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Etiquette in Latin America

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Title: Etiquette in Latin America  
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Etiquette in Latin America

Etiquette in Latin America varies by country and by region within a given country.


Latin America is the area south of the Rio Grande, excluding French Guiana, Guyana and Suriname

There are several definitions of Latin America, but all of them define a huge expanse of geography with an incalculable amount of different customs. However, some generalizations can be made:

  • Compared to much of the English-speaking world, people from areas of Latin America may demonstrate more relaxed and casual behaviour and be more comfortable with loud talk, exaggerated gestures and physical contact.[1]
  • 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.[1]
  • At some finer restaurants, it may be considered rude for the staff to bring a customer the check without the customer first requesting it.[2]
  • It is considered impolite to "toss" objects to people instead of directly handing it to them.[3]
  • The American "come here" gesture of palm upwards with the fingers curled back can be considered a romantic solicitation.[3]

Specific regions

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


No matter which definition one uses for Latin America, it is assuredly a large and heterogeneous region with myriad expectations regarding etiquette. In this picture, Afro-Brazilians demonstrate Capoeira.
  • Brazilians speak Portuguese (and usually do not refer to it as "Brazilian Portuguese", even though some expressions and spelling can be very different of European Portuguese; there is even a joke about other Brazilians over the people of Rio de Janeiro that they "do not really speak Portuguese", with many phonological differences given how their accent was influenced by Portugal's variant), not Spanish. Addressing someone who speaks Portuguese in Spanish, although most Brazilians understand Spanish to a reasonable degree, may be considered very offensive.[4][5]
  • In Brazil, a form of the American "okay" gesture is obscene when directed at someone with the symbol upside down (back of hands down, circle forward to someone, rest of fingers to your self pointing any side), implying something like "go f... yourself!". However, the standard "okay" gesture is also used, as is the "thumbs up" gesture.[6]
  • 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").[6]
  • Giving someone of the opposite gender a gift may be easily misinterpreted as a romantic overture, except for birthdays.[7]
  • In some parts of the country, most notably in rural or suburban 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 America.[6]


  • Although tied more closely to France than Spain or Portugal, the etiquette regarding Haiti is similar to other Latin American countries.[8]
  • Haitians often signify particular people through appearances or characteristics. Calling someone blan (white man) and neg (the dark skinned one) are often mere terms of acknowledgement with no racist overtones.[8]
  • Entering a household and not greeting the elders or owners of the household is regarded as highly offensive.[8] Say bonjou (good morning) or bonswa (good afternoon) when entering a room or passing by someone on the street.[9][10]
  • Being overly generous can be interpreted as offensive as to them it may seem as if you pity them.[8]
  • Eating is considered a social event and so withdrawing from the center of activities during meals is considered slightly offensive.[8][11]
  • At restaurants, the one who extended the invitation pays the bill. Unless another woman is present, a woman should not buy dinner for a man. Making arrangements for payment before the meal is considered especially polite. When summoning a server, make eye contact; waving or calling their names is very impolite.[12][11]
  • At the dining table, the European etiquette applies; ladies sit first, fork on the left, elbows off the table, etc.[11] When utensils are not being used, a person's hands are expected to be visible above the table resting the wrists on top of the table and not at your lap. Diners are expected to stay at the table for the entire meal; no bathroom breaks.[13][11]
  • While dining, for making a toast. The most common toast is salud (to your health). When beginning to eat wait until after the host says, bon appetite! (enjoy your meal!)[11]
  • Relationships are important to Haitians; so business discussions should be saved until the end of the meal, or for later.[14]
  • Avoid discussing politics, corruptions within the government, and Dominican life, without having a good understanding of the issues as well as the people with whom you are discussing it and until you have established a relationship with the listener. These are touchy subjects to speak, especially if you do not know what your are talking about.[15]
  • The infamous Haitian Creole phrase Langèt Maman is highly offensive, insulting one's mother. Uttering this to someone will almost certainly provoke conflict.[8]
  • It is rude to point at someone.[16][17]
  • Haitians expect to barter when making a purchase.[8]
  • Men shake hands on meeting and departing. Men and women kiss on the cheek when greeting. Women kiss each other on the cheek. Friends, family and close acquaintances usually share a light kiss on the cheek.[8]
  • Attending church (whether it be Roman Catholic or Protestant), your best formal shoes and clothes are to be worn.[18]
  • Punctuality in an informal setting, is not highly valued and being late is usually not considered rude.[19][20]
  • People holding hands is an ordinary display of friendship though women and men, but seldomly show public affection toward the opposite sex but are affectionate in private. It is also common for people of the same sexes to hold hands as well, and is often mistakenly viewed as homosexuality to outsiders.[8]
  • Children are taught from a very young age not whistle; they are to be seen and not heard. Whistling draws attention to one's self and it is something considered of an adult. You run the risk of being a called a ti grumoun (little adult) and that is not a compliment. Children should do not interrupt grown-ups from speaking, and asking what was said if you are not included in the conversation and should not stare.[21] It is highly disrespectful for children to suck their teeth at grown ups or to roll their eyes.Children should also avoid sitting with their legs crossed and acting like an adult.[21]
  • Never flatulent when company is present. Make sure to do it in another room as this is very rude. It is polite to say eskize mwen (excuse me).[8]
  • For a girl, talking to a boy of no relation in front of the house is a huge infraction. It is considered the cardinal sin to Haitian girls even to this day as it looks upon as being a boozan (someone having intercourse) and considered unladylike. Girls, should also avoid walking in the streets. Boozans (promiscuous girls) walk in the street, while ladies, walk on the sidewalk. Girls, should never leave the house without earrings. To do so, one would look like someone san fanmi (someone who lacks family value upbringing; literally means without family). Always dress properly from head to toe. You hair must be combed in a nice style in case your parents' friends see you in public. These same friends will immediately call your parents and inform them.

