As in much of Latin America, US culture pervades many aspects of cultural life, particularly in the larger cities where Hollywood films are more popular than local cinema, and proficiency in English is much higher than in rural areas though still low by international standards. Besides this, however, there is a rich tapestry of other cultural treasures, with strong indigenous and African influences.
While over one hundred languages are listed in the vast country that borders Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela and Panama, more than 99% of the people speak Spanish. It is imperative that any company seeking to introduce a new product or service has a team of Spanish speakers leading the way.
Many Colombian business people and consumers will be offended if they are not communicated in Spanish, with cultural nuances taken into account.
A good firm handshake indicates a depth of character, and eye contact should be maintained through the exchange. Always greet each person in a group individually when you meet them, and before parting ways again. It takes a bit longer but is culturally expected. A connected Colombian PR agency can support you with lead generation campaigns and secure introductory meetings.
Business people in the capital tend to dress in formal sombre tones, while colourful ensembles are more likely closer to the coast, often showing some Caribbean influence. Table manners are of great importance in Colombia and remember whoever suggested lunch should pay for it – particularly in journalist briefings, organized by a PR agency.
The family is given great importance in Colombia, and it is not unusual to receive an invitation to dine in the home of a business colleague. Bring a small gift, like wine, chocolate or flowers. However, don’t bring Lilies or Marigolds, as both are associated with death and funerals. Don’t talk business during social events; these are to cement your personal relationship, which will lubricate business interactions, which stay in the office.
Some stereotypes can be noted in the different Colombian regions. For example, Bogotanos/rolos (those who hail from capital city Bogotá) are often described as serious, even cold or rude, by many who live outside the city. Paisas (Medellin residents) have a reputation of being very hard-working if sometimes tending to exaggerate a little. Those who live by the coast (Costeños) have a reputation as party lovers, with a laid-back work ethic.