First meetings with Argentine business partners are usually characterized by a high degree of courtesy, respect and esteem. A similar demeanor will be expected from you as well.
You will also be treated very warmly as Argentineans are very relationship-oriented. They do not distinguish between the personal and the factual or professional level and hence do not keep their distance. Private life is an integral part of professional life and people will naturally talk about personal matters or you will even be invited home to an asado, a typical Argentinian barbecue.
If you are new to the country, you will most likely really enjoy this spontaneous cordiality and will feel very welcome in Argentina right from the very beginning. However, you might also be somewhat overwhelmed by the Argentineans’ very personal approach. Try to stay open and relaxed anyway.
It is very important for your business success that you get involved on a personal level with your Argentinian partners or colleagues. People will want to get to know you as individual before doing business with you. In Argentina, business relationships only work if personal relationships also work! Contracts and agreements, on the other hand, are regarded more as rough guidelines. What really counts is good interpersonal contact.
In Argentina, people talk with their whole bodies. When greeting you, it is therefore possible that the person opposite you will not only firmly shake your hand but will also pat you on the shoulder or press your forearm with their left hand. This is all part and parcel of the Argentineans’ heartfelt nature.
Women greet each other with kisses on their left and right cheeks. Men are also more likely to kiss women’s cheeks than shaking hands.
A few words in Spanish will quickly win over the Argentineans.
Forms of address
Regarding the form of address, Argentineans will quickly switch to the informal “you”; in the Argentinian Spanish, this translates to using “vos” and first names. Since your business meeting will probably be in English, “you” and first names are likely to be used anyway.
Your business cards should look professional. It is not necessary to have new business cards in Spanish specially made; you’ll be fine with English ones.
In Argentina, social status is very important, and people are very class conscious. Argentineans have a keen sense of which class someone belongs to; for example, whether they belong to the upper or lower middle class. It all depends on which schools you went to, which sport you play and which clubs you belong to. These subtle differences will probably only become apparent to you after you have spent some time in the country. However, right from your first contact you should bear in mind that social hierarchies play an important role in Argentinian business life.
Networking is also very important. In Argentinian companies, many employees have known each other since their time at school or university. With your business contacts, pay attention to who is connected to whom and how – this can make your work a lot easier.
Argentineans are a very proud people with a great sense of national identity, yet their relationship with their own country is ambivalent. Argentina is still regarded as an emerging country and is strongly oriented towards the USA and Europe. The majority of the population has European ancestors and contact with their country of origin is often maintained. For Europeans, this is a good starting point for communication. But always meet your Argentinian partners on an equal footing.
In your first conversations with your Argentine business partners, you should keep in mind two basic concepts that are of great importance in the Argentinian business culture: simpatía and buena presencia.
Simpatía stands for mutual esteem and embraces a very personal and cordial way of dealing with each other – both with friends and business partners. Argentineans strive for harmonious coexistence and avoid conflicts as best they can. They are therefore very cautious with criticism, especially in their professional lives. Even in controversial matters, it is important to protect the other person from losing face in order not to endanger the simpatía. Argentineans attach great importance to praise and recognition, so go ahead and say it if you really like something. This is a great way to meet the Argentineans’ need for harmony.
The buena presencia describes both personal appearance and appropriate behaviour, especially in professional life. A buena presencia, i.e. a good appearance, requires first and foremost a rather conservative, very proper clothing. Men wear suits and ties as well as high-quality shoes that are always perfectly shined.
Argentinian women dress in a feminine and elegant style, in skirt suits or skirts and blouses. They are usually also very carefully made up and like to wear jewelry. However, leave expensive heirlooms at home; for safety reasons, people in Argentina only wear high-quality costume jewelry.
The buena presencía is intended to underline one’s social status, but also to evoke simpatía – and thus make an all-round successful impression.
A third concept that is helpful for understanding Argentine business culture is machismo. Macho behavior is often considered to be very negative. However, machismo is actually seen as the appreciation of women. One could say that Argentine men see their behavior towards women as much more gentlemanly than elsewhere. That equality for women in Argentina is generally not as advanced as in other countries can be seen, however, from the fact that there are much fewer women in management positions and that the distribution of roles between men and women is still rather conservative.
If you travel to Argentina as a woman, you will find that men will gladly hold the door open for you, offer you a free seat or relieve you of anything heavy. Also, an Argentinian would never let you walk on the side of the sidewalk that faces the road. As a woman, you must always walk on the inner side so that you are safe from traffic. Try to accept these small attentions even if you are uncomfortable with this special treatment. If you insist too much on your equality in Argentina, this will certainly jeopardize simpatía and you will offend your new Argentinian business partners.
Make sure to be aware of simpatía and buena presencia during your first business meeting in Argentina and that you understand what machismo is all about. Get to know your counterparts well; this will certainly pay off for your further business development in Argentina.