On September 18th, 1810, Chile officially began its fight for independence from Spain. Now referred to as “dieciocho” (meaning eighteen) by Chileans, the holiday is a time to commemorate the Chileans who fought for independence and celebrate the country’s culture. We’re celebrating by sharing our top five tips for doing business in Chile!
1. Know how to speak the language.
Of course it is important to learn some Spanish, but we don’t just mean that. Try to emulate the Chilean way of speaking. Chilean communication style is highly expressive, yet also indirect. As you learn to interpret nonverbal communication, you’ll notice that Chileans gradually shift discussions to topics they want to discuss, rather than being abrupt and direct. Learn the local slang and incorporate it into your speech. For example, cachai is a common expression that roughly translates to “you know?” or “get it?”. Or, weón (huevón) is an informal word to use for dude, friend, idiot, or simply a guy/girl depending on the situation. Finally, you’ll probably hear an extra syllable on sí (yes) in Chile. Chileans say “sí poh” as a way to add emphasis. In other words, “Yes, of course!”
2. “Pitutos” are everything.
Meaning contacts or connections one has in a business setting, pitutos are an important way to get information, complete deals, and access opportunities. Many Chileans have pitutos from long lasting relationships or family connections, so make an effort to engage with the Chilean community as much as possible (refer to tip #3!) Whether you are searching for a new job or trying to expand your business in Chile, pitutos will help you.
3. Avoid conflict.
Avoiding conflict is always ideal, but we want to be culturally specific. In Chile, you will notice that people may passively seem to accept challenging societal circumstances without complaining. This is because harmony is highly valued in Chilean culture and confrontation would disturb a harmonious social environment. 17 years of dictatorship (1973-1990) intensified this cultural value. Confrontation is seen as an inappropriate and disrespectful way to solve conflict. To navigate this, avoid conflict in front of others, remain polite, and use dialogue. This also helps “save face”, which is key in interpersonal relationships in Chile.
4. Know what to talk about.
Chilean culture is relationship driven, making it important to develop a personal rapport with business partners. To build relationships in a work setting, take your time to get to know individuals and show an interest in Chilean culture. Ask lots of questions, which Chileans will be happy to answer as they love to talk about their country and help foreigners! Here are some good ideas for topics of conversation:
- Chilean history (read up on Spanish “conquistadores” and Chile’s relationship with Spain)
- The current economy and the Chilean copper industry
- Migration movements from other Latin American countries to Chile
- Education and entrepreneurship in Chile
- Sports (skiing and fishing are popular sports in Chile)
- Chilean art, literature, and culture
- Food and wine (wine is a great source of pride for Chileans)
- Family (be prepared to talk about yours as well)
5. Know what NOT to talk about.
On the flip side, it’s best to avoid some of these topics until you get to know your Chilean colleagues and friends better:
- Criticism of any aspect of Chilean culture (e.g., nature, beauty of the country)
- Comparison to surrounding countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru (there are several issues regarding territory limits and politics)
- Discussion of human rights violations during the dictatorship (there is a still a division amongst Chileans)
- The Mapuche Indigenous people conflict with the State of Chile
- Discussion of wars and politics
And when you leave, as we’re about to do now, make sure to say goodbye to people individually, rather than as a group!