Tips for Living Like a Local in South America

Cultural Advice , Life Abroad , South America Jan 21, 2018 No Comments

Every country is unique, with norms and traditions specific to them, but many South American countries share commonalities. When traveling through South America, it might be easy to equate them, but they are not the same in all ways. For example, Brazil, Argentina, and Peru share a common language and a love of family, but their lifestyles differ in multiple ways, from dining norms to shopping to greetings to taboos. Here are some tips to help you navigate if you plan to travel through or settle in one of these South American countries.


  • If you are invited to a home, plan to arrive about 30 minutes late; parties in Brazil never start on time.
  • Never forget to say good morning to colleagues; Brazilians are very sensitive to this gesture.
  • A common toast is saúde, ‘to your health.’
  • It is common for Brazilians to forgo eating all day before going to a rodízio (all-you-can-eat buffet), where they then eat to their hearts’ content.
  • In Brazil, the North American ‘OK’ symbol resembles a vulgar gesture; instead, use thumbs up.
  • Do not place a handbag on the floor, as this is thought to bring financial misfortune.
  • Do not refer to Brazilians as Hispanic or Latino.
  • Eating in public (in a public transport) is frowned upon, unless food is part of an event (a street fair, for example).
  • Sunday is a family day. Families gather to enjoy meals or outings, such as trips to the beach, rivers, “shopping” (malls) or movie theaters, among others.
  • Major credit and debit cards are accepted almost everywhere, especially at hotels, tourist places, “shopping” (malls) and restaurants in Brazil.
  • When eating with friends at a restaurant, each person pays for his or her own food. Usually, the waiter will ask if separate bills are desired. If the meal is for business, the inviting party will pay the bill. An exception to this may be made, however, depending on the amount of influence foreign etiquette or multinational company culture has in an organization.


  • Argentines rarely will invite someone to their homes who is not a relative or very close friend.
  • When one is invited to eat at someone’s house, it is customary to bring wine, chocolates or a dessert.
  • If invited, you should dress with care at these events; even at an asado (outdoor barbecue), people wear nice, casual clothing.
  • It is considered good manners to appreciate the art in the house, as well as to praise other details that may catch a visitor’s attention.
  • Be careful, however, not to admire a particular possession of the host to excess; he or she may insist on giving it to you, and you will be expected to accept.
  • At asados, men grill the meat while women prepare the table, side dishes, and desserts.
  • If drinking mate, drink it all. To refuse a mate, simply say, ‘Gracias.’
  • At a milonga (tango hall), a cabezazo is a quick nod, often with uplifted eyebrows, from a male to ask a female to dance.
  • It is considered polite to dance two songs, but if you are told gracias after one song, this is a good indication that the other person prefers not to continue.
  • If toasted by an Argentine, reciprocate with the word Salud (‘health’).
  • It is acceptable, even desirable, to arrive 30 minutes late to a dinner party.
  • Both men and women are greeted with a kiss on the cheek.
  • In Argentina, having a network of friends, family and business associates is invaluable. This network provides assistance and favors.
  • If you receive a favor, it often is expected that you will repay it.


  • It is expected that guests will arrive at least 30 minutes late to social events.
  • Sneezing, winking and gesturing in public should be avoided. If a person sneezes, a typical response from another is Salud, equivalent to “God blesses you.”
  • Do not hesitate to tip waiters for good service. A good tip should not be less than 10%. It is always good to be generous.
  • Table manners are very important. Keep your knife in your right hand and your fork in your left.
  • It is polite to eat everything on the plate.
  • Taxi fares are negotiated prior to the ride. Peruvians do not tip taxi drivers.
  • If you are invited to a Peruvian home, it is appropriate to bring gifts for the family. Bringing a box of fine chocolates for the hostess or a bottle of wine for the host will make a good impression.
  • It is an Andean custom to offer a sip of beer (chicha de jora, a fermented drink made from jora maize) to Pachamama, Mother Earth, before drinking. Among certain groups and in a rural context, it is customary to spill a bit of beer onto the ground in gratitude before drinking.



Mary Anne Thompson

Mary Anne Thompson founded GoinGlobal, Inc. more than two decades ago as a result of her own experiences job hunting in Sweden. She believes that to uncover the real job opportunities, you need the experience and personal insights of trained local specialists. Mary Anne continues to be an active CEO who shares her strategies and insights directly with clients to help them strategically maximize GoinGlobal’s unique resources.

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