One Gringa’s Guide to Chilean Courtesy

During my relatively short stay(s) here in Santiago de Chile, I pride myself with having learned some basic but VERY helpful rules about Chilean courtesy. It varies a bit from the United States, and I think that’s why some Chileans accuse Norteamericanos of being cold. So here it is: Miss Manners Chilean Style.

1. Saludar. This is very important. Yes, it’s annoying to have to go around and kiss everyone on the cheek, but Chileans see it as a sign of respect. Even if you’re just passing through the room, you should say hi to everyone. This is especially important when there are visitors, and usually requires a bit more effort as it is also polite to make small talk in this situation.

2. Despedirse. Say goodbye. In my experience, the cheek kiss is less important, especially if the time spent was short. However, if you’ve spent a significant amount of time with a group of people, use the cheek kiss. What is really rude though, is to leave a place without at least saying “Chao!”

3. Say “Buenos dias” or “Buenas tardes” instead of just “Hola.” This rule applies in any public setting such as the pharmacy, grocery store, notary, offices, etc. As a rule of thumb, if you are going to use “usted” with the person you’re talking to, take the extra nano-second and say “Buenos Dias/Buenas Tardes”. Even better, combine it with an Hola and a smile. In my experience whoever is helping you will be more attentive.

4. When offered a drink while visiting someone, accept. In the U.S. we are generally taught that declining is the polite thing to do. But here, they look at you like you have two heads and say “Are you sure?!?!” Also, in my experience just asking for water is kind of weird, because as a rule Chileans don’t drink a lot of water. If it’s the first time I’m at someone’s house I will accept juice or soda, and then once I feel more comfortable I’ll ask for water.

5. Finish all the food on your plate. (To the extent that you can.) This is considered a compliment to the chef and you won’t be seen as a glutton. In fact, if you can, take seconds.

6. Use a napkin. Cachando Chile posted a great article on napkin etiquitte here in Chile, so check that out.

7. When serving food to others, make sure you use placemats and little saucers under bowls and tea cups. This may seem excessive, but it’s how it’s done.

Any other suggestions? One thing I have a doubt on is how to politely ask for something, for example at the pharmacy. I know it’s rude to say “Quiero______” (I want_________), but I almost never hear anyone say “Quisiera______” I usually just make it really long and complicated and say “Estoy buscando__________” or “Me gustaria __________” or shorten it completely and say “Paracetamol, por favor.” I seem to remember that you should say “Me da ___________?” but I’m not 100% sure on that one.


4 thoughts on “One Gringa’s Guide to Chilean Courtesy

  1. I’m not sure why (considering the date it was published), but this little pearler of a post popped up on my Google Reader news-feed this morning…. and I’m so glad it did! 🙂 A great entry!! Cheers Abby! 🙂

  2. I’ve got 2 months until I’m heading over to Latin America and I’m terrified I’m going to end up offending people. I think although we don’t mean to be, us Brits can been seen as quite stiff, standoffish and cold in other countries (even in America) so I’d be devastated if someone thought I was being impolite. So much to learn!

  3. This is funny…such an old post but still totally relevant!

    And maybe I’m weird but in the U.S. I’d still think it was rude if anyone left a party without at least saying goodbye…

  4. Pingback: Reverse Culture Shock: Greetings and Goodbyes. « Abby's Line

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