Country Focus: Intercultural Nuances of Doing Business In & With Mexico

Chilies, corn, chocolate, and culture…Mexico has it all.  Mexico city is built upon the ancient Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan and is one of the largest cities of the world. Mexico itself has the 11th largest economy in the world and shares the second largest border in the world with the United States. John Rice, President & CEO of General Electric Growth and Operations, cites that one of the most compelling reasons to do business in Mexico is the “opportunity and quality of the people” and the fact that you “can find just about anything here.”

While many of Central America’s customs and cultural traditions mentioned in previous articles are also shared in Mexico, including responsibility to the group, traditional gender roles, communication patterns, business practices (meetings, negotiations, etc.), Mexico itself has a unique culture apart from these shared characteristics.

A primary figure featured throughout Mexico is the Virgen de Guadalupe, who is a symbol of unity between the Aztec and Spanish cultures. She also serves as a symbol for Mexican nationality. The Catholic Church has a strong presence in Mexican society (90% of the population) and also serves to reinforce social hierarchy. One’s role in the social structure, and the presence of responsibility to extended members of family (which, as a business associate, you are attempting to become part of) give a sense of stability to life. Because hierarchy and reputation go hand in hand, it is also important as a high-ranking business professional not to cause humiliation by publicly criticizing; remember to try and preserve relationships.

Not only is Mexico one of the United State’s largest exporters, but Mexico also has the largest upper middle class of all Latin American countries. John Farrell, Country Director of Google, notes that Mexico has a “young population” which will result in a large workforce in the future.

Other nuances of Mexican culture include:

  • The “thumbs up” hand gesture generally means approval.
  • The “thumbs down” hand gesture is seen as obscene and vulgar.
  • Though taxi drivers are not generally tipped; tips for drinks and food in Mexican restaurants is about 15%, perhaps more in tourist cities.
  • When making appointments in Mexico, make them approximately two weeks prior to your arrival, via e-mail or phone, then confirm a week before your arrival.
  • Genuine cantinas in Mexico are visited by men, a woman’s presence is considered scandalous.
  • Do not drink the tap water, except where officially noted; this applies to ice as well.
  • Lunch is the main meal of the day and can be an extended affair; business lunches are popular.
  • Business meals are not typically the time to make business decisions.
  • The most common toast in Mexico is ¡salud! to health and prosperity.

¡Salud! to your business plans in Mexico!

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