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Cross-Cultural Communication in Mexico and Saudi Arabia

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Any time you travel overseas for business, you need to know how to properly communicate cross culturally. Although many businesses have courses to teach about what different cultures do to communicate, it is always positive to research on your own. As we all know, a business deal can be made, or can be shut down by what one or two guys from your company will do in the meetings.

Saudi Arabia:

Saudi Arabia as a society is extremely influenced by the Islamic religion. Islam is involved in every part of life and even the government. As a whole, the culture is very detail oriented and place great importance upon ethics and such behaviors such as generosity and respect. To immediately show respect, be sure to address your counterparts with appropriate titles such as Doctor, Shaikh (chief), Mohandas (engineer), and Ustadh (professor), followed by his or her first name.

Greetings are fairly similar to ours in the United States. Men are greeted with handshakes, but it is not common for Saudis to shake hands with women, so you should wait for the host to initiate first. In addition to the hand shake, "As-salam alaikum" (peace be upon you) is used to greet and the reply would be "Wa alaikum as-salam" (and upon you be peace). Using this would show increased respect towards your counterparts and religion.

Many times you may go out or meet for a business lunch or dinner. The main points to remember are that pork and alcohol are illegal. Do not order it. Also, Saudis tend to speak in a quiet tone and physically closer than you may be used to. They may speak with you as close as two feet away, do not pull back as they may consider this to mean you are not comfortable with them. Conversation is to be kept quiet, especially in a restaurant. Being loud is thought of as bad manners.

Saudi Arabia tends to be very formal. Men are expected to be in a conservative business suit and women are expected to wear fairly baggy clothing which covers past the elbow and knee and is not provocative in any way. Since we are foreigners, any woman in our team is not required to wear a burka. While you are expected to be punctual, Saudis may not be. Appointments are to be scheduled, and with respect to the five daily prayer times.

Saudis are known as a collectivist society where they emphasize the group more than the individual. This, along with their belief that God influences everything, is very important to have in mind while negotiating. You should not portray yourself as an individual, but as part of a team.

Saudi Arabia is considered to place a great amount of detail in its body language and eye contact. Some key points to remember are that your left hand and the soles of your shoes are considered unclean, do not use your left hand, and do not show your sole to anyone.


The majority of the Mexican population is Catholic. As a whole, they are very religious people who attend church not only on Sundays, but at spur of the moments when they need guidance or a place to sit quietly and think. Although God will not usually be a topic to come up in business conversation, you should always be respectful and understand that it is a big part of the culture.

In Mexico, they will shake your hand when meeting you and will continue to do so throughout the negotiations. If a strong connection was to be made quickly and they seemed fond of you, do not be surprised if you were to receive a hug or even a kiss on the cheek if a woman, when being greeted.

Our Mexican business associates might want to meet in a restaurant rather than an office if they wish to establish a friendly and long relationship with us. The meals will be several courses and it is important to eat slowly and try a little bit of everything. It is also important to compliment them on their country's food. You should try to do an equal amount of eating and talking and not focus only on one. When the bill comes, you should try to pay but if they insist on paying for you be very grateful and accept. After you step out of the restaurant, thank them again and repeat how wonderful the food was.

Mexican business formality will depend on who you are negotiating with and what is being negotiated. Since we are negotiating with a large company, it is important to remember that they will be pretty formal. They will speak to us in a formal way and we should do the same. They will be well dressed and groomed. We must do the same. Time is flexible so meeting times might be changed often. Business dealings are slow so don't try to rush things.

Because many Mexicans come from Native Indian backgrounds, they are more likely to focus on a business deal with a collectivist society mentality. They will see the negotiations as either being good for the company as a whole or being bad for the company as a whole. This is why we need to stress the importance of working together to achieve the best possible outcome in all aspects of the business.

Mexican business people will be very communicative through their body gestures but they will not always make eye contact as some might think it's rude. One of the cues that would let you know the negotiating is going well is if they are nodding in agreement while you are speaking. If they are not in agreement they will shake their heads and wave their hands in a "no way" manner while you are speaking. Depending on whether they agree with you or not, they might politely interrupt you with their thoughts. Let them speak.

As you can see, different countries function in many different ways. We hope this article can help you out in your international travels!



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