Cultural Differences Between North and South America: The North is Not the South

Well, of course, the north is not the south in any context, certainly not in terms of geography. In terms of doing business, none of us are really interested in geography and distance by itself. What are we interested in? Business! How does the north versus south dynamic impact our international success? Let’s look at north versus south in The Americas. 

No Problem

When I lived in Mexico, I invited staff of the Mexican office over to my house for dinner at six o’clock. Not to have dinner at that time, that would be way too early for the average Mexican, but to have a tequila or two and socialize for a while. Everybody confirmed. At seven, the first colleague showed up, a reasonable one hour late. The last couple arrived around ten o’clock. I asked Hector: ‘Was it hard to find? You didn’t get lost, did you?’ Hector responded: ‘No. No problem at all. Why?’ 

What Is Wrong with These People?

As a Dutchman who lived for more than ten years in Latin America and now for more than ten years in the US, I of course have multiple examples of funny incidents. In fact, the opposite of ‘the Hector incident’ happened when my Venezuelan wife and I moved to Atlanta andCultural Differences Between North and South America 2 invited people over at seven o’clock and some of them showed up at seven. What was the reaction of my wife? ‘What is wrong with these people?!’ 

Below the Surface

What do these somewhat funny incidents really mean? They refer to cultural differences and how these differences impact how people relate to each other. Companies have failed in international expansion because they completely ignored these differences. Just look up Walmart in Germany, the failed Daimler-Chrysler merger, and one close to my experience, the failed KLM-Alitalia merger. In fact, a paper was written with the KLM-Alitalia merger in mind called: ‘A Bridge Requires a Gap.’ Indeed, there is no need for a bridge if you don’t even see that there is a gap. 

Remedy

One of the most difficult things for people in international business is to realize and accept (!) that these cultural differences exist and qualify them as such: differences. Otherwise, we will get stuck in stereotypes and possibly even insults: ‘Why are these guys always late?’ (‘Why are they so strict and manage by the minute?’). The difference in the concept of time is just the tip of the iceberg of cultural differences. The good news is that culture can be measured, and cultural competence can be learned. When doing business across borders, geographical awareness is nice, knowing north is not south culturally speaking, is a must.

Cultural Differences Between North and South America are real. Do not ignore them!

To read other, relevant articles read these:

Cultural Differences in Business + 6 Reasons for Things to go Wrong & How to Fix It

What is Integration and What Integration Problems Do We Face During Culture Shock?

 

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