As a self-confessed foodie and a born and bred Latin American, I consider food and meals (especially shared ones) to be a central and most enjoyable part of life.
But have you ever wondered how big a part they play in the success of your business goals?
The concept underpinning such a bizarre question is that food and meals are actually culture specific and that different cultures approach them in their own ways and with their own agendas:
(Very) broadly speaking, Brits have a functional approach to food: nutrients in, job done.
(Very) broadly speaking, too, Latin Americans take their time.
That is why whenever I am accompanying a technical mission and see the spread of wraps, sandwiches, and crisps to be consumed quickly and in the same room where they just had the previous meeting and will have the next while also networking a bit I cannot help but to silently facepalm.
As I understand it, one of the main drivers behind any technical mission is to foster more and better collaboration between the parties.
The goal, then, is to build trust, create stronger bonds, promote understanding, and generate opportunities.
Why then close the door to all that before even kicking off?
For an English government official, lunch is functional and offering it a polite gesture. The exchange of knowledge, the alignment of goals and objectives, and the getting to know each other take place during meetings. Therefore, the more meetings in a day, the better use of everybody’s time.
To them, the key to a mission’s success lies in exchanging as much information in the pre-set format of, say, a meeting as possible.
Whereas (way) on the other hand, for a Latin American visitor, lunch is the perfect opportunity to enjoy a good meal and, most importantly, to get to know the people they are about to (maybe) do business with.
To the, Information and knowledge can be exchanged at another time or even sent by email, meetings are to go over key points and to brainstorm ideas, and the key to a mission’s success lies in being able to determine whether they trust their counterparts and would, then, like to work together – something they can only decide face to face.
So, next time you are about to host a visiting delegation from Latin America, please, please, please, set aside some time for a nice long (not working) lunch. Take your guests to a pub or a very English eatery. Sit down with them and have a good meal and a nice chat. They will be the best used and most profitable couple of hours of the entire visit.
I know I am supposed to only care about language stuff but trust me – better to have one less meeting but to make one more friend. After all, it is not always only a matter of translating between languages, sometimes (or I should say always) culture needs interpreting, too.