Cultural differences play a vital part in international trade. No matter how prepared you are regarding the presentation on your company and products, your attitude and words will be interpreted in different ways in the various markets out there. Oftentimes things like temperature, dress code, and even simple conversations can lead to embarrassment, which can send your contract up to smokes.
If you are interested in business with South America, plan your visit way ahead of time and take the "Latin way" into consideration. Although "they look all the same down there", as we heard in our interactions with North American executives, there are some peculiarities you should keep in mind, depending on where you go.
Some factors to consider about Brazil:
- Visa Requirements: United States citizens do require a visa for Brazil. Full information can be obtained at: the Brazilian Embassy. Check the information carefully, and submit your request way ahead of your travel, as sometimes this service can be slow.
- Time and Meetings: Time in Brazil is relative, and you may expect delays in meetings to start. In large cities, like Sao Paulo and others in the South of Brazil, traffic is bad, but you may find punctuality being expected. It is highly advisable to fix appointments with two to three weeks in advance, and a good idea is to do this through a consulting company (introduction in Brazil is important). Candex has a host of services to assist you in this. Meetings should be fixed 2 hours apart. For ex., if you are in Sao Paulo, a maximum of 4 visits to companies should be arranged. Yes, you need a driver-interpreter, even if your contact tells you “they speak good English”. Try to be very polite with assistants or secretaries, as they tend to be the “gate keepers”, determining who talks first with the decision makers. Avoid the Carnival period, which happens at the end of February – beginning of March. Most people say that Brazil is in business only after Carnival. The country also has a lot of local/national holidays.
- Dress Code: A suit and tie is a must in business meetings (preferably of gray and blue shades). Brazilians follow the European style of formal dressing. Outside of big cities you may meet contacts who are not dressing formally, but visitors are expected to wear them. If invited for lunch by the executive you are visiting, do go formal, and usually the rule is: “he/she who invites pays”. Out of courtesy, you may offer to pay (never share!), but you will see the Brazilian executive say no. Don’t insist, as this is rude there. If invited for dinner, you may use suit and tie, but remember that dinner in Brazil is late in the evening (and they like to eat big and talk about soccer, arts and you are well off to appear interested!). The food there is one of the best in the world.
- First Name?: Although people in Brazil to be more informal than the others in South America, do not move too quickly to first name. Not until you are asked to do so. A curious aspect is people getting mixed up with your first and last name. Suppose your name is John Brown, you may hear people call you “Mr. John”. And they are being formal. They do not always introduce themselves using the last, but the first name, and it is very common to precede that by the title of Doctor, particularly if you are talking to a senior executive. If no professional tiles are given, just address them “Senhor” (men) or “Senhora” (women). For example, Dr. Jose Lopes, is just “Dr. Jose”. This does not mean the person you are talking to has a doctorate degree, but it is a sign of respect. Lawyers and government officials are always called Doctor. Brazilian Portuguese is the most spoken language in South America (Brazil’s population is larger than surrounding countries’ combined). English is perceived as the business language, after Portuguese. Never “assume” that someone speaks Spanish, because Brazilians don’t like the comparison with Argentina. You may ask though, if Spanish is ok, and they will gladly consent. But never “assume Brazil speaks Spanish”.
- Negotiation Etiquette: As in the case mentioned above, Brazilians like to do business at a slower pace, and usually like to chat a little bit to “get to know the person they are dealing with”. They have a warm temperament and tend to get closer and touch, while talking. If interrupted, don’t be offended; this is how they communicate. Be prepared to do several follow up trips to visit prospects. They are slow in responding e-mails and other communications, while your may wonder if they are ignoring you. In fact, they may be right now working on your proposal, and trying to decide, but rarely will send you an interim note to say that (while you wonder). That’s why you may need to have assistance from a good local consultant to keep communication flowing. Brazilians take a long time to decide. But when they do, they want to close the deal “yesterday”. Like in the USA, do your due diligence. Get a lawyer, and discuss all aspects before signing a contract. Brazilian laws are very complicated, and you don’t want verbal “assumptions” to become part of the deal. In a culture that relies a lot on “personal touch”, this can happen easily!
It will be a pleasure for us at Candex to assist you with more questions and needs in your preparation to visit South America. Send us an E-mail