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 Paraguay
With an area of about 406.000 sq km, Paraguay is divided into two regions: Oriental and Occidental by the Paraguay River. Despite being landlocked, the country is bordered and criss-crossed by navigable rivers. The Tropic of Capricorn also crosses the country from East to West and determines a more tropical climate to the North and subtropical to temperate climate to the South.
It is considered courteous for men to shake hands whenever they meet. In mixed company among friends and peers, it is usual for men and women to give a light kiss on each cheek. Also when meeting, people will ask how you are (‘Qué tal?’, ‘Como estás?’, or perhaps ‘Todo bien?’); the response to this is, as elsewhere in the world, that one is fine, ‘Bien, gracias’. Note that in Paraguayan Spanish, ‘tu’ is not used. The informal word for ‘you’ (singular, is ‘vos’).
The polite/formal word is ‘usted’. In both informal and formal situations, ‘you’ plural is ‘ustedes’. It is polite to express gratitude for, and appreciation of, help, invitations, food etc. (When discussing food, the regional word for ‘tasty’ in Spanish is ´rico`.) Conversation Due to the relatively small number of tourists and foreigners in Paraguay, local people, particularly outside the capital, may express curiosity about tourist visitors, and find their coloring, dress or manners a cause for comment or even gentle amusement.
This is certainly not meant impolitely. Good manners are as important to Paraguayans as to any other society. Paraguayans, like Argentinians, have a lively sense of humor. In the capital, visitors will almost always be able to operate using Spanish. Outside the capital, however, the country’s other official language, Guarani, is far more frequent. Throughout Paraguay, people are generally delighted if foreigners take the trouble to speak some Guarani. It is often difficult to find people who speak English, but most Paraguayans are by nature kind and helpful, and will be happy to respond to polite attempts to communicate.
Paraguayan society is generally conservative: foreigners should observe local standards of manners, dress and behaviour to avoid causing offence. Punctuality and Perception of Time Paraguayans do not share the same sense of the importance of keeping to clock time as northern Europeans and North Americans conventionally do; they are closer in this regard to Merranean and other Latin American cultures. Visitors from outside Latin America may find it frustrating at first that schedules and timetables are not followed strictly, and perceive frequent ‘lateness’. Flights and intercity buses may not run to schedule. For a Paraguayan to arrive late to a meeting is not uncommon, and should not be considered rude. In contrast, punctuality in foreign visitors is admired.
With this, you had the primer on key facts about Paraguay, 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 Paraguay food and drinks:
Other tips that you’d like to share on mistakes to avoid in Paraguay? Please comment below.