If you’re going to Chile to do business you’ll find it difficult to get started without third party introductions. January and February are summer months in Chile – the time when most people go on vacation – making those bad months for scheduling business trips. Schedule appointments three to four weeks in advance and call a few days ahead of time to confirm before purchasing travel tickets.
Business hours are normally nine to five, Monday through Friday, with lunch around two. Good times for scheduling meetings are late morning or mid-afternoon. Since business is done slowly in Chile plan on making several trips before the deal is done.
Business dress should be conservative, eliminating bright colors and busy patterns. Low heels for women with dark suits and typical dark suit with white shirt for men are the norm. Wearing lots of jewelry will make you appear vain in this country so select one or two conservative pieces only. Jeans and shirt are fine for public wear but you’ll rarely see adults wearing shorts in this country.
It is not considered rude to interrupt someone while they’re talking; it’s seen as a genuine interest in the conversation. Talk about music, art, sports or interesting trivia from America but never personal questions concerning income, spouse, religion or government positions. Chileans stand extremely close when speaking so don’t be alarmed or back away.
Address someone as they are introduced to you unless they invite you to address them otherwise. Pay close attention to pronunciation. It’s not rude to ask someone to pronounce their name once again, during initial meetings.
Gifts are not usually given at the beginning of a business relationship but may enter the picture later, when a friendship builds between associates. Expensive gifts are often seen as bribes. When invited to a home gifts from your home land, candy or flowers are acceptable. Avoid yellow flowers which are a sign of hatred, and purple or black flowers which are a symbol of death.
When conducting business in Chile have business cards and other paperwork printed in English on one side, Spanish on the other. Make eye contact when handing over your card and make a show of examining your counterpart’s card before putting it away. It will seem much more respectful if you have a business card holder rather than tossing the card into a briefcase.
Kinship is key to developing a business relationship with Chileans. They will rarely conduct business with those who don’t seem to fit in with the group. Business is often based firstly on friendship. Meetings are serious and business-like so save humor for later. Integrity is the main thing that the counterparts will be looking for in you.
Honor is important in Chile and it’s easy to offend someone’s honor if you raise your voice, criticize, or act irritated with another. Since Chileans do not like to offend anyone and they will often tell you what they think you want to hear rather than being up-front with you about something negative.
Women are accepted in the business world but be prepared to have doors opened for you and seats pulled out for you. This is offensive to some women but in Chile it is the proper way to treat a woman. This won’t always be the case since some men have learned to treat a business woman as just another associate.
Table manners are very important while dining in Chile. Fork stays in the left hand, knife in the right. Never switch these. Finger foods are not done in this region so use utensils for everything. Keep hands above the table while dining. In many countries putting your hand(s) in your lap while dining is rude and so it is in Chile, as well. Other no-nos for dining are letting the utensils make a scraping sound against the plate, slurping or smacking lips, or clanging silverware. In many foreign countries a “thank you” is sent formally – handwritten and mailed. In Chile it is proper to simply give the host a phone call within a day or so to thank him personally.
In public, don’t slam a fist into the palm of your hand, raise your fist to head level or higher, or outstretch your arm with palm down and fingers apart. All of these are considered rude or even obscene. If you need to point don’t do so with just the index finger. Use entire hand instead.
You’ll enjoy your stay in Chile where the people are very friendly, if a bit standoffish at first. Try to fit in by following local and regional customs even if they are different from our own. Dress well, speak softly and be knowledgeable and you’ll succeed.