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Social Customs & Etiquettes in Bolivia


The family is the axis of the social life and structure. Families are very tight knit and in rural areas, many generations still often live together in one house. The extended family or "familia" serves as a strong support and network system. Roles within the family are very traditional and "Machismo" is very much alive. The wife is generally responsible for domestic duties whereas the husband with be the bread winner. The machismo mentality often translates into a feeling of male superiority and a strong sense of honour which means maintaining face/dignity at all cost.

Due to Bolivia's history a number of differing ethnic groups have converged which now form a class system. Bolivia is basically made up of a small number of whites, a larger group of mestizos (intermarriage of whites with indigenous Indians), a majority of native Indians (Quechua or Aymara) and a small number of blacks who are descended from the slaves imported during the Spanish colonial period. Traditionally the whites minority occupy the top rung on the class ladder. This is mainly due to socioeconomic factors rather than skin colour.

Most Bolivians are born into Roman Catholicism. Religion tends to be a female dominated activity in terms of attending church and the like. Catholicism to some extent has been "localised" as it became intertwined with local folklore and customs in its early years of taking root in the country.

Meeting & Greeting

The handshake is the most common form of greeting. Direct eye contact is also usual. When meeting people will use the most appropriate greeting for the time of day – these are buenos dias (good morning), buenas tardes (good day), or buenas noches (good evening). People with an informal relationship will be warmer and embrace or pat each other on the shoulder. Women will kiss on the cheek.

Unlike Europeans Bolivians use both their maternal and paternal surnames. The father's surname is listed first and is the one used in conversation. When a woman gets married she usually adds her husband's first surname to her first surname with the connector "de", so if Jennifer Maria Lopez marries Manuel Sebastien Costa, she would be called Jennifer Maria de Costa. If you know of someone's title always use it.

Gift Giving Etiquette

Gifts are usually given at birthdays, Christmas and New Year. The general rule is by good quality but price is not too important.

Some general gift giving tips include:

• Take flowers, spirits, pastries, sweets/chocolates if invited to a house for dinner;
• Do not give yellow or purple flowers as they have negative connotations;
• Do not give scissors or knives as they indicate a desire to sever the relationship;
• Gifts are not generally opened when received.

Dining Etiquette

Punctuality is not expected – arrive a good 20 to 30 minutes late. Do not discuss business at social functions – concentrate of getting to know people on a personal level.

At a table, the guest is served first and the host generally says buen provecho ("enjoy" or "have a good meal") to invite guests to eat. Keep elbows off the table. It is considered polite to refuse food the first time it is offered and wait for the hist to insist before accepting. Always use utensils as even fruit is eaten with a knife and fork. Wait for a toast to be made before taking the first sip of your drink. The host makes the first toast and when you lift your glass, look at the person being toasted. Never leave straight after a meal – you should stay for at least half an hour.





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