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Expats doing business in Argentina will quickly learn that this South American country values personal relationships and seniority. It also identifies more with its European roots than the Latin American influence in the country.
Argentina's economy hasn't been the most stable historically, yet it is still one of the largest economies in South America. Its primary industries are in services and manufacturing, agriculture, information and communication technology (ICT) and tourism.
Traditionally, the workday in the provinces of Argentina is from 8:30am to 8pm, with a three to four hour siesta in the middle of the day. The labour law states that people can work a maximum of eight hours a day, and 48 hours per week.
Spanish is Argentina's official language, but there are some differences between the Spanish spoken in Argentina and in Spain. Businesspeople in Argentina can typically speak English, more so in large cities like Buenos Aires than in outlying areas. Business is conducted in Spanish, and expats who do not have a good grasp of the language will need an interpreter. Business cards should be Spanish on one side and English on the other. It should be presented so that the Spanish side faces the recipient.
Appearance is important in the Argentine business world. It is therefore essential to look stylish and presentable. Argentinian dress code varies depending on the type of business meeting and industry. Business attire is usually formal and conservative. Men should wear dark business suits with ties and women should wear business suits or dresses.
Gift-giving in Argentina is not as common as in other cultures. If given, a gift should be something of high quality and not something that could be misconstrued as a bribe. A bottle of imported spirits is a gift that is often appreciated, as tax on spirits in Argentina is high. Gifts are opened immediately when they are received.
A simple handshake with eye contact is the preferred business greeting in Argentina. The oldest or most senior associate should be greeted first. Keep in mind that Argentines typically keep close physical contact when speaking to someone.
It is important to address people using their titles and surnames rather than first names, particularly in more formal settings. Level of education is also significant in Argentina. Before meeting someone, it is advisable to know something about their education.
Women have equal rights in Argentina, but there are generally more men in senior roles than women. The machismo culture also impacts the way women are treated in business. It is common for women to be subjected to supposedly harmless everyday sexism in the workplace; men in Argentina are known to deliver lewd comments. In many corporate cultures, efforts are being made to wipe out this behaviour, but it still happens occasionally.
Business culture in Argentina
Argentinians are generally family-orientated people, which translates into the way they conduct business. Close, personal relationships are valued, respect is given to older associates and more loyalty is shown to individual people than to companies as a whole.
It is common to hold business dinners in restaurants. Meals are for socialising, and you should avoid talking business unless your Argentinian colleague brings it up. Usually, the person who sets the invitation pays the bill.
It's extremely important for expats to network and build meaningful relationships if they want to succeed in the business world in Argentina. It is common for business meetings to begin with small talk and for relationships to be nurtured over time. Interestingly, nepotism and name-dropping are not frowned upon and even though it might feel strange at first, expats should feel free to use both these tools to their advantage.
Argentines are quite expressive and emotive in their communication, and gestures, tone of voice and body language are used extensively in conveying meaning. Direct communication is also normal, and Argentines are known to ask questions that some may consider personal. They may even be disappointed if not asked these kinds of questions as well.
Interrupting others while conversing is also common, and is viewed as a demonstration of interest in the conversation. Also, if there are multiple people in a conversation, Argentines may speak louder to be heard. Raised voices are the norm and do not necessarily indicate agitation.
This expressiveness means Argentines use many gestures to bring their point across. Personal space is virtually non-existent, and touching another person’s arm or back is a common and widely accepted practice. Maintaining eye contact while talking to someone is believed to show a sense of honesty and interest in the person who is speaking.
Argentinian society, in general, is rather status-conscious, and local business structures tend to be hierarchical. Decisions are made at the top level of the company. This makes business move slowly because decisions often require several layers of approval. Expats should show respect to those in positions of authority.
Argentinian companies can be described as having 'relationship-driven hierarchies'. It is therefore crucial to develop close, personal relationships before starting to do business with Argentines. Engaging in courtesy discussions and going for lunch or dinner with a business partner are great ways to socialise and build a strong relationship.
When arranging a business meeting in Argentina, it is necessary to make an appointment one or two weeks before the intended meeting. The meeting should be confirmed a few days before the date. Appointments should be made by email or telephone, but meetings should always be face to face, as telephonic meetings or written communication are seen as overly impersonal.
Argentines are generally punctual when it comes to business engagements, and expats should always be on time for meetings. Punctuality shows respect for the other person’s time. That said, meetings are often started with some small talk to break the ice, and it's not uncommon for first meetings to focus solely on getting acquainted. Jumping right into discussing business may seem impolite. Conversations are frequently punctuated with laughter and off-topic interruptions, so they may not end on time. It's best to be patient because displaying a sense of urgency may be viewed with mistrust or rudeness. It's also a good idea to have any documents available in both English and Spanish.
Dos and don’ts of doing business in Argentina
Don’t use one finger to point, but rather use the whole hand
Do make an effort to learn Spanish; it will go a long way with Argentine co-workers
Don’t raise topics relating to Argentina’s past and present political issues
Do arrive on time for meetings
Don't be in a rush; building relationships and doing business in Argentina are one and the same
Do use titles, and use Señor or Señora to address colleagues if their exact title is not known
Do show respect to those in positions of authority
Don’t be afraid to socialise with colleagues; it is common for business associates to be friends outside the workplace
Do inquire into the well-being of a colleague’s family, spouse or children
Don't be too informal; be very friendly and even more polite