Class: Intro. To International Business (BBB4M1)
Date: October 16, 2007
The Assignment: Write an essay, do a presentation, and create a handout about a foreign country’s business practices. The more flashy, the more marks.
Panama is the southernmost country in North America and because of its unique location at the intersection of North and South America and where the two oceans, the Atlantic and Pacific, meet, it has a very diverse culture.
Canada’s major export to Panama is pharmaceuticals, $10 million of which is exported to Panama in one year. Vehicles, machinery, and meat are also commonly exported to Panama. The most popular product imported into Canada from Panama is mineral fuel and oil, with nearly $40 million imported from Panama per year. Fruits, nuts, fish, seafood, coffee, tea, spices, books, and newspapers are also popular imports from Panama.
It is very important that people be addressed by the proper title in Panama. Panamanians have two surnames, the first comes from their father and the second comes from their mother, but when addressing someone, only their first surname is used. A man would be addressed as “señor” while a woman would be addressed as either “señora” or “señorita”. However, if a person has earned a special title, they should be addressed using this name instead. Someone with a university degree would be referred to as “licenciado”, an engineer would be “ingeniero”, a teacher is “profesor”, and a lawyer is “abogado”.
While doing business in Canada, it is common to get down to business immediately, whereas in Panama it is polite to begin with small talk before speaking about a business deal. Some good topics to discuss are family, hobbies, and sports, specifically baseball and basketball. Some bad topics are race problems, politics, and the former Canal Zone. The Panama Canal was at one time controlled by the American military, and the zone had its own government and police force and was very different from the rest of Panama. It also separated the country into two, and was very controversial, so it was gotten rid of in 1979, and many Panamanians do not wish to discuss these events. These topics should not be mentioned in a business setting because it is considered rude.
Panamanians are very relaxed and easy-going by Latin American standards, so it is a common misconception that they do not value punctuality. This is true in social settings, but business appointments are always on time.
The weather in Panama is quite different from that of Canada. They really only have two seasons: the dry season, which last from January to April, and the rainy season, which lasts from May to December. Cities on the coast, like Panama City, are hot and humid all year around, with temperatures normally in the high 20s and 30s.
This affects the way that Panamanians dress for business. Men in authority positions often wear a business suit, but it should be made of very light, natural fabric. Men in other positions where the traditional “camisilla”, which is a white, lightweight top. Panama is known for the Panama hat, which is often worn out in the sun, but is not appropriate for business meetings. Women also wear very conservative dresses or a skirt and blouse made of lightweight fabrics.
Business meetings will often take place over dinner rather than lunch. This is because at lunch time, Panamanians have a “fiesta”, which is a larger meal, and they would not normally want to discuss business at this time. Dinners are usually much smaller and would consist of soup, salad, bread, rice, and fruit.
Finally, the most important part of conducting business in Panama is recognizing that personal relationships are very important to Panamanians. By establishing trust and loyalty between business partners, this helps product both parties from fraud. If doing business with a Panamanian country, one should not expect a deal to be made right away; it often takes many trips back and forth before the decision is finally made.