Etiquette in Latin America

Etiquette in Latin America

As expectations regarding good manners differ from person to person and vary according to each situation, no treatise on the rules of etiquette nor any list of faux pas can ever be complete. As the perception of behaviors and actions vary, intercultural competence is essential. However, a lack of knowledge about the customs and expectations of people of Latin America can make even the best intentioned person seem rude, foolish, or worse.


There are several definitions of Latin America, but all of them define a huge expansive of geography with an incalculable amount of different customs, However, some generalizations can be made:
*As every definition of Latin America connotes a shared cultural and linguistic legacy with roots in Spain and Portugal, and to a lesser extent France, many points of etiquette in Europe are applicable, especially those specific to those nations.
*Compared to much of the English-speaking world, people from areas of Latin America may demonstrate more relaxed and casual behavior and be more comfortable with loud talk, exaggerated gestures and physical contact. Erin Richards For example, is common to greet known people by kissing he/her in the cheek. [ Cultural Etiquette] September 19th, 2006 ]
*In addition, many Latin American people have a smaller sense of personal space than people from English-speaking cultures. It may be rude to step away from someone when they are stepping closer. Erin Richards [ Cultural Etiquette] September 19th, 2006 ]
*In addition to varying greatly from one individual to another and along various demographic lines, this tendency towards comparatively warm and relaxed behavior does not necessarily hold true among many communities of indigenous peoples, including those who have adopted Spanish or Portuguese as their primary language.
*At some finer restaurants, it may be considered rude for the staff to bring a customer the check without the customer first requesting it. ACIS [ Travel Talk August 2006] ]
*Getting the last snack or canape left in a plate makes the person seem rude/greedy.
*It is considered impolite to "toss" objects to people instead of directly handing it to them. U.S. Institute of Languages [ Spanish Culture and nonverbal communication] ]
*At the workplace, indiscretions, errors or overall poor performance should be pointed out in private. Mentioning them in front of other colleagues (such as in a meeting) is perceived as hostile.
* The American "come here" gesture of palm upwards with the fingers curled back can be considered a romantic solicitation.
*Throughout Latin America, there are communities of people with strong ethnic and cultural ties to other parts of the world. One example is the 1.5 million strong Japanese Brazilian community for whom certain points of etiquette in Asia may be applicable. Some of these same points of etiquette would apply in Chinatowns in Latin America. Argentina has large communities of German Argentines, Irish Argentines, and so on.
*In many instances, points of etiquette applicable to Latin America will also hold true with Latino people in the United States.

pecific regions

The following points of etiquette apply most specifically to a certain region:


*Apart from going to church, Sundays is commonly the day Argentines gather in family for lunch or dinner


There are important differences in social interactions and customs between the Andean area and the lowlands. The following apply mostly in the Andean area.
*When hosting you need to serve any kind of food to your guest and insist that they eat. Putting a plate of finger food in the middle for people to help themselves creates an awkward situation for most Bolivians.
*Bolivians acting as host will often belittle and apologize for the food they are serving. This is just politeness.
*When you finish eating in company, even strangers, you must say "provecho". This is answered with "gracias".
*In the countryside guests will be served a plate and left alone to eat. This is courtesy and goes on until you've been accepted as a close friend of the family.
*Andean people are not very tactile. Rather than hugging, men will tap each other's shoulders. Cheek-kissing with women is a city thing. In the countryside any public display of affection between a couple, starting from holding hands, even if married, is at least awkward. Among youngsters, friends of the same sex may hold hands and even hold each other by the shoulder, in public. Handshakes are softer and as a show of appreciation may hold a little longer, only between friends of the same sex.


