Global business concierge: kiss and tell? How to greet your South American business contacts

If I had to give a two-word answer to the often asked question from UK business people of “how do I greet my business partners in South America?” my answer would be “shake hands”.

Shaking hands is still very much the international standard of business greeting, across continents, ages and genders.

In South America, men shake hands to greet each other normally (formally and informally). Only in certain South America countries (particularly Argentina) men will kiss once on the cheek, and this is fairly recent, more common between younger men and for those very close friends only. So stick to a hand shake and won’t get it wrong.

Greeting women in business can get trickier. Normally, in South America women will greet each other kissing (once, not twice like in Spain) and this can be the norm even for business contacts, if they know each other fairly well and are of roughly the same seniority level and age. This is the safe way to start, and then you will be guided by your business contacts…

Between men and women, starting with a hand-shake will be the safe option, but don’t be surprised if you certainly realise that a kiss on the cheek is customary between men and women, even in business. You have probably seen it in Spain or Italy, where if you look attentively at a business lunch, colleague and business contacts in general will greet the opposite sex with a quick kiss (or two, if you are in Spain!).

Before you travel, make sure you understand the cultural norms of the country, and even the region, you are visiting. We covered just greetings here, but clothing is equally important and your clothes will be scrutinised by your fellow South American business partners – whether you are a man or a woman. Same applies to conversation and table manners. If in doubt, ask. A good sense of humour and an open mind always help!

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