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

The Mayans of Mexico also inhabited what is now known as Guatemala, labeling it the “Land of Tree;” in fact Guatemala was the first country to have uncovered the ancient ruins of the Mayan astrological calendar computation. So according to the Mayan calendar, we need to make 2012 count! Like Mexico and many countries in this region, Guatemala also adheres to many of the cultural norms outlined in previous articles concerning communication, business practices, hierarchy, meeting etiquette, etc. However, as many countries share similarities, they also differ significantly establishing them as unique cultures.

Like Mexico, the precepts of the Catholic Church give structure to life and have little influence in the government. However, unlike Mexico, Catholicism is not the official religion; over the years, the Church lost popularity amongst the wealthy. The Catholic Church and the family, like Mexico give Guatemalans a sense of structure and consistency throughout Guatemala’s troubled history of revolutions and military coups. Wealth and family give the individual status and security for the future. The general outlook of Guatemalans tends to be fatalistic, accepting their prescribed role in society, though hoping for better futures. Hierarchy here plays a part in the structure of society and tends to be rigid in some respects, such as women’s roles (only women may be charged with adultery) and lax in others, such as interactions between high ranking business executives or government officials and foreign sales people.

Perhaps it is because Catholicism, and consequently precepts of rigid hierarchy, have fallen out of favor with the wealthy (i.e. those in power, executives of companies, high ranking government officials) that reaching high ranking officials is easier than in Mexico, i.e. there are not as many hoops to jump through in Guatemala to see the boss. These executives, however, perhaps because of their rank are not afraid to say what they feel and tend to be open and speak bluntly. Other nuances of Guatemalan business culture is the fact that since Guatemala is a small market, one bad word or opinion of you, or your company, can go a long way, unfortunately. Well, good thing you are reading this…now you have a heads up! When it comes to results or process, the inclination is towards progress. The process itself may take a particularly long time, so as to ease those who are opposed to change into the new situation or processes. Similar to Asian countries, Guatemala is a collectivist country (thinking in terms of the group or family) and Guatemalans are opposed to change for the heck of it; in fact you will find many Asian owned manufacturing companies in Guatemala. When selling to Guatemalans, price may be the single most important factor in the purchasing decision.

Some other unique characteristics of Guatemala:

  • Business is not discussed in a home or around family
  • Loud voices are not met kindly
  • Military clothing is illegal
  • Mexican food is still typically spicier than Guatemalan food

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