Admit it, it’s hard to think of Peru without thinking of Paddington Bear. When some of us were young, we read all the children’s books about Paddington the bear, the bear from “darkest Peru.” It was hard not wanting to go there as a kid.
But, not surprisingly, there is a little more to Peru these days than echoes of the Paddington bear. Peru has a strong and vibrant business environment, which some business travelers may end up visiting. If, as a business traveler, you end up going to Peru, it is good to understand that its culture and typical business practices may be different from what you are used to.
That’s why we took the time to interview Gayle Cotton, author of the book Say Anything to Anyone, Anywhere: 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communication . Ms. Cotton (www.GayleCotton.com) is an expert in cultural communications and president of Circles Of Excellence Inc.
Tips for business travelers heading to Peru
- In Peruvian culture, keep in mind that you are likely to be at a higher altitude than you are used to when in Peru, so give yourself a chance to get used to and prepare for possible altitude sickness.
- As in many other Latin American countries, the concept of “Latin time” prevails. You will find that your Peruvian contacts are more flexible with respect to time than people in many other parts of the world.
- Business dress is the standard in Peru. “Business casual” is generally not considered appropriate attire in Peru.
- Once a friendship has been established, men greet each other frequently with a hug, and women can kiss each other on the cheek. When they greet you with more than a handshake, this is a sign that these people have accepted you.
- Peruvians communicate very closely. When they are close, do not back down, as you will offend them. Men also tend to walk arm in arm with other men, as do women with other women.
- Since Peruvians value personal relationships and relate more to individual business partners than to a corporation, local contact with a third party may be necessary. It may be better to establish the connection through a local mediator, or “plugged in.” They will be able to operate through the various networks that the Peruvian government and companies comprise.
- Personal relationships are often more important than professional competence and experience. Personal identity is based on the social system and the history of the extended family. It is important to build rapport before discussing business, as people tend to be more relationship-oriented than goal-oriented.
- It is best to have your business card printed in Spanish, as making this effort will please your Peruvian contacts. If you have a title like “Doctor,” “Engineer,” or “Professor,” it should be printed on your business card.
- At every level of society, the family is the cornerstone. Relationships define the key areas of trust and cooperation. At the highest levels of society, marriage and relationships solidify political and economic alliances.
- Peruvians belong to a hierarchical culture where authority is expected to be respected; consequently, titles are important and last names can be used. In formal business settings, it’s best to wait until someone invites you to use their names.
- Peruvians are very eager for foreign investment opportunities, so they are likely to welcome you with warmth and openness. Be discreet and diplomatic in business associations. Peruvians tend to be quite indirect in their communication, so if you are too direct they may discount what you have to say.
- A system called ‘cargo’ consists of a series of classified offices, each of which has specific functions. Participation in the charging system is essential to validate status and wealth in the eyes of the community, and to give an individual a sense of security.
- Avoid changing your company representatives during the negotiation process as Peruvians relate to the person they have met, not the organization.
- Although bartering occurs frequently in many Latin American countries, this is not necessarily the case in Peru. When talking about prices, “I’m thinking” is a common gesture conveyed by touching the head with the fingers.
5 key conversation topics
- It is considered appropriate to talk about family and children when they meet.
- Discuss local traditions and cuisine.
- Talk about the places you have seen in Peru, like Machu Picchu
- Show an appreciation for the richness of Peruvian history, art, and culture.
- Mention the food and restaurants in the particular area you are visiting.
5 key conversation taboos
- Inquire about a person’s ancestry, especially if they are Indian
- The Peruvian government and politics
- Terrorist activity or drug trafficking
- Criticisms of Peru or Peruvian forms
- Prices that have been paid for Peruvian items
Important things to know about the decision-making process
- During business negotiations, be prepared to discuss all aspects of the contract at the same time, rather than discussing individual aspects point by point. Also, be prepared for seemingly irrelevant data to be reviewed and revised again. Try to be as polite as possible, ask questions, and avoid confrontations.
- Although many people may be involved in your meetings, the final decision is likely to be made by the highest-ranking manager present. Consequently, it is important to defer to that person and cultivate a relationship with them.
Advice for women
Peruvian women have come a long way in the business world. However, men still conduct most of their business. For this reason, businesswomen should dress and act professionally and be patient with whatever machismo attitude they may encounter.
- Body language and gestures tend to be demonstrative and expressive, as is typical in many Latin American cultures.
- Refrain from directing someone to approach you by opening your hand and moving your finger or fingers towards you, as this can be considered rude or even obscene. Instead, move your fingers back and forth with your hand toward the ground.
- Crossing the legs while resting the ankle of one leg on the knee of the other is considered inappropriate. It is better to cross your legs at the knee.
- When eating with Peruvians, it is considered appropriate to rest both hands on the table.