*Brazilians speak Portuguese, "not" Spanish. Addressing someone that speaks Portuguese in Spanish may be considered very offensive [cite book| last =Morrison| first =Terri| authorlink =|coauthors =Wayne A. Conaway |title =Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands: The Bestselling Guide to Doing Business in More Than 60 Countries| publisher =Adams Publishing Group| date =July 31, 2006| location =|pages =| url =| doi =| id =1593373686 ] [cite web| last =Morrison| first =Terri| authorlink =|coauthors =|title =Doing business abroad - Brazil| work =| publisher =| date =| url =| format =| doi =| accessdate =] .
*Brazilians consider themselves to be "Americans" - as all North and South Americans rightly may. Do not use the phrase "in America" when referring to the United States, because America is only the continent.
*In Brazil, a form of the American "okay" gesture may be obscene when directed at someone. However, the standard "okay" gesture is also used, as is the "thumbs up"]
*The gesture of "flipping someone off" by hitting the wrist against the inside of the elbow (sometimes called "a banana" in Brazil) is considered playful and not very offensive (in some other parts of the world, this is more akin to "the finger").]
*Giving someone of the opposite gender a gift may be misinterpreted as a romantic overture. Terri Morrison [ The Business of Gifts] ]
*When offering something, especially food, Brazilians will often repeat the offer several times and with increasing enthusiasm. Offering something only once can be rude. It is not impolite to refuse such offers, and in some cases they may be made just to be polite without really hoping a person will accept.
*In some parts of the country, most notably in rural areas in which homes may not have doorbells, the appropriate action is to stand in the yard and clap one's hands. If no one comes to the door, then the visitor may approach the door, knock, and then step back away from the door and await a response. This is especially applicable in regards to small, thin-walled cottages that offer less privacy than homes in North]
* One of the slang words used to describe a homossexual is synonimous with "deer", and calling someone by that term is extremely offensive; In Brazil's "jogo do bicho", an illegal lottery in which the lottery numbers are assigned an equivalent animal, the number 24 is for the deer group. Since this animal is strongly associated with male homosexuality assigning a man in any way to the number 24 (e.g.: a sports jersey or seat number) will be considered rude, unless this man is a close friend (in this case, it may be considered funny).
*People in Brazil use to be very receptive and not formal. Calling a young woman "Senhora" may be considered offensive. The word "Senhorita" (lit. Little miss) is not used and seen as an archarism.
* Punctuality is not taken too seriously in Brazil. Showing up exactly on schedule for a party is very uncommon.


*In Chile, good etiquette calls for wine to be poured with the right hand and wine glasses should always be held by the stem. [ South American Travel tips] ]
* The customer of a restaurant must ask for the check, otherwise it won't be brought.
* It is common for women to greet friends with a kiss on the cheek.
* Opening the door for a women or helping her with her luggage, etc, are not considered flirtatious actions.


*Gifts are never opened in public unless the giver insists.
*Group waves are extremely unacceptable.
*After finishing dinner, expect to stay for a few hours. Leaving right away might be perceived as that you were there only for a free meal.
*Avoid discussing the drug trade. This is a delicate subject in Colombia.
*The elderly are given high respect; men are often referred to as Don and women as Doña, followed by their first names.
*There is a strong sense of cultural regionalism in Colombian society. Many Colombians (especially but not exclusively the older generation) identify themselves first with their home region, then their nationality.
*Colombians that do not know each other typically begin every issue with small talk, no matter how trivial. "Getting to the point" immediately might be seen as impatient and impolite.
*Colombians have a great variety of regional accents. If you speak fluent Spanish, do not try to imitate the accents, for it may be viewed unfavorably by some.
*It is considered improper and slightly immature for adult men to wear shorts (except in recreational areas, such as parks, the beach, or pools).
*It is not usually acceptable to drop by someone's house without calling.
*In most areas (i.e. Bogotá) it is common for men to greet women friends kissing once on the cheek.
*It is considered polite to say thanks after common actions such as someone opening a door, offering or giving something to drink or eat, or when plates are taken from the table, and after most rutinary actions whenever they are not expected.

Dominican Republic

*Dominicans tend to be direct in social situations, but are subtle when making requests and offering criticism.
*Personal questions may be asked at an earlier time than what North Americans and Europeans are accustomed to.
*Dominican society is extremely family-oriented; thus, nepotism in organizations and workplaces is regarded as a good thing.
*Avoid discussing Haitian immigration. Most people will let you know what they want to speak about so just listen. Most Dominican love to talk about what is happening in the country; they might even battle each other about a certain topic.
*Salsa, merengue and even reggaetón may seem like "sexy dancing", but there are unspoken rules. It is rude for a man to dance too close to a woman who is not his wife or girlfriend, even if others seem to be doing it. (The same rules apply in Puerto Rico.)
*Dominican also expect you to look your best at all times. This is seen especially in the women who take pride in their appearance.
*When an invitation is issued (such as to go to dinner or to a bar), invitees typically assume that everything will be paid for. Just like Mexico and in other parts of Latin America.