See also


  1. ^ a b For example, it is common to greet known people by kissing him/her in the cheek. Erin Richards Cultural Etiquette September 19th, 2006
  2. ^ ACIS Travel Talk August 2006
  3. ^ a b U.S. Institute of Languages Spanish Culture and nonverbal communication
  4. ^ Morrison, Terri; Wayne A. Conaway (July 31, 2006). Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands: The Bestselling Guide to Doing Business in More Than 60 Countries. Adams Publishing Group.  
  5. ^ Morrison, Terri. "Doing business abroad - Brazil". 
  6. ^ a b c
  7. ^ Terri Morrison The Business of Gifts
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Haiti Medical Team". Retrieved 15 February 2014. 
  9. ^ "Baptist Haiti mission". Retrieved 15 February 2014. 
  10. ^ "Cultural Do’s and Don’ts". Retrieved 15 February 2014. 
  11. ^ a b c d e "International dining etiquette: Haiti". Retrieved 15 February 2014. 
  12. ^ Foster, Dean (2002). Global Etiquette Guide to Mexico and Latin America: Everything You Need to Know for Business and Travel Success. John Wiley & Sons, Inc (New York). p. 250. 
  13. ^ Foster, Dean (2002). Global Etiquette Guide to Mexico and Latin America: Everything You Need to Know for Business and Travel Success. John Wiley & Sons, Inc (New York). p. 250. 
  14. ^ Foster, Dean (2002). Global Etiquette Guide to Mexico and Latin America: Everything You Need to Know for Business and Travel Success. John Wiley & Sons, Inc (New York). p. 250. 
  15. ^ "Cultural Information: Haiti". Retrieved 15 February 2014. 
  16. ^ "Cultural Information - Haiti". Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  17. ^ "One Stop: Health and Human Services". Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  18. ^ "Dress code, packing list, and travel information". Retrieved 15 February 2014. 
  19. ^ "Cultural Information - Haiti". Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  20. ^ "One Stop: Health and Human Services". Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  21. ^ a b "I was once told that it is considered rude to whistle in Haiti. Is this true? Why?". Retrieved 15 February 2014. 
  • Peru Etiquette in Depth -
  • ARRUDA, Fábio. Sempre, às vezes, nunca: etiqueta e comportamento. São Paulo: Arx, 2003 - I.S.B.N.: 8575810715
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