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Country Focus: Intercultural Nuances of Doing Business With Nicaragua

Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America (not including Mexico) and has been considered as a possible site for a sea level canal that would complement Panama’s. Though predominantly an agrarian culture (60% of Nicaragua’s exports), increases in the tourism industry has influenced foreign direct investment in Nicaragua by about 79% from 2007 to 2009. Although Nicaragua shares many of the cultural norms and values of most of Central America, it still has a distinctive culture.

Nicaraguan culture is divided between a more traditional Hispanic formal culture and a new revolutionary egalitarian and informal culture. Like most of Central America, the Roman Catholic Church also holds the majority of supporters here and minimal political influence, giving society structure and hierarchy. However, many of the ruling conservative elite actually subscribe to a form of Neo-Pentecostal Protestantism, which provides justification for the wealth of the ruling elite as evidence of their faith and poverty the lack thereof. The role of religion in justifying wealth and poverty also contributes to the traditional formal culture. This formal culture is often at odds with the newly emerging egalitarian society. Despite the fact that individuals of different classes are treated differently, which one can argue is true of any country, the universal application of the law tends to be a sensitive topic, implying that Nicaraguans are not satisfied with their current state and strive for equality. Unlike many Central American countries, conspicuous display of wealth or distaste and avoidance of manual labor, seen as a sign of privilege, can generate strong negativity, another sign of the struggle for an egalitarian culture. One of the ways that this revolutionary egalitarian culture has begun to take root is in gender roles, there is a higher percentage of women enrolled in school than in most of Central America.

Just because a new egalitarian society is starting to emerge does not imply that Nicaraguans are not a proud people. They are proud of their heritage, their beliefs, and their position within society. When greeting Nicaraguans, handshakes are the accepted norm,and kissing is a common greeting once you have an established relationship. Most of the ruling business elite speak English, but Garifuna is spoken by the coastal African population. In terms of communication, Nicaraguans are less concerned with loss of face and also less inclined to sugarcoat bad news or avoid confrontation. It has been said that Nicaraguans can be direct and blunt in their communication style, but will filter how much or little of their true sentiments to express depending on the rank and status of those present. Despite various mechanisms to “save face,” silence is generally uncommon but used for formal situations or when avoiding confrontation is necessary. Remember, when communicating, remain logical, formal, respectful, and diplomatic…but don’t be a robot! Be warm, open, and personable too!

Though known for Flor de Cana rum, tobacco and beef, Nicaragua’s other industries—tourism, banking, mining, fisheries, and general commerce—are expanding. Nicaraguans tend to look to the future and are inspired by the possibilities that change can bring. Nicaraguans, though typically risk averse, have been known to make fast decisions and swiftly seize opportunities when they are presented with one. The process for decision making mimics the pace of Nicaraguan culture, which is more relaxed, and while punctuality is expected, you may find yourself waiting. Note that time is more monochromatic in the capital city of Mangua. As with many Central American countries, personal relationships with the right people are very important. Known as enchufado in Nicaragua, this is an important business intermediary in your Nicaraguan ventures. You will find that the traditional Hispanic hierarchy exists in the rigidly layered workplace. However, in less traditional, liberal organizations and businesses, there is a strong egalitarian spirit throughout the entire organization.

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