I am meeting someone for the first time and I want to make a good impression. What would be good discussion topics?
Give a firm handshake when greeting a man and less firm when greeting a woman. Establishing eye contact in an inviting way is important. Topics to discuss will depend on the person you are meeting with. Nevertheless, even if it is a business meeting, family conversation may be appropriate and in some cases required. There is a perception that family-oriented individuals may bring an element of honesty and credibility to the table. Lunch meetings and socializing in general are relaxed and most business decision are made in such context. It is wise to choose a subject that is about something neutral that caught your attention, i.e. a beautiful mountain, river, neighbourhood, etc.
If meeting a group of campesinos (farmers), family might be a good topic to break the ice. Avoid discussing politics and religion at all costs. If invited to do so, say respectfully that you do not feel well enough informed to express an opinion and that you wish to respect internal politics. Soccer would be a welcome topic. If you don’t know anything about the sport, show interest and ask questions. Certain types of humour might be OK, but avoid it at first until you become more familiar with the circumstances.
As a popular expression says, "Seek to understand first then to be understood".
The most common questions stem from the topic of family, as the people of Honduras place a greater value on family than on work. In Canada we hear so often, "What are you?" or "What do you do?", but in Honduras people want to know how your family is.
It is best to avoid political and religious topics until you’ve established a relationship or become more comfortable with the person. These topics can be very emotional and may raise sensitivities. A change in government not too long ago seems to have left the people of Honduras divided between those in favour of change and the new leadership, and those opposed to it.
Football is also a very popular topic, however it too can stir up emotions. The two most popular teams are Olympia and Victoria, both of which play out of Tegucigalpa. Last year, however, a new champion, Marathon from San Pedro Sula, was crowned.
What do I need to know about verbal and non-verbal communications?
Be yourself or you will be uncomfortable. Be aware that the acceptable distance for Hondurans is closer than that of most North Americans. Prepare your reaction in advance if/when a local goes beyond your personal space. He/she might feel offended if you back off at once.
As in every culture, your gestures, body language, and facial expression communicate volumes of information so listen and pay attention to you environment.
Sensitivities towards personal space that you see in Canada are far less likely to be seen in Honduras. Honduran people touch each other more often than average Canadians do. Greetings and goodbyes involve a kiss to the right cheek, generally touching your hand to their shoulder (between men and women and among women). When men greet each other they will shake hands. By not performing these greetings you show the other person disrespect. In the workplace, however, you do not have to greet your co-workers in this manner every morning. Generally a "Buenos dias" is acceptable. If you do start to see your co-workers socially then you would go ahead and greet them in the traditional manner.
There are two gestures that are widely used throughout Honduras. The first is an alternative to when in Canada we would point our finger towards an object. In Honduras it is very common to see people purse their lips in combination with a nod of their head in the general direction of the object. The second is a gesture that is very popular but it is hard to describe its exact meaning. It would be used, for example, if a task was completed very quickly, or if something took a lot of courage to accomplish. The gesture itself can be described as an action similar to what we would do if we had something sticky stuck to one of our fingers. Bending at your elbow, with your forearm in front of your stomach, thumb pointing up, shake your fingers quickly. Some of the more talented Hondurans make a slapping noise as their fingers hit the palm of their hands.
Are public displays of affection, anger or other emotions acceptable?
They are acceptable and common. Keep in mind that one of the wonderful characteristics of Hondurans is their warmth.
Couples can be seen holding hands and kissing. You may also see girl friends holding hands as they walk down the street. Very rarely will you see public displays of anger or sadness.
What should I know about the workplace environment (deadlines, dress, formality, etc.)?
Dress conservatively until you know the workplace environment. Long sleeve shirt and a pair of slacks. It is okay to address colleagues by their first names, unless they are noticeably older. When addressing a superior, use his/her title. Titles are very important. In terms of punctuality, be on time but do not expect others to be punctual. Expect them to be hard workers, very productive and loyal.
In the work environment men wear dress pants, a dress shirt and tie, while women can wear a dress, skirt or pant suit. These norms may be more relaxed depending on your place of employment and if you work on Saturdays. Jeans may even be acceptable. Many places of employment provide uniforms for the employees such as pharmacies and some banks, as well as all schools.
Your colleagues and supervisor can be addressed casually, by their first name; however, when dealing with clients, a more formal approach needs to be used. Putting Dona in front of a woman’s first name and Don in front of a man’s first name is a sign of respect. (e.g. Dona Silvia or Don Pablo) It is also important to address someone using his or her title to show respect. (e.g. Dr. Dominguez) When it comes to using Usted/Ustedes it is a better idea to over use it than to chance being disrespectful.
What qualities are most highly regarded in a local superior/manager? How will I know how my staff view me?
Education, experience, leadership, openness to new ideas, and being hard working and personable are all qualities that are appreciated. Education and being personable are particularly important in the eyes of employees. However, as a non-local manager, its important to set clear limits so that people respect your authority. Otherwise, your staff may misunderstand or possibly take advantage of you. People might not be inclined to tell you face to face how they view you, especially if you are their boss, so have weekly meetings with them, talk to them individually and observe.
