We all know that we don’t pat the back of a colleague in Korea to thank them for a “job well done”. Or eat with your left hand in India, or sip vodka in Russia. In many countries, these actions are harmless. But in others, they can give a wrong impression or cause offense.
In fact, whatever culture you’re from, it’s likely that you routinely do something that could cause offense somewhere else in the world. So here is:
A primer on how to avoid mistakes in Bolivia
Do not use the word “indio” in Bolivia to describe indigenous people. It is considered offensive. The term they use is “campesino” which translates to peasant or “indígena”. “Cholo” is a campesino who moved to the city, and though originally derogatory, has become more of a symbol of indigenous power.
Nevertheless, some locals still use the word cholo as a derogative term. Also, keep in mind the stark cultural and racial differences between the “cambas” of the Llanos in the east, who are white and mestizo and the “collas” of the Andes in the west who are Native American. They tend to not be on good terms and have been even more fiercely divided in recent years since the election of Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous president.
The two peoples tend to be very defensive about their side of Bolivia, so discussing your travel to the other cultural region of the country may be seen as insulting. In Santa Cruz, where society is much more Westernized, associating with indigenous culture is frowned upon, whereas in La Paz and elsewhere, it is quite the contrary. It is also good to keep in mind that the Bolivian culture is very warm and friendly. That being said, it is very rude not to say Buen Día or Buenos Días to passerbys in the streets. It also customary give up your seat on a city bus for someone older than you, or a woman. Which people will do for you if you look a little bit older.
With this, you had the primer on key facts about Bolivia, and key facts on culture and customs. Another important part of the culture is the local food and the local drinks. Make sure you read our posts on Bolivia food and drinks:
Other tips that you’d like to share on mistakes to avoid in Bolivia? Please comment below.