Cultural Tips for Doing Business in Peru

Paddington Bear statue in Peru
Art DiNo/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Admit it, it's hard to think of Peru without thinking of Paddington Bear. When some of us were young, we read all the children's books about Paddington Bear, the bear from "darkest Peru." It was hard not to want to go there as a kid.

But, not surprisingly, these days there's a bit more to Peru than echoes of Paddington Bear. Peru has a strong and vibrant business environment, which some business travelers may end up visiting. If you do, as a business traveler, end up heading to Peru, it's good to understand that their culture and typical business practices might be different from the ones that you're used to.

That's why we took the time to interview Gayle Cotton, author of the book Say Anything to Anyone, Anywhere: 5 Keys To Successful Cross-Cultural Communication. Ms. Cotton (www.GayleCotton.com) is a cultural communications expert and president of Circles Of Excellence Inc.

Tips for Business Travelers Heading to Peru

  • In the Peruvian culture, be aware that you are likely to be at a higher altitude than you may be used to when you are in Peru, so give yourself a chance to get accustomed to it and prepare for possible altitude sickness.
  • Just as in many other Latin American countries, the concept of “Latin time” prevails. You will find your Peruvian contacts to be more flexible about time than people in many other parts of the world.
  • Business attire is the standard in Peru. “Business casual” is not usually considered appropriate attire in Peru.
  • Once a friendship has been established, men frequently greet each other with a hug, and women may kiss one another on the cheek. When you are greeted with more than a handshake, this is a sign that you have been accepted by these people.
  • Peruvians communicate in close proximity. When they stand nearby, do not back away, as you will offend them. Men also often walk arm in arm with other men, as do women with other women.
  • Since Peruvians value personal relationships and relate more to individual business associates than a corporation, a local third party contact may be necessary. It may be best to establish the connection through a local mediator, or “enchufado.” They will be able to operate through the various networks that encompass Peruvian business and government.
  • Personal relationships are often more important than professional competence and experience. Personal identity is based on the social system and the history of one's extended family. Building rapport is important to do before discussing business, as people tend to be more relationship-oriented than goal-oriented.
  • It’s best to have your business card printed in Spanish, since making this effort will please your Peruvian contacts. If you hold a title such as “Doctor,” “Engineer,” or “Professor,” it should be printed on your business card.
  • At each level of society, family is the cornerstone. Relationships define the key areas of trust and cooperation. At the highest levels of society, marriage and relationships solidify political and economic alliances.
  • Peruvians belong to a hierarchical culture where authority is expected to be respected; consequently, titles are important and surnames may be used. In formal business settings, it’s best to wait until someone invites you to use first names.
  • Peruvians are very eager for foreign investment opportunities, so you will likely be received with warmth and openness. Be tactful and diplomatic in business associations. Peruvians tend to be rather indirect in their communication, so if you are too direct, they may discount what you have to say.
  • A system referred to as 'cargo' consists of a series of ranked offices, each of which has specific duties. Participation in the cargo system is essential to validate status and wealth in the eyes of the community, and to give an individual a feeling of security.
  • Avoid switching your company's representatives during the negotiating process since Peruvians relate to the person they have come to know, not the organization.
  • Although bartering is frequently done in many Latin American countries, this is not necessarily the case in Peru. When discussing price, “I'm thinking” is a common gesture that is conveyed by tapping their head with their fingers.

    5 Key Conversation Topics

    • It’s considered appropriate to talk about family and children when getting to know each other
    • Discuss local traditions and cuisine
    • Talk about the sights you've seen in Peru, such as Machu Picchu
    • Show an appreciation of the wealth of Peruvian history, art, and culture
    • Mention food and restaurants in the particular area you are visiting

    5 Key Conversation Taboos

    • Inquiring about a person's ancestry, especially if it is Indian
    • The Peruvian government and politics
    • Terrorist activity or drug trafficking
    • Criticism of Peru or Peruvian ways
    • Prices that have been paid for Peruvian items

    Important Things to Know About the Decision Making Process

    • During business negotiations, be prepared to discuss all aspects of the contract concurrently, rather than discussing individual aspects point-by-point. Also, be prepared for seemingly irrelevant data to be reviewed and re-reviewed. Try to be as polite as possible, ask questions, and avoid confrontations.
    • Even though many people may be involved in your meetings, the most senior manager in attendance will likely make the final decision. Consequently, it’s important to defer to that person and cultivate a relationship with them.

      Tips for Women

      Peruvian women have made great strides in the world of business. However, men still conduct the majority of their business dealings. For this reason, businesswomen should dress and act with great professionalism and be patient with any attitudes of machismo they may encounter.

      Tips on Gestures

      • Body language and gestures are apt to be demonstrative and expressive, as is typical in many Latin American cultures.
      • Refrain from motioning for someone to come near you by opening your hand and moving your finger or fingers toward you as this may be considered rude or even obscene. Instead, move your fingers back and forth with your hand facing the ground.
      • Crossing your legs by resting the ankle of one leg on the knee of the other is considered inappropriate. It’s best to cross your legs at the knee.
      • When eating with Peruvians, it is considered proper to rest both hands on the table.