A personable, approachable supervisor is always highly regarded whether in Canada or Honduras. Someone who is hard working, has a great set of leadership skills and possesses experience will also be held in high regard.
The only difference I would think would apply to a supervisor who is an expat is that you will be given a great deal of respect instantly, regardless of your Spanish language skills. Over time however, if there is no effort to learn the language, the respect may begin to fade.
In the workplace, how are decisions taken and by whom? Is it acceptable to go to my immediate supervisor for answers or feedback?
Decision-making varies depending on the organization. In general, organizations are still managed by using an authoritarian management model (decisions are made by senior management). It’s perfectly okay to ask for feedback from your immediate supervisor.
Like Canada, the supervisor always has the final say in decisions, however there are opportunities for input and collective brainstorming. Generally, people are open-minded and willing to hear new ideas, but be careful when giving suggestions. You don’t want to be seen as disrespectful.
When looking for feedback and answers, it is best to go to your immediate supervisor first and then they may send you to see their supervisor if necessary.
Briefly describe the local culture’s attitudes regarding the following: Gender, Class, Religion and Ethnicity. What impact would the above attitudes have on the workplace?
Throughout Latin America, gender issues and the role of women and men in non-traditional occupations have been changing continuously. Traditionally, women have been disfavoured but gains have been made in the last decades. Women, for instance, have been typically house-wives but more and more their presence in the workforce, business and politics is ever stronger. In fact, not long ago, Honduras almost elected a woman president.
Gender issues have also affected the male population. More and more, men express a marked preference to be actively involved in their children’s lives. In the federal government, most high ranking official are men. However, women play a prominent role in small and medium size businesses and thus in the economic development of Honduras. In the countryside, the role of men and women tend to remind unchanged in a agriculturally oriented medium.
The majority of population (90-95%) is Catholic. There is respect and harmony between Catholics and other religions. Religion has always played a prominent part in Honduran society and, traditionally, it has had a tremendous impact and influence in their every day life.
This is very important in our society. Discrimination exists based on your social/economic class. There is also some distrust between the working class and the upper class. A small and growing middle class (public servants, intellectuals and entrepreneurs) do play an important role in the country’s future.
Of a population of 6 million, Honduras represents a mosaic of traditions and cultural diversity across its 112,000 Square KM and 18 states. Approximately 90 percent of the population is mestizo. Caribbean coast population is more diverse, with mestizo, Creole, and Black Carib. The north-eastern population is primarily Miskito. Ethnicity is generally not an issue, except perhaps in the Atlantic region of the country.
Overall the traditional roles of men and women exist, especially in the home. However, there is a visible women’s movement - in the upper class more so than in the average Honduran home. My experience had me meet women who were a doctors, dentists, lawyers, business owners, and directors of cultural centre and health centre. The culture is split between a traditional family with the power being in the man’s hands and a new, emerging family where everything is shared between the man and woman.
The majority of the Honduran people actively practice religion. There is a large Evangelical population who live their lives by following a strict list of guidelines including no drinking or dancing. Semana Santa, or Easter Week is an important holiday in Honduras. It is a time when the streets are filled with brightly coloured displays depicting various religious scenes as well as parades. Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, sits below a huge Statue of Jesus. Religion is kept out of the workplace.
There are 2 distinct class groups in Honduras. Those in the upper class live very well, often better than the average Canadian family, while those in the lower class may struggle to clothe and feed all the members in their family.
Two different ethnic groups are visible: the ’Indios’ - those of Mayan and Spanish ancestry; and the ’Garifunas’ - those of African decent.
In an office you will have the directors and supervisors who are members of the upper class, working next to the cleaners or ’trabajadoras’, who are members of the lower class.
How important is it to establish a personal relationship with a colleague or client before getting to business?
Establishing a relationship with a colleague or potential client is very important and requires time. If he/she is a colleague, invite him/her and immediate family for dinner to your house. Do not expect them to bring anything, is not customary to do so. Use your network, i.e. who introduced you to your potential client? Treat them to lunch, if possible include their spouses. Learn about your client as much as possible, what he likes (learn a bit about soccer, that would be a good topic of conversation). Be aware that when you invite someone out, you are expected to pay.
A personal relationship will develop over time. It isn’t necessary to establish this relationship before getting into work related topics. If you will be working closely with someone for an extended period of time the relationship will gradually develop and if you have a one-time meeting with someone they too will not have expectations outside the work framework.
Would a colleague or employee expect special privileges or considerations given our personal relationship or friendship
People might expect preferred treatment. As the relationship develops, be open and clear about your position and your ethics. It is recommended that you grant privileges only if you are absolutely certain that your decision is not only based on friendship but also qualifications (merit). Situations like this may be common but as a non-local manager (Canadian), people understand that principles are different. A good rule of thumb: be clear, consistent, and fair.
Special privileges aren’t necessarily expected, however I did see this occur; the most likely being the hiring of close friends or family. I would recommend granting a privilege such as this when the friend or family member is qualified for the position. This seems to often be the only way to get hired, particularly for a job that does not require special training or knowledge.
