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Business Etiquettes in Guatemala

Meeting & Greeting

A handshake, although not a firm one, is the common form of greeting. Men may lightly kiss a woman on the cheek in greeting, but this is reserved for women they know well. It is considered polite to stand when greeting someone. Upper-echelon businesspeople use business cards regularly.

Conversations about family, travels and hobbies are appropriate. When you mention your own family, it's best to present the image of a loving household. Guatemalans are close to their own families and often continue to live with their parents well into their 30s.

People of high social status will use the informal Tu or Vos when they address visitors but will expect the visitor to reply with more-formal language as a sign of respect. It is best to address everyone in the Usted, which is the formal tense. Anyone who represents authority (even being older is considered authority) of any kind should be addressed as Don or Senor for men or as Senora for women. Women older than 50 may be referred to as Nina: Although it literally means "girl," in this case it is a term of respect.

Guatemalans, like all Latinos, have two first names and two surnames, one each from their mother and father – for example, Jose Carlos Benitez Juarez. If you are unsure which name to use, just ask, prefacing the question politely by saying, "This is a new culture to me and I am unsure of what to say…."

Single female visitors will be asked out for dinner or drinks by their Guatemalan male counterparts. Married businesswomen, if their husbands are not along for the trip, will receive the same treatment. A lone woman is considered single no matter how attached she may be at home. This is part of the infamous Latin machismo. It is not uncommon for single businessmen to be offered escorts or outright prostitution. Married businessmen can expect much of the same. Saying no to any of this does not usually change the outcome of a business deal.

Business Meetings

It is considered a sign of importance to have a secretary or intermediary of some sort. Carry a cell phone and tell your hosts to bypass your intermediary and to call you directly. They will most likely call the intermediary as a formality, but giving personal information such as your cell phone number is a sign of mutual trust and respect. Appointments should be made a few days in advance. Be early for appointments, but expect your counterparts to be late, sometimes very late.

At meetings, the most important people will be introduced first, and each will give a short speech. Visitors will always be expected to stand when introduced, to wish the other attendees a good day and then to make brief remarks about why they are in Guatemala. This is a good time to mention your family. It is generally best to avoid discussing politics, although your hosts are likely to ask you about your views. Avoid criticisms of human rights abuses by the Guatemalan government before, during and after the civil war. Keep in mind that Guatemala is unique in Central America not only for its mix of cultures, but also because it has traditionally had a military second in strength only to Mexico. In fact, Guatemala has gone to war a few times over Mexico's southwestern Chiapas region, which was once part of Guatemala.

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