Etiquette in Latin America

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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 Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Suriname and other English speaking countries

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. It is common to greet known people by kissing him/her in the cheek.[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[edit]

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


  • 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 to Spain or Portugal, the etiquette regarding Haiti is similar to other Latin American countries.[8]
  • Haitians take proper behavior seriously and this includes good manners, clean appearances at all times, a moderate tone in one's speech and avoidance of any profanity or public "scenes", as these are all important indicators of one's social class.[9]
  • 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.[10][11]
  • Eating is considered a social event and so withdrawing from the center of activities during meals is considered slightly offensive.[8][12]
  • 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][13]
  • At the dining table, the European etiquette applies; ladies sit first, fork on the left, elbows off the table, etc.[12] 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 one's lap. Diners are expected to stay at the table for the entire meal; no bathroom breaks.[12][13]
  • While dining, for making a toast, the most common toast is sante (to your health). When beginning to eat wait until after the host says "bon appetit!" ("enjoy your meal!").[12]
  • Relationships are important to Haitians, so business discussions should be saved until the end of the meal, or for later.[13]
  • 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 one is discussing it, and until one has established a relationship with the listener. These are touchy subjects to speak about, especially if one does not know what one is talking about.[14]
  • The infamous Haitian Creole phrase Langyèt Maman'w is highly offensive, insulting one's mother. Uttering this to someone will almost certainly provoke conflict.[8]
  • It is rude to point at someone.[14][15]
  • 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]
  • When attending church (whether it be Roman Catholic or Protestant), one's best formal shoes and clothes are to be worn.[16]
  • Punctuality in an informal setting is not highly valued and being late is usually not considered rude.[14][15]
  • People holding hands is an ordinary display of friendship though women and men, but seldom 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, and is often mistakenly viewed as homosexuality to outsiders.[8]
  • Children are to be seen and not heard; not to draw attention to one's self.

[17] It is especially disrespectful for children to whistle, point,[14] suck their teeth,[18] stare,[19] or to roll their eyes at adults.[citation needed] Children should also avoid sitting with their legs crossed and acting like an adult.[20]

  • Flatulence, when company is present, is very rude and should be done in another unoccupied place. It is polite to say "excusez-moi" (Haitian Creole: eskize'm), which means "excuse me".[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Erin Richards Cultural Etiquette Archived 2006-11-11 at the Wayback Machine September 19, 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. ISBN 1-59337-368-6.
  5. ^ Morrison, Terri. "Doing business abroad - Brazil". Archived from the original on 2007-02-05.
  6. ^ a b c
  7. ^ Terri Morrison The Business of Gifts
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h "Haiti Medical Team" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 February 2014. Retrieved 15 February 2014.
  9. ^ Lassiter, Sybil M. (1998). Cultures of Color in America: A Guide to Family, Religion, and Health. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 120. ISBN 0313300704. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
  10. ^ "Baptist Haiti mission" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 15 February 2014.
  11. ^ "Cultural Do's and Don'ts". Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 15 February 2014.
  12. ^ a b c d e "International dining etiquette: Haiti". Retrieved 15 February 2014.
  13. ^ a b c Foster, Dean (2002). Global Etiquette Guide to Mexico and Latin America: Everything You Need to Know for Business and Travel Success. John Wiley & Sons. p. 250. ISBN 978-0471418511.
  14. ^ a b c d "Cultural Information - Haiti". Retrieved 13 May 2014.
  15. ^ a b "One Stop: Health and Human Services" (PDF). Retrieved 13 May 2014.
  16. ^ "Dress code, packing list, and travel information" (PDF). Retrieved 15 February 2014.
  17. ^ Gay, Roxane (2014). An Untamed State Whistling. p. 50. ISBN 9780802122513.
  18. ^ Dillard, Joey Lee (1980). "Perspectives on American English". p. 357. ISBN 9027933677. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
  19. ^ Colin, Jesse M. "Cultural and Clinical Care Cultural and Clinical Care for Haitians" (PDF). p. 12. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
  20. ^ "I was once told that it is considered rude to whistle in Haiti. Is this true? Why?". Retrieved 15 February 2014.