Mexican Business Culture
Mexico is an attractive low-cost manufacturing location due to fiscal stability, steady rates of growth, political stability and proximity to the United States. It is the second-largest country in Latin America, in geographical, numerical and in economic terms. Mexico City is the world’s largest city and has a population of more than 20 million people and an estimated greater metropolitan area population of 32 million. Mexico’s two other major cities, Guadalajara and Monterrey, both have exploded from being relatively small cities to having populations of approximately 5 million and well over 3 million, respectively. Monterrey is Mexico’s major industrial city, while Guadalajara is one of North America’s most commercially vibrant. Understanding the country's culture is one of the keys to successfully doing business in Mexico.
Mexican Social Organization
Family ties in Mexico are significantly stronger than those in the U.S. Family always takes primacy over work, as well as over all other aspects of life. Family in Mexico is also broader—while the family in the U.S. consists of a spouse and children (and occasionally ones’ parents), in Mexico, family ties are equally strong for kinship relationships such as cousins, in-laws, uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces, as well as godparent relationships. This has a comprehensive consequence on Mexican-U.S. business communication, as the preponderance of Mexicans define themselves as belonging to a particular family; the majority of people in the U.S. define themselves by what they do for a living. The effect of family on business in Mexico, however, goes much further than self-definition. Family ties provide access to business ventures, to favorable terms in negotiations and to access to people in power in Mexico. This results in many Americans in Mexico not being able to reach people in power in Mexico because they do not have the connections.
Gender Roles in Mexico
Genders roles more evidently differentiated in Mexico than in the U.S.
While gender distinctions are more strongly demarcated in Mexico than in the U.S., Mexico is experiencing modifications as well. Many Mexican women are progressively more active in professional settings. Many Mexicans are also increasingly accustomed to the large number of women in the U.S. and Canada in leading business positions and have become more and more familiar with working with foreign businesswomen in positions of authority.
Mexico’s Business Culture
Never confuse geographic proximity with cultural proximity. Although the three countries that make up North America are physically close, Mexico is simply a different country with a different history, and, thus, a different culture and way of doing and viewing things. For a business to attain success when choosing to manufacture in Mexico, adapting to the Mexican culture is of imperative importance. Personal relationships made, and maintained, are necessary for business achievement—it is not uncommon to become familiar with not only the potential business partner, but also with their families. Business and pleasure is often mixed, Mexican business professionals often invite associates and their families to their homes over weekends, during which they can talk informally and develop stronger social bonds. Doing business is not just about making money through impersonal organizations in Mexico. It is important to note that trust is very essential, and doing so takes time and effort to develop.
It is critical to respect Mexican business associate’s logic of time and traditions; negotiations may not begin at the first, or even a second meeting. Very often business discussions will not commence until the last five minutes of a lunch, and serious business dinners are rare. It is appreciated when people take an interest in Mexico—knowledge of culture, history, art and museums in the country is appreciated. Mexican businessmen are well informed and well prepared, so it’s important to be equally well informed and prepared.
Timeliness is common for arrival to business meetings. One must start by offering your business card and taking time to become familiar with your partner’s name and title, as titles are very important. Business entertainment is usually very time consuming; lunches usually begin around 2:00-3:00pm and can last 3 to 4 hours with little time devoted to actual business discussion. It is not uncommon to have meetings over breakfast as well, but those usually only last a maximum of two hours. The normal business hours are between 0900 and 1800.
Dress Code for Business in Mexico
The Mexican business dress is very conservative; both men and women will wear suits in a formal business setting. It is important to present yourself as professional and polished even in informal settings. This can be accomplished by building your casual clothing with grey, blue, camel, white and ivory. Jeans are rare except for manual work.
Nonverbal Communication Mexican Style
Body language can be easily misconstrued. Standing with your hands on your hips suggests aggressiveness and hands in your pocket is impolite. Mexicans may not make eye contact, but this is considered a sign of respect and should not be taken as otherwise.
Personal space in Mexico is very different from that of the U.S. The average workplace distance while standing face-to-face between two people in the U.S. is roughly arm’s length. While regional differences are notable in Mexico, the average distance is approximately three to four inches closer than in the U.S. Most workplace touching in the U.S. is limited to the handshake. Mexican touching behavior is considerably more extensive, such as back patting; greeting hugs between men as well as women, and handshakes using both hands often reaching to the upper arm. Pulling away from a touch is considered insulting.
Mexico is a High Context Culture
Mexico is typically referred to as a high context culture and as a result Mexicans place a strong prominence on how a message is said rather than on the words used alone. Messages are also understood in terms the communicators’ relationship with one another. This affects the significance for social propriety and formality in official situations.
Due to the high context culture, it is necessary to build a personal relationship when conducting business with Mexicans. Without the context of a personal relationship, little, if any, communication can take place effectively. Again, remember that personal relationships that engender trust are of high value.
Mexican behavior is more likely to be regulated by individual interpretations. As a result, personal understandings are more obligatory than contracts. Contracts in Mexico are often seen as the beginning of a relationship that can be subject to change as the business progresses. This contrasts to the view of low context cultures in which the contract is viewed as not subject to change.
When doing business in Mexico, as is the case with in any other place in the world, having a handle on the cultural particularities of doing business there will enhance chances for success in the formation of strong, profitable and mutually beneficial partnerships and ventures.