Chileans are friendly and hospitable, and they tend to be forgiving of mistakes made by foreigners. Even so, if you are familiar with the basics of Chilean etiquette, you can avoid many embarrassing and awkward situations.
Things to Know:
Chilean culture tends to be more openly affectionate than what you might be used to. During conversations and when greeting one another, a hug, a kiss on the cheek, or an enthusiastic pat on the back are all commonplace. This is especially true among close friends and relatives.
People also tend to stand closer than you might be used to, and to have more direct eye contact. You might feel that your personal space is being invaded a little bit, but for people in Chile, this is just a sign of friendliness, closeness, and interest in what the other person is saying.
Schedules tend to be laid-back, and in most informal situations, it is not considered rude to be late. In fact, for informal gatherings such as a dinner or a party, the host will likely expect guests to arrive late.
Clothing in Chile is conservative and formal. A person is often placed within a social hierarchy based on how they dress, so presenting yourself appropriately is important. Avoid wearing any revealing clothing, such as sleeveless tops, short skirts/shorts, or low-cut tops.
- Make direct eye contact with people when you meet them, or when you are having a conversation.
- Address people using their titles. If you aren’t sure what title to use, address men as Senor, and women as Senora.
- Tip approximately 15 to 20% in restaurants. Often a 10% service charge will automatically be added. Even so, it is customary to tip 5 to 10% or so on top of that.
- Bring some type of small gift, such as flowers, a dessert, or a wine, if you are invited to someone’s home.
- Ask for the bill after your meal at a restaurant. Your waiter or waitress will most likely not bring the bill until you ask for it.
- Keep your hands above the table while eating.
- Wait for your host or hostess to show you to your seat before sitting down. This goes for whether you are visiting someone’s home, or out at a restaurant or other social gathering.
- Use a lot of hand gestures in conversation. Many common hand gestures might be misinterpreted as being rude.
- Point or beckon with your hand or even just your finger. It is considered very rude.
- Hit your left palm with your right fist. This is an offensive gesture in Chile.
- Address someone by their first name until you are invited to do so.
- Openly discuss politics, unless you are close friends with someone. If it does come up, tread carefully.
During your time in Chile, you will inevitably make many new friends. Knowing the proper way to greet someone, and the important things to avoid doing, can help you make a good first impression, and can pave the way for many a close friendship.
A firm handshake and direct eye contact is the norm for greetings. It is common for close friends to hug and pat each other on the back. For women, a kiss on the right cheek is a common greeting.
- Greet everyone in a group individually.
- Use a person’s title plus their last name. If you don’t know their title, you can use Senor for men and Senora for women.
- Use the appropriate greeting. In the morning, say buenos dias. In the afternoon, it is buenas tardes, and in the evening, buenas noches.
Chileans treat their guests with hospitality and generosity. You are sure to be invited to someone’s home or out to a restaurant for dinner. Expect the meal to be very late—Chileans typically don’t eat dinner until 8pm or later. You can expect most dinners to be casual and friendly, with copious amounts of wine, conversation, and delicious Chilean dishes. The standard Chilean toast, salud, is sure to be heard frequently throughout the meal.
- If you are going to someone’s home, send flowers beforehand. Avoid sending yellow, black, or purple flowers, though.
- Guests are expected to arrive a few minutes late. Showing up at exactly the announced time may catch your host unprepared.
- Wait until you are shown to your place before you sit. Women should sit before men.
- Keep your hands above the table while eating. Resting your hands on your lap or out of sight is seen as deceptive or suspicious.
- Don’t pour wine with your left hand.
- Wait to drink until a toast has been made.
- Finish everything on your plate, but don’t ask for second helpings.
- Never eat with your hands.
Gift Giving Etiquette
Whether you are bringing a gift as a thank you for a dinner, or for a holiday or other special occasion, your Chilean friends and colleagues are sure to appreciate the gesture. Make sure that you avoid any unintentional connotations to your gift by following these rules:
- Open a gift immediately after you receive it, and be sure to thank the person who gave it to you.
- If you are invited to someone’s home, send flowers to your Chilean hosts beforehand
- Don’t give yellow, purple, or black flowers as a gift. Yellow flowers indicate disrespect, while purple and black ones represent death.
- Don’t give scissors, knives, or any sort of cutting utensil. This symbolized “cutting” off a friendship or relationship.
Business in Chile is formal, conservative, and heavily based around personal relationships and networks. If you find yourself conducting any sort of business in Chile, expect to find a strict hierarchy within companies, and a strong emphasis on contacts. Having success in business is often about who you know.
- Have business cards ready to hand out when you meet someone.
- Don’t expect any business decisions to be made right away. Chilean business culture is conservative, and you will have to spend time building relationships and trust.
- Always be diplomatic, and avoid openly or publicly criticizing someone.
- It is common to interrupt people while they are speaking. This is not seen as rude in Chilean business culture.
- Arrive on time for business meetings, but expect them to last longer than scheduled.
- Business attire is formal and conservative. Avoid wearing business casual attire, bright colors, or excessive jewelry.
Go back to our Chile Country Guide page.