*Visitors to Ecuador often marvel at the brightly-colored traditional attire of natives. However, it is impolite to photograph someone before asking permission. Some people will ask for a tip in exchange for this favor and to begrudge them this source of income is considered unkind. Moreover, do not dress in traditional attire; this will be perceived as mocking the local culture. Only the natives are entitled to do so, not even Ecuadorians from the city (non Indians)
*Beachwear should only be worn at the beach and not in towns. The same with short pants for grown- ups. (men and women)
*Never refer to someone as an "Indian", unless they happen to consider themselves so.
*Men greet women, and women greet women, kissing once on the cheek. Not doing it is considered impolite.
*When invited, it is consider impolite not to bring a present. (If not asked, never bring food, more appropriate would be flowers, wine, chocolates or a small toy for the host's child) The same when you are (even for a short time) meeting someone at their home and they offer snacks or something to drink. It is often polite to decline the first time, but not accepting later would be consider impolite.
*Dance: (see Dominican Republic)
*There is a strong sense of regionalism in Ecuadorian society. Many Ecuadorians identify themselves first with their home region (specially if they are from the coast or the highland), then their nationality.
*Do not use the phrases "in America" or "I'm from America" when referring to the United States. America is a continent, not just the United States.
*Politics are nowadays a very controversial subject in the country. One should avoid talking about religion, politics, money or illness at dinner with (not so close) friends and strangers.
*To blow one's nose in public, while eating or in a room is considered vulgar and one should try to avoid it. The same rule applies in Venezuela.
*Ecuadorian society, like in most South American countries, is very conservative and foreigners (e.g. foreign exchange students, in-laws, but not necessarily tourists) should observe this and try to behave like their peers.
*Like in most South American countries, unmarried childless (young) women should always be referred to as "señorita" and not "señora", otherwhise you could offend them. If unsure, it's better to say "señorita". If married, she will feel herself flattered and will immediately correct it. In addition, asking women about their age is considered rude.
*Women expect doors to be opened for them by males, be helped with luggage etc. These actions are not construed as flirtatious.
*When dealing with someone with an academic degree in a formal (e.g. at work) situation, it is usual to mention it. (Ingeniero/a, Licenciado/a, Doctor/a, Abogado/a, Economista/a, Arquitecto/a) If used outside a formal situation (e.g. between friends), the titles might sound sarcastic.
*People's hygiene habits are very important, especially in the tropical climate of Guayaquil or other tropical cities in the country. People are expected to take one or more baths or showers daily. Body odor, unshaven legs and underarms in women, ugly or dirty bare feet, or wrinkled clothing and dirty shoes are considered disgusting. Many men wear cologne and have a comb with them. Women usually wear high heels. Never use sport (running) shoes at a formal restaurant, work or going out with friends at night.


*Although tied more closely to France than Spain or Portugal, the etiquette regarding Haiti are generally similar to other Latin American countries.
*Haitians often signify particular people through appearances or characteristics. Calling someone "white man" (blan) and "the dark skinned one" (neg) are often mere terms of acknowledgement with no racist overtones.
*Entering a household and not greeting the elders or owners of the household is regarded as highly offensive.
*Being overly generous can be interpreted as offensive as to them it may seem as if you pity them.
*Eating is considered a social event and so withdrawing from the center of activities during meals is considered slightly offensive.
*Avoid discussing Dominican life to Haitians as well as the corruption within government, as these are sensitive subjects. (If you do not know about the subject)
*The infamous Haitian Creole phrase "Langet Manmanw" is highly offensive, insulting one's mother. Uttering this to someone will almost positively provoke conflict.
*The Haitians use very good manners and take things seriously.


