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Mexican Etiquette and Ethics by Boye Lafayette de Mente

Reviewed by Allan Cogan and Camille Collins

This is a two-part Review as Camille Collins joins me in reviewing this work.

There’s a statement on page 98 of this book, as follows…

"The key to understanding the ‘Mexican Way’ of doing business is to recognize that business management in Mexico has traditionally been an application of cultural attitudes and customs - not the objective, pragmatic function that is associated with management in the United States and other practical-minded countries."

So, right off the bat, we’ll assume that the author doesn’t consider Mexico a practical-minded country. And he goes to considerable lengths to examine those cultural attitudes and customs and explain why.

Mr. de Mente seems to make a specialty of this kind of interpretation. He has written 37 books, most of them explaining countries like Japan, Korea and China to business people and travelers. Now he’s gone to work on Mexico. One can’t help wondering if the same cultural imperialism that lies behind that quote also applies to countries like Japan, China and Korea. Or maybe he considers them "practical-minded" countries.

After reading Mr. De Mente’s account of some of the problems that a practical-minded businessman has to deal with in Mexico, such as mordida, poor communications between workers and managers, workers’ negative attitudes to management, machismo, Mexican resentment of criticism, avoidance of responsibility, dealing with patrones and family run businesses, etc. etc., one wonders why any practical-minded person would consider it worthwhile even trying to do business south of the border. And yet, the same week I read this book I saw in the newspaper that my country, Canada, counts Mexico as one of its biggest trading partners and that a delegation of some 500 business people and politicians had arrived in an effort to drum up more trade. Driving around Guadalajara, one sees all kinds of new buildings and plants under construction. Business people, it would seem, can’t get enough of Mexico. And they seem to be managing successfully.

Which is the crux of my dilemma with this book. If it’s so difficult doing business here, why are so many people doing it? Why are there so many passages like the following:

"…it is still not routine for executives in Mexico to share information with their subordinates because such knowledge has traditionally been regarded as part of their appurtance of power and is used to demonstrate that power. As a result…lower management and employees in general are not in a position to make decisions even if they have the authority to do so."

Or: "Generally speaking, it does not do any good to make a complaint or request to an ordinary employee or to a low-ranking manager in a Mexican company because they have no power to act and are not likely to pass either one on to a senior manager."

Or: "Veteran expatriate business people in Mexico repeatedly emphasize that their Mexican counterparts are great at planning but not at problem-solving because it involves questioning, criticizing and changing things, all of which have traditionally been taboo."

Or: "Another key facet in the traditional character of Mexicans has been a compulsive rejection of criticism…"

There’s lots more of that in this book and Mr. De Mente makes it all sound so complicated. Maybe I’m making too much of this. I have great difficulty visualising American and Canadian business people reading texts like this and applying some of the advice that’s given. I suspect, too, that it’s not the gringos who have to do the adjusting but, rather, the Mexicans. Indeed, one successful Mexican entrepreneur is quoted in the book with his own personal recipe for success: "I work like a gringo and play like a Mexican."

Maybe that’s all it takes and maybe Mexican business people know it. For all I know, there may be a number of very successful books available in Spanish telling Mexicans how to do business with gringos giving good advice on the pitfalls and problems of dealing with people who think they’re so logical, superior, pragmatic, objective and, you know, practical-minded. Maybe Boye Lafayette De Mente has already written it.

To give Mexican Etiquette and Ethics its due, there’s a lot of information here about the country and the people, although I understand my reviewing colleague, who has more experience here, has profound reservations even on that score.

Mexican Ethics and Etiquette

A Review by Camille Collins

Seldom do I ever start a book and not finish it. When I do, I become terribly guilt ridden and find it is usually much less stressful to just wade through the thing to its bitter end, no matter what.

This book, however, is a definite exception.

The first few pages weren't too awful and there were some ideas which I found quasi plausible in the context in which they were presented. I don't remember exactly when I decided that maybe I should move beyond my guilt and toss the book out.

Maybe it was the part where he was speaking about the Mexican Cowboy or Charro, which was spelled chorro, which means drip or, in a more colloquial sense, diarrhea. An oversight? Bad editing maybe? I like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt so I continued reading.

I then came across some historical facts which changed not only the name but also the sex of the father of the Mexican nation - originally Miguel (Hidalgo y Costilla), in the book Dolores (a woman's name). For those who don't know much about Mexican history, he's the George Washington of the country .

I continued a bit further with a purpose. Not being one to suffer self-inflicted guilt well (refer to first paragraph) I continued on, ear-marking each page that contained errors in fact, editing or understanding. After ear-marking nearly all of the next 30 or so pages I gave up.

Since reading this book (or not, as the case may be), I have come to understand that there are some books on the market that either do not research their material well, or in their rush to make a buck do not pay attention to editing. I suspect that this book falls into both categories.

Mexican Etiquette and Ethics
Anticipating and Understanding Mexican Social and Business Behavior 
By Boye Lafayette De Mente
 1997, Phoenix Books, Paradise Valley, Arizona 85253

Published or Updated on: February 15, 2000 by Allan Cogan and Camille Collins © 2008
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