Stuff we can’t fake: Cultural Context

We recently presented in Mexico on how SMEs can use the rush to virtual business practices to their advantage in reaching international markets. One of the major questions that comes up is, “How good of a substitute can ‘virtual’ really be if you’ve never been there?”

In our experience, Mexican companies, upon meeting US sellers, can remain tentative towards a strong value proposition, pending the US company’s ability to demonstrate they actually understand the market. Too many Mexicans have seen prices and value props modified upon US sellers discovering some of the real costs of doing business in Mexico. In other words, they’re waiting to see if US companies can walk the walk.

Now, one of the purposes of Neighbors is to help you anticipate real costs, and benefits, of market entry. But that is via market reports, projections, strategy recommendations. Slide decks and spread sheets! Perhaps the US company has diligently read our reports and is, in fact, well prepared. The Mexican company still isn’t going to believe them until they prove themselves.

So yes, of course you will indeed show your know-how and preparedness as you get more deeply involved in negotiations. But is there any way you can establish credibility sooner? Especially if all of your negotiations are taking place on Zoom and email?

Well, enter culture. Not talking about handshakes and how to say “Buen provecho” right now. Rather, how can you take advantage of the few “relational” communication opportunities you have in a virtual environment? Stuff like small talk and quick jokes you can slip in here and there. Is it possible to show your Mexican contacts that you are not as blithe about Mexico as the gringos they have met before you? How do you chat around the water cooler with them?

One way could be to involve yourself in some Mexican culture. Fortunately, again thanks to the internet, even without travel that’s easy and quite fun to do.

You might look at some classics:

  • Octavio Paz’s novel The Labyrinth of Solitude is not only a defining work from 20th century Mexico; it’s also about the relationship between the US and Mexico.
  • If you saw US films Birdman or The Revenant, those were cross-overs by Mexican cineaste Alejandro Iñárritu. His best work according to many, Amores Perros, provides extremely realistic views of life in Mexico City. It was part of a series followed by Babel and 21 Grams.
  • Mexico is not new to excellent cinema: we enjoyed a Golden Age in the 1930s-50s, producing 200+ films per year during the 1940s. Here are some of the top-rated films of the Mexican Golden Age.
  • El Chavo del Ocho and Don Gato y su Pandilla are some TV classics. Yes, Don Gato is Top Cat, the 1960s Hanna Barbera cartoon. Its Mexican voice actor in the Spanish version is literally a textbook case of dubbing brilliance.

Even easier to access could be what’s on your streaming services. Netflix original productions take place and are produced around the globe, including Mexico of course. These Mexa productions ranked alongside international content within the top-10, most-watched Netflix content in Mexico for 2019:

  • Como Caido del Cielo, in which legendary Mexican actor-singer Pedro Infante is sent back to Earth in an impersonator’s body to mend his womanising ways and earn entrance into heaven.
  • Historia de un Crimen: Colosio (Crime Diaries: The Candidate), “In 1994, Mexican presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio’s assassination sends his dying widow racing to uncover who did it.
  • Season 3 of Casa de las Flores (House of Flowers), “The outward perfection of a family-run flower business hides a dark side rife with dysfunctional secrets in this darkly humorous comedy series.” We particularly enjoyed season 1.
  • The film Roma did *not* make the list because it came out in 2018, but it is excellent, by Iñárritu’s buddy, Oscar-winner Alfonso Cuarón.

As for Amazon Prime, according to DondeIr, an events and cultural weekly in Mexico City, these are the top Mexican works on that platform (not necessarily Amazon Prime originals). We recommend the ones in bold.

  1. Un Extraño Enemigo / An Unknown Enemy (TV series 2018)
  2. Amores Perros (Thriller/drama, 2000)
  3. Diablo Guardián (TV series 2018)
  4. La Invención de Cronos / Cronos (Horror/drama 1993)
  5. Ana y Bruno (Animated adventure 2017)
  6. Nosotros los Nobles (Comedy 2013)
  7. Sueño en Otro Idioma / I Dream in Another Language (Fantasy/drama 2017)
  8. El Juego de las Llaves (TV series 2019)
  9. ¡A.T.M. A Toda Máquina! / Full Speed Ahead! (Comedy 1951)
  10. Destilando México (TV series 2018)

Don’t worry if you find yourself looking for a VPN to help you view some of these gems. The experience of trying to get past region controls is in itself a valuable window into Mexican culture!

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