to Wear
If you’re headed to Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey, or another major city in Mexico, dress conservatively. Dark suits and formal ties are considered proper business attire. For women, business suits and skirts are well-accepted.
If you plan to visit a tropical area, such as Acapulco, Cancún, or Veracruz, you can pack slightly less formal attire. Smart-looking khakis and button-down shirts are generally accepted in these areas. For business meetings, avoid wearing open-toe sandals, shorts, or beach shirts. If you’re not sure what to wear, it is better to err on the side of being overdressed. Mexicans place a high value on appearances, and looking businesslike will go a long way.
When you cross the border, remember that you are entering a different culture. Treat others with respect and it will come back to you tenfold.