Business Etiquette in Peru

by Trudy Brunot

A grasp of business etiquette is key for success in Peru, where trust and friendship forged in and out of the office carry as much weight in deal making as your professional credentials. By becoming familiar with Peruvian business practices and making an effort to learn Spanish, you can avoid cultural missteps that might jeopardize your proposals.

Before Arriving

Schedule your meeting at least a month in advance and confirm arrangements the week before because unannounced visits are often frowned up in Peru. Arrange to have your business cards translated and printed in English on one side and Spanish on the other, making sure to include your title and any degrees you hold. Many Peruvians expect that their foreign business associates will dress as they do, so men should pack conservative business suits and ties, and women should wear dresses and suits. Even casual attire must be professional: dress pants, skirts and dresses for women; ironed khakis and slacks for men. Brush up on your Spanish so at the very least you can say good morning, good afternoon and good evening, and other basic phrases. Because Spanish is Peru's business language, it might be best to arrange for an interpreter after confirming your host's plans if your fluency is not up to par.

First Encounters

Be prepared for Peruvian colleagues to stand close to you, but don't appear rude by stepping back to create what, for you, is a more comfortable distance. Business settings call for a handshake; at informal occasions men kiss a lady's cheek and women kiss cheeks. As you exchange business cards, keep in mind that Peruvian names include the father's surname followed by the mother's. Maintain eye contact as you take someone's card, smile and read it carefully before placing it on the table. Present your card with the Spanish side toward the recipient. Address Peruvians by their title -- señor, señora, profesor/profesora or doctor/doctora -- and father's surname. Wait until invited to use someone's first name.

Mind the Clock

In spite of many Peruvians' relaxed view of time, known as "la hora Peruana," that may cause meetings to begin an hour late, don't let your impatience show, no matter how long you may wait. They may be lax with their schedules, but Peruvians often expect punctuality from business visitors. Call your business colleague if you anticipate being delayed more than 15 minutes. The punctuality rule relaxes for social gatherings, however. You may arrive a few minutes late to a dinner party and as much as 30 minutes late to a party without issue.

Meeting Time

Your Peruvian counterparts want to get to know and trust you before doing business with you. Business dinners or lunches are often used as opportunities to ask personal questions about you and your personal life. You can help break the ice by presenting a small gift that is representative of where you live as long as it doesn't come in odd-numbers. Many Peruvians associate odd numbers with bad luck and believe knives are inappropriate gifts. In your conversations, be sensitive and refer to U.S. citizens as North Americans, not "Americans."

Social Gatherings

An invitation to a dinner party in a Peruvian home is an opportunity to build on a business relationship started in the office. Give your host an inexpensive gift such as flowers or a bottle of wine. Don't be loud, avoid talking about politics, a person's ancestry and religion, and keep your hands on the table during the meal. Maintain eye contact while conversing to show your sincerity, and be conscious of your gestures. Fellow guests might consider the "OK" sign used in the U.S. as obscene and beckoning someone with your index finger to be rude.

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