Travel

Cultural considerations in Latin America

Latin Americans are famously laid-back – so much so that people often say you should reset your watch to a different pace of life when landing in the region. However, don’t be seduced into thinking that just because people seem relaxed, they won’t get offended by anything! As with travelling anywhere, there are always a few sensitive areas you need to be aware of – and Latin America is no different!

Religion

While Latin America seems to ooze sexuality when it’s depicted in the Western media, many parts of the region are deeply religious. As a result modest dress and behaviour are highly recommended: there are plenty of beaches where you can strip off, so there’s no need to do it elsewhere! To avoid feeling the need to bare all, make sure you invest in some loose fitting, cotton clothes. As most Latin Americans are Catholic, Sundays are of real religious significance. On this day, double your efforts to seem modest (and don’t expect too many shops to be open)! Plus, while churches are great places to visit, remember that they are places of worship too.

Drugs

The ‘war on drugs’ in Central and South America is not called a ‘war’ for nothing: while drugs here are more readily available than at home, possession and other drug-related offences are dealt with pretty harshly. As such, getting involved with drugs in South America does not come highly recommended, especially as police searches are very common. Also, while chewing coca leaves is a popular past-time in Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina, make sure you don’t travel with them. Outside of Latin America, most countries make no distinction between the coca leaves and any other substance containing cocaine.

(Don’t) watch your space

Communication in South America is far from a timid affair: conversations are bigger, brasher and feature a lot more hand gestures. A by-product of all this means your personal space is not as sacred as it might be back at home! Stepping back from someone who’s talking to you may be considered rude, so try and leave your inhibitions behind and get involved yourself!

Don’t get snap-happy

It’s a common reaction to whip out a camera and start merrily snapping away whenever you see something interesting. Usually this isn’t too much of an issue in Latin America, but may cause problems if you start photographing kids, people in traditional dress or government officials. Your best bet is to ask first – imagine how you’d feel if someone thought your jeans and t-shirt were weird and starting taking pictures of them!

Re-set your watch!

Although it differs in each country, Latin Americans tend to have a more relaxed attitude to timekeeping than in the West. Perhaps it’s the laid-back attitude to life or the extra few hours of daylight you get, but punctuality is not a big concern here! If you’ve arranged a meeting with someone try and clarify if they mean a time exactly or approximately, as it may prevent you from standing around waiting for everyone to arrive!

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