*The color purple is associated with funerals and should be avoided when giving flowers. [,2122,,00.html Cultural Tips] ]
* The courtesy titles "Señora" and "Señorita" (Mrs. and Miss, respectively) are taken colloquially as "Married Woman" and "Virgin Woman". This follows Catholic prohibitions against intercourse outside of marriage. Hence, it is more polite to address even an elderly woman as "Señorita" if her marital status is unknown. To do otherwise impugns her character.
*When an invitation is issued (such as to go to dinner or to a bar), invitees typically assume that everything will be paid for.
*Several kinds of food are eaten with the fingers (tacos, tortas, etc.) Eating them with a fork and knife is viewed as both snobbish and comical. In case of doubt, follow the lead of other diners.
*Before starting to eat, saying "Buen provecho" or simply "Provecho" (lit. I hope the food is good for you) is expected to wish the others at the table a good meal.
*Toasting with water (and, to a lesser degree, any non-alcoholic drink) is regarded as bad luck.
*Women expect doors to be opened for them by males. This also applies to lighting of cigarettes and helping them to their seat. None of these actions are construed as flirtatious.
*As in the USA, unless service is atrocious, tips should never be below 10% of the bill total as they are commonly a waiter's main means of income. 15% or more is most appropriate.
*When dealing with someone with an academic degree in a formal situation, it is usual to mention it. For a BA-level, the distinctions are clear (Ingeniero and Licenciado for graduates of Engineering programs or for most other fields, respectively). Afterwards, it's usual to call a Master "maestro" and a Doctor-level student "Doctor". If used outside a formal situation, the titles might sound ironic.
*It is common for men to greet ladies (and vice-versa) by kissing one time on the cheek. It is even used when only being introduced to someone.
*When someone sneezes, you should say "Salud" (lit. "Health"). This is the equivalent for "bless you" in United States. The person who sneezed should respond with "Gracias" ("Thank you").
*The use of the Mexican flag for any other reason than from national holidays (such as Independence Day) is considered a serious insult and faux pas for Mexicans, as so is painting, throwing, clothing it, etc.


*In Nicaragua, exchanges of hospitality are important. Refusing a drink (especially on a hot day) or not praising the host on the quality of the meal is considered rude.
*Exchanging greetings is also very important. Seeing (even at a distance) someone one knows typically prompts approaching them to exchanging handshakes and kisses as appropriate. Waves and verbal salutations do not suffice.

Puerto Rico

*Remember that Puerto Rico is politically part of the United States and Puerto Rican people people frequently travel back and forth from the island to such cities as Boston and New York and have for generations. As such, most rules of etiquette in the United States are applicable here as well.
*Among Puerto Ricans, conversations are usually very interactive and full of interruptions. Interruptions mean interest in the subject discussed; silence denotes disinterest rather than paying close attention. If you're talking to someone else and a third person joins you, you are expected to stop what you're saying and acknowledge the newcomer.
*Watching television is a very social activity. Asking for quiet is typically both unreasonable and impolite.
*People's hygiene habits are scrutinized, especially in the tropical climate of Puerto Rico itself. People are expected to take one or more baths or showers daily. Body odor, unshaven legs and underarms in women, bare feet, or wrinkled clothing are considered disgusting. Many men wear cologne.
*Salsa, merengue and even reggaetón may seem like "sexy dancing", but there are unspoken rules. It is rude for a man to dance too close to a woman who is not his wife or girlfriend, even if others seem to be doing it.
*It is considered vulgar and ostentatious to open gifts in public. Gifts are never opened in front of a group of people to avoid people comparing the merits of different gifts.
*Women in Puerto Rico are very independent and many of them dislike to feel patronized or bound to traditional roles. While talking to a woman in informal situations avoid calling them "señorita" (miss) or "señora" (mrs), as they could interpret those titles as 'inexperienced'/'ignorant' or 'old'.


