Eleonore Breukel is the author of over 100 articles for various business magazines, newspapers and the virtual media.

She co-authored a book on how to do business in 19 countries across the world.

Return to overview.

Working with the Argentines

By Lisa Robinson:Published:

It can be downright baffling to do business with an unfamiliar culture. Unraveling the mystery depends a lot on understanding how your beliefs shape your own view of the world in comparison to how others see it.

To create successful intercultural business relationships in Argentina it will obviously help to understand the Argentine. In essence, doing business with this South American country requires being prepared for the shortest-term planning and knowing how to pick your relationships carefully along with an understanding of many other details.

Buenos Aires brims with the influence of European immigrants who arrived in great numbers during the first half of the 20th century. Streets are lined with Parisian-style architecture, pizza shops and sidewalk cafés, inspired by the predominant immigrant groups from Italy, Spain, Germany and Great Britain. Ornamented Buenos Aires is unlike the rest of the country, where the other two-thirds of the population lives more quietly.

On the whole, Argentines are very analytical. Small talk is of little value to most who may ask direct, personal questions or make contemplative observations early in conversations with most anyone. This is done in a warm, gentle manner as a way of getting to know someone better. They greet visiting business people with interest, curiosity and openness. They'll freely enter into animated, friendly conversation while always maintaining the utmost respect for others.

The lengthy history of political and economic instability makes it difficult for Argentines to have faith that long-term plans will be achieved and therefore, its residents are not planners in business or in personal matters. Bank account policies have changed by surprise, hyperinflation was once a severe problem and governments have changed without warning overnight.

Requesting an appointment one week in advance may elicit the response, "But I don't know what I'll be doing then." Many Argentines will be happy to arrange a meeting with anticipation, but the wise visitor will confirm the event the day before and not be surprised at last-minute changes. Cancellation of business appointments are usually due to uncontrollable circumstances, but many Argentines will reserve the right to alter their personal schedule freely, based on their "ganas" or desires at the moment.

Many Argentines point out the creativity needed to continue operating in a place where circumstances can change so abruptly. As soon as the situation is altered, an Argentine is generally prepared to accept the change as a part of life and carry on, applying intelligence to the situation at hand in order to come up with the best solution.

Honesty and Trust
Argentines are extremely untrusting of others in business. Their first reaction to an offer is not to determine if the other side is lying, but rather, to what extent they're lying. Because of that, most seek to develop business through contacts introduced by a reliable third party.
Many Argentines deal honestly in business, yet one must always be prepared for highly sophisticated scams. Visitors doing business in Argentina should not let this be a deterrent in dealing with Argentines, but they should be aware that high levels of suspicion are commonplace, expected and necessary.

Directness in Discussion
Argentines speak freely, openly, immediately and enthusiastically when discussing an issue. They're quick to criticize another's reasoning at length, yet maintain sincere respect for a person's feelings. During these discussions, an Argentine may include lots of information about issues not directly related to the subject at hand resulting in some "long stories" for those not accustomed to this style.

Questions about one's family, marital status, number of children and even age, are common in business conversations and help the Argentine feel more comfortable with their colleagues. Since the Argentine prefers to build a strong, trusting relationship with a business contact, these questions form part of the process of getting to know each other. Rather than looking surprised at such questions, the visitor should be prepared with an idea of what aspects of their personal life they feel comfortable sharing.

Subdued cultures may be overwhelmed by Argentines as they express great passion, emotion and exaggeration when discussing and negotiating issues. A visitor in the Argentine workplace may misunderstand the severity of a problem or disagreement when an Argentine uses very punctuated gestures, facial expressions, choice of words and tone of voice. Terms like, "disaster, chaos or cry" are common in everyday language. The open and unrestrained expression of emotion, be it melancholy, anger, love or sadness is well seen among Argentines.

When establishing business contacts, the phone is generally avoided in preference to several face-to-face meetings. A business meeting doesn't only serve the purpose of "getting down to work". It also provides a way of joking with colleagues and getting to know each other personally.

