Cultural Etiquette Tips to Know When Traveling to South America

If you have a visit planned to South America, you’re in for a treat. This scenic continent is well known for its breathtaking natural landscapes, including towering mountain peaks, thunderous waterfalls, and ancient rainforests, as well as vibrant and exciting art, music, and dance styles unique to each country you encounter. Western Union (WU) has compiled cultural etiquette tips, highlighting differences in specific countries, to help you feel comfortable and enjoy your South American adventure to the fullest.

Dining Etiquette

Dining rules vary from country to country, however, in general, meals are eaten ‘Continental Style’ with the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right hand. A common toast at the beginning of a meal is “Salud!” or “To your health.”

In both Argentina and Bolivia, it’s considered polite to pour wine out of a bottle only with your right hand, and by holding the wine bottle in the middle or near the top. Pouring wine with your left hand or while holding the bottle from the bottom signifies disrespect for your dining companion.

In both Argentina and Paraguay, a traditional tea is served in a gourd that is passed around to each person present at a gathering, and is considered a sign of social acceptance. This tea is called Maté in Argentina, and is consumed through an elegant silver straw called a bombilla. In Paraguay, this tea is called Tereré and is served ice cold.

Waist down view of Peruvian dancers at a parade in Cusco

Dress

Although South Americans may be relaxed when it comes to punctuality, they’re not so when it comes to fashion. When out on the town, or when you’re invited to a dinner party, be sure to dress on the more formal and upscale side and look your best. Even if it seems like you’re going to a casual event, you should still put your best foot forward with your appearance and grooming. Be sure to avoid showing up to events in clothing like trainers, sportswear, or shorts.

Punctuality

In general, punctuality is a little more on the relaxed side in South America. If invited to a dinner party, it’s not uncommon for people to arrive 15-30 minutes after the start time. Likewise, this more relaxed attitude can carry over into the hospitality industry. Service may not be as timely or quick as you may experience in other parts of the world, so you may need to practice a little patience.

Multiethnic Group of Friends with Brazilian Flag

Socializing 

When invited to someone’s home, it’s generally appropriate to bring a small gift for the host or hostess; a unique token from your home country is usually well received and will spark conversation and interest. Otherwise, bringing wine, chocolate, or a small bouquet of flowers is popular.

To help with your social interactions in South America, it would be wise to study some conversational Spanish and pick up a few simple phrases to use, such as “Buenos Dias” (good day) and “Gracias” (thank you).

Social customs vary from country to country; whereas people may be more boisterous and direct in countries like Brazil and Venezuela, they tend to be more reserved in countries like Peru and Paraguay. Be sure to be mindful and respectful of the local customs.

South Americans tend to be open and friendly people, and may ask personal questions about your career, financial status, relationship status, marriage, and family. It may seem intrusive to Westerners, however, it’s just the South Americans’ way of showing interest, and shouldn’t be taken as offensive. It’s best to be modest and answer any questions you feel comfortable with, and politely evade ones that you don’t want to answer.

With its gorgeous natural scenery, colorful culture, and friendly, welcoming people, it’s no surprise that South America is a top tourist destination for travelers worldwide. These cultural etiquette tips should help you to enhance your visit and fit in with the locals. Have you traveled to South America, and if so, what was your favorite country to visit, and why? Tell us your story in the comments!

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