I have a work-related problem with a colleague. Do I confront him or her directly? Privately or publicly?
Confront and ask him/her privately. You might also consider asking her/his best co-worker friend or supervisor given that the person may not open up to you because he/she is afraid of hurting your feelings or, if you hold a position of authority, losing his/her job.
You should confront a colleague directly and privately, unless of course you feel that your safety may be compromised. The people of Honduras are honest and if they aren’t comfortable confronting you directly they will probably confide in someone who is comfortable dealing with you.
What motivates my local colleagues to perform well on the job?
Job satisfaction, commitment, money, loyalty, good working conditions, and fear of failure are all motivators. One’s position within the company makes a big difference; for instance, a receptionist or labourer might be more motivated by money as these are low-paid positions.
Motivation to perform well at work is provided by the money, the fear of losing the job, and wanting to be seen in a good light by other people in the community.
To help me learn more about the local culture(s), please recommend: books, films, television shows, foods and web sites.
Some of the recommended (very comprehensive) web sites are: www.hondurasproject.com and www.honduras-resources.com.
Books: The Art of Coming Home, written by Craig Stori. This is a great resource to anyone returning home from any amount of time abroad and Mosquito Coast, written by Paul Theroux. (This was also made into a movie starring Harrison Ford).
Internet resources: www.honduras.com; www.camo.org (CAMO: Central American Medical Outreach) - this site includes a journal as well as photos; www.garifuna-tours.com - a tour company in the Tela area and the site has some beautiful scenic pictures of the coast; and www.laprensahn.com (In Spanish)- one of the national newspapers.
When in this country, I want to learn more about the culture(s) and people. What activities can you recommend?
Probably the most overlooked factor in someone’s integration to any society is a good and knowledgeable guide. You may be lucky and be blessed with someone who will “open doors” for you. If introduced to decision makers or local leaders, treasure such an opportunity and seize it.
Music: Gran Banda, from San Pedro Sula. If you get a chance to see this group live while in Honduras don’t pass it up!
Traditional dishes: The traditional meal includes fried plantains, fried beans, corn tortillas, and rice. Other traditional dishes include pupusas (fried corn tortillas filled with meat, cheese or both), and tamales. On the coast, sopa de caracol (a shellfish soup) and coconut bread are common.
Read the daily newspaper, listen to the radio, go to football games, eat in small local restaurants, visit the weekly market, and get involved in your local cultural centre.
Who are this country's national heroes?
Lempira (1499-1537) was one of the few native leaders to successfully resist Spanish control and one of the national heroes of Honduras. When military might failed to defeat him the Spanish resorted to trickery. And although the Indian resistance movement died with him, his name and image have come to symbolize indigenous heritage. He was the chief of his tribe and his name means "gentleman of the mountain".
Francisco Morazan (1792-1842). He was the last Honduran president of the United Provinces of Central America from 1830 to 1840. He was also a champion of Central American federalism. He was self-educated. When Central America became independent from Spain in 1821, he joined, and lost the fight against the annexation of Honduras to Mexico. During his term as president of the United Provinces, he attempted to restrict the powers of the Roman Catholic Church. Following the break out of civil war, he was exiled, returned to Honduras and was subsequently killed by one of his own troops.
Jose Cecilio del Valle’ most prized achievement was the writing of the act of independence from Spanish conquerors. He later became the president of Central America.
Ricardo Maduro, the current President, is always a topic of conversation. The papers follow his life like a tabloid would. There are always pictures of him and his wife to be. Also, there are various football players who would qualify as heros.
Are there shared historical events between this country and Canada that could affect work or social relations?
Canada has had and still has a presence in Honduras through contributions through various development projects. You will come across the Canadian flag on a sign in the most unexpected places. (i.e. at a nursery, in the park above Tegucigalpa where the Jesus statue stands).
What stereotypes do Canadians have about the local culture that might be harmful to effective relations?
In general, Hondurans tend to welcome foreigners. They are warm and friendly people. Not much is known about Canadians but in general they have a good reputation.
None that I am aware of.
Your cultural interpreter was born in Honduras. He is the oldest of a family of 13 and was raised in Tegucigalpa (the capital) in the central part of Honduras until the age of 24. He then moved to live and study in the United States and graduated with his Bachelors of Science from Wichita State University. Afterwards, your cultural interpreter immigrated to Canada to live with his two children and wife.
Your cultural interpreter was born in Prince Rupert BC, the third of four children. She was raised in Maple Ridge, BC and then moved to Vancouver Island to study Geography at the University of Victoria. After graduation she worked for two years at the BC Ministry of Forests and in January 2002 your cultural interpreter travelled to Honduras where she lived for seven months. She spent the majority of her time in a small town, Santa Rosa de Copan, in the western region of Honduras, but did get the opportunity to see much of the country. She is currently back in Canada, living in Victoria, BC where she continues to work at the BC Ministry of Forests and volunteers her time to International students at the English Language Centre at the University of Victoria.
Country Insights - Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.
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