In Latin America, kisses on the cheek are natural, cultural accompaniments to almost all salutations and farewells.
Cheek kissing is a way of showing familiarity and respect, even when people are not well acquainted with each other. However, each Latin American (LatAm) country has its own particular (largely unwritten) rules of conduct when it comes to this piece of etiquette, and applying Chilean greeting rules when meeting a colleague in Brazil or a business prospect in Argentina may cause the unwitting transgressor a good deal of embarrassment, not to mention a squandered potential client.
To kiss or not to kiss? A guide to greetings by region
To help you avoid an embarrassing situation, we’ve put together a handy guide, below, outlining the greeting etiquette basics for major regions throughout LatAm. Note that these are general guidelines; customs can vary based on a variety of factors, so it’s important to do the relevant research before traveling to your LatAm destination of choice.
Launching a business in LatAm
Now that we’ve covered the calculus of greetings, apply the same principle to launching a company in LatAm: A business idea that would be brilliant in Mexico might not resonate with a Nicaraguan or Bolivian audience. The same goes for business practices and customs: There is no hard and fast rule that applies to every LatAm country.
For businesses eagerly looking to expand to LatAm, a business coach with specific expertise is necessary for building a sustainable, strong presence in the region.
Tech is booming
Opportunities for growth in Latin America are huge, particularly in the tech sector. LatAm is the world’s fastest-growing region in terms of Internet usage, with connectivity increasing by 26% in recent years. Smartphone usage is expected to continue growing at a rate of 25% across the region.
However, different markets across LatAm have their own distinct characteristics. For example, in Argentine cities, public transportation is commonly used, so transit apps are popular. Brazil’s public transit infrastructure isn’t as highly developed, but mobile usage and traffic jams are widespread, so the Waze traffic app has really taken off. Understanding regional differences like these is crucial for a successful launch in LatAm.
Young, digital and social
Latin America’s young, digital native population are huge consumers of social media: According to data from an April 2014 comScore study, users in Uruguay spend 13.9 hours per month on social networks, those in Brazil spend 12.6 hours and Argentine users spend 9.3 hours (contrasted to an average of 7 hours per month in the U.S.).
However, users in different countries engage within social platforms in different ways. Brazilians and Peruvians tend to be more responsive on social media, for example, while other countries aren’t as vociferous.
Where to start? Depends on your goals
Just as greetings vary from country to country, there’s no one-size-fits-all prescription for entering the LatAm market. In fact, each country has its own distinct features that influence strategies for launching successful businesses.
Mexico, for example, tends to be very focused on the U.S. and interested in copying trends from its northern neighbor. In Colombia and Peru, by contrast, local flavor is extremely important, and U.S. knockoffs often won’t cut it. And while some markets are friendly to English speakers, it’s imperative to speak Spanish to succeed in Chile.
Being ignorant of cultural customs and greetings can be a social nightmare — but it can also affect your business. To find success in Latin America, companies need a local guide to let them know about regional customs and expectations, and — of course -– the right number of kisses to exchange.