Very little in-depth research, reading or planning is done before meetings. Visitors may cringe at what they see as a lack of productivity during the first 30 minutes as participants share personal stories or voice their opinions within several simultaneous conversations. The Argentine, however, doesn't see this as a waste of time, but rather an opportunity to build rapport that will later contribute to a more cohesive and effective team. Turn taking in meetings is not always organized and therefore, it is common to have many people speaking at once, explaining their positions concurrently.

After the 30-minute warm-up, 15-20 minutes may be spent on the real issue at hand and another 15 minutes may be spent wrapping up the meeting in a friendly manner to end on good terms. A visitor's attempt to speed the process up may be seen as too "cold" so those from very fast-paced countries must allow longer than they would at home for meetings.

Meetings will most likely result in a consensus among all present. After discussing the issue at hand, the next step will be agreed upon, but that next step may or may not include realistic goals. Since plans are ultra flexible, this doesn't present significant problems to the Argentine who won't hesitate to realign business strategies as necessary.

Argentina is a class-based society and being categorized as a member of the upper, middle or lower class has significant implications. A person will not only be measured by income, but also by family name, birthplace, neighborhood of residence, names of educational institutions attended and style of speech. Many upper class people will expect members of the lower class to use the formal word for "you" when being addressed and most Argentines, regardless of income, pay great attention to their appearance and spend as much as possible on acquiring symbols of wealth.

The U.S. style of contract writing is common in Argentina, leaving nothing to the imagination. Both sides attempt to assure that no loophole whatsoever is left open fearing that the other side may take advantage of the opportunity to cheat them out of something.

The Client
Customer service has not been a priority traditionally, although that is slowly changing. Monopolies in the market and bureaucratic governmental processes have historically left the Argentine client with no other choice but to wait in long lines and to accept less-than-thorough assistance from those in charge. Only the most basic after-sales service is usually available, but this varies between companies.

Women in Business
Visiting businesswomen should not expect to face any significant challenges when dealing in Argentina. They most probably will be received with a high level of politeness and respect. One should be prepared, however, for frequent touches on the shoulder or arm and perhaps introductory kisses on the cheek, which don't imply anything other than expressions of a culture that interacts very closely amongst each other. These common forms of interaction should not be misinterpreted, but it is important in Argentina for the businesswoman in most fields to remain conservatively professional in her manner and dress.

In reality, the positions that Argentine women hold in the company may vary from those held by expatriate women. The most common role for a woman in a company in Argentina is an administrative one, but Argentine women often hold mid-level management positions, especially in marketing and human resources. Top positions in companies are almost exclusively held by men and in the more traditional Argentine companies it may be difficult to find any women at all in management roles.

When dealing with visitors, Argentines are generally punctual for meetings. Business dinners and evening entertainment start around 9pm and may last until at least 12pm-1am, following the common custom of late-evening dining. Breakfast meetings were once never considered, but now it is very possible to find an Argentine willing to agree.

Due to fierce competition among employees during times of high unemployment, Argentines often start at 8 or 9am and work beyond 7 or 8 pm. It is not uncommon for an Argentine to work the occasional Saturday morning when necessary.

Time off
Time off for vacation starts at 10 days per year for new employees and only increases after multiple years in the company. Education is given great priority in Argentina and therefore, by law, 10 days per year are guaranteed to employees studying for degrees at university, a common situation for people up to their late 20s.

Time away from work is reserved for being at home and eating with extended family and close friends. Argentines don't share their family time with visitors, but do speak openly about their families at work.

The countryside produces high-quality wines, beef, soy, poultry and other agricultural products, composing the majority of Argentina's exports. The economic market in Argentina fluctuates greatly. At the moment, the market is down and the country "risk factor" is extremely high. Many, however, believe that there are plenty of opportunities in agricultural and agri-industrial products. A Dutch businessman in Buenos Aires suggests that one must know how to do business during the high periods and hibernate during the lows.

Regardless of the economic situation, one can always find an animated Argentine happy to converse with any stranger about practically anything - profoundly and emotionally. This expression of feeling combined with the inherent element of surprise in everyday life keeps the businessperson in Argentina engaged and alert. If given a chance, business in Argentina will demand the greatest of patience and creativity, but rewards the adventurer with sincere, warm relationships while engaging in a challenging game of quick-reaction.

© Lisa Robinson