*Waving at a stranger is awkward
*Using your index finger to motion a person to approach you, as practiced in the United States and other places, is considered rude. A more polite way to beckon someone is to place the palm down and gently sweep your fingers toward you.
*In a gathering, you must greet each and everyone, especially the eldest.
* In churches and monasteries, err on the side of discretion (low-rise pants, midriff shirts, peekaboo thongs, and anything else that reveals a lot of skin is not usually acceptable).
*Discussion of drugs (and coca-plant cultivation) and religion should be handled with great tact.
*In a country in which nearly half the population is Amerindian, expressing respect for native peoples is important. Try to refer to them not as indios, which is a derogatory term, but as indígenas.
*Peruvians shake hands frequently and tirelessly, and although kissing on the cheek is a common greeting for acquaintances, it is not practiced among strangers (as it is in Spain, for example). Amerindian populations are more conservative and even shy. They don't kiss to greet one another, nor do they shake hands as frequently as other Peruvians; if they do, it is a light brush of the hand rather than a firm grip. Many Indians from small villages are reluctant to look a stranger in the eye.
*Photographing military, police, or airport installations is strictly forbidden. Many churches, convents, and museums also do not allow photography or video.
*Punctuality is not one of the trademarks of Peru or Latin America in general. Peruvians are customarily a half-hour late to most personal appointments, and it is not considered very bad form to leave someone hanging in a cafe for up to an hour. It is expected, so if you have a meeting scheduled, unless a strict hora inglesa (English hour) is specified, be prepared to wait.
*Be sure not talk too much or in depth about the incident of Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path)


* In Venezuela, it is often considered rude to point at a person or even an object with the index finger. People typically point with the whole hand or with a movement of the head and a puckering of the lips towards that which is being indicated.
* In many situations, punctuality is less important than it is for people elsewhere. Showing up exactly on schedule for a party or gathering is undesirable. However, punctuality is expected for business' matters.
* People tend to stand very close together when carrying on a conversation. Venezuelans often touch each other’s arms or shoulders during it.
* Coffee or a cold drink is typically offered to guests. It is often polite to decline.
* Street directions are expected to be given in a very detailed manner, very often describing trees and the color of buildings near by. Omitting an obvious landmark such as a mango tree or a bright red wall is considered careless.
*When a male is introduced to a female, it's expected for the male to make the motion and kiss the female once on the cheek along with a handshake. The handshake should start gentle and match to the female's grip.
* When visiting someone's home, remember to bring along something for the house. For example, a small decorative piece if you are familiar with the decorative style, a dessert, or a bottle of the man of the house's favorite alcoholic beverage. For an informal lunch visit, it is common to bring fresh bread from one of the numerous bakeries, desserts, soda, wine, or beer. For breakfast, white cheese or shredded beef for the arepas are always welcome. In any case, it is always rude toshow up empty-handed.
* Phrases like "in America" or "I'm from America" when referring to the United States is confusing to Latin American people as America is a continent, not just the United States. Therefore, all people born in the American continent are Americans. People from the United States of America are referred to by their nationality, "estadounidense."
* For business or informal matters, it is good practice to follow up morning appointments with an invitation to lunch.
* Unlike lunch, dinner is for socializing, not for business.
* When dining, wait until everyone is served before beginning to eat.
* Before starting to eat, saying "Buen provecho"(lit. I hope the food is good for you) is expected to wish the others at the table a good meal. The others will say "gracias" and repeat the phrase "buen provecho" so everybody at the table have a good meal.
* Avoid making noises with you cutlery on the plate. Do not bite on your fork or spoon.
* Meals are to be enjoyed with conversations, as long as there are not mouths showing food in it. Swallow first-talk later, or cover your mouth while with food in it.
* To indicate you have finished eating, place your cutlery in parallel and diagonally across your plate.
* Expect to stay for a couple more hours more after dinner, leaving right away might be perceived as that you were there only for a free meal. Coffee and liquour, as digestive aids, will be offered.
* To blow one's nose in public, while eating or in a room is considered vulgar and disgusting, and one should try to avoid it. The restroom is the appropriate place to do it.
*When entering a room with other people, it is a friendly and informal gesture to say just "Buenas" instead of the full "buenos dias" (good morning) or "buenas tardes" (good afternoon). However it is always appropriate to say the complete "buenos días" and "buenas ttardes/noches) in formal situations.
* Shorts and other forms or beachwear are appropriate only in those environments.
* When someone sneezes, you should say "Salud" (lit. "Health"). The person who sneezed should respond with "Gracias" ("Thank you").

ee also

*Etiquette in Africa
*Etiquette in Asia
*Etiquette in Australia and New Zealand
*Etiquette in Canada and the United States
*Etiquette in Europe
*Etiquette in the Middle East
*Worldwide etiquette


*Peru Etiquette in Depth -

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