Interested in Chile and want to learn more about the culture? Chile is a beautiful country rich in deep history and well-engrained etiquette. Here is a list of the top 5 essential etiquette tips to have when visiting Chile – and to fit in with the locals!
Tip #1: Permiso!
In Chile, saying “permiso” (english: “excuse me”, literally “permission”) is the key to following all polite etiquette in chile. When to say “permiso”:
- You’re on the metro (train), it’s crowded, and you need to get off, say “permiso” to those in your way. They will politely step aside and allow you to exit.
- When entering a home or a room. When entering someone else’s space, whether it be an apartment, home, room or otherwise, always announce “permiso” as you enter. This is the equivalent of saying something similar to “permission to enter”.
- When reaching for something or asking anyone to move ie. reaching slightly across someone to grab something on the table, or to pass someone in any situation they need to move or you will be in their personal space.
- When you’re about to eat with your hands. See tip #2 for this one.
Tip #2: Fork and knife. Even for “finger food”.
If given a fork and knife with your meal, DO NOT eat with your hands. I found this out the hard way while eating pizza. In Canada, we dig right in with our hands. Unless it’s extremely hot or we are in a more formal situation, then we might use a fork and knife. In Chile, it is considered very bad manners to not use a knife and fork to eat, including with what other countries consider finger food (pizza is the biggest one).
A good idea is to wait until someone eats with their hands, ask, or at the very least say “permiso” before picking up something to eat ie. a piece of meat, pizza etc. The only foods I have seen Chileans eat with their hands, and without saying “permiso” first is ice cream cones, empanadas and completos (see my post on these traditional chilean foods if you’re unfamiliar!).
Tip #3. Greet (and say goodbye to) each individual.
This is a very important tip. It is crucial here in Chile and varies a lot around the world.
In Chile, you individually greet each person. The size of the group, the people, the environment, it doesn’t matter. If you arrive to a party of 20 people and you don’t know half of them, you go around the room and kiss each individual on their right cheek (right cheek to right cheek) and say hello, and your name if you haven’t met before. For women, you greet everyone with this cheek kiss, and add in a hug for people you know well, or whenever you want! For men, you greet with a cheek kiss to women and shake hands of other men- unless he is a close friend or family- then give a kiss on the cheek if you wish. This is common courtesy and is expected of everyone! When you are leaving, you say goodbye in the same manner to each individual. This is very important as you may be seen as cold or impolite if you forget!
Coming from Canada, arriving to a big get together consists of waving and loudly saying hello to everyone, especially if you have recently seen everyone and you are a very casual group. This is seen as very awkward in Chile! Kisses on the cheek are always a good idea.
Extra tip: This form of greeting/departing someone is still valid in an office or interview setting. I learned the hard way!
Tip #4. To Tip or Not to Tip.
In Canada, we tip everyone. Taxi drivers, waiters, 15% no matter how the service is. Everyone! It’s engrained in our nature now. But in Chile, everything’s a bit more vague.
At restaurants, make sure to check your bill. Usually, the waiter automatically adds the tip into the total, so make sure NOT to tip on top of that! Although this tip has been added in, it is still up to you to decide how much of a tip to give, and it usually depends much more on the service and actual experience you had. Feel free to pay the full tip or discount it a bit.
Do not tip taxis. I haven’t heard of anyone tipping a taxi driver, but if you’re feeling extra generous of course you can.
In other cases, you can tip someone whenever you like, just keep in mind it isn’t necessary and usually they aren’t expecting it.
Tip #5. Don’t take your shoes off.
Just don’t. Before arriving in Chile, I was used to living in houses where it is very rude if you don’t immediately take off your shoes at the front door. This is usually due to general cleanliness or carpets etc. However, as soon as I started living in Australia with my Chilean boyfriend, my world was turned upside down!
Chileans don’t take off their shoes in their own homes (unless they just rolled out of bed- but they still wear slippers or flipflops), and definitely not in other’s homes. Whenever I don’t have shoes on in the house (I love going barefoot), there is always someone quick to say that I might get sick, even during Chilean summer! So, final word is: keep your shoes on.
There are my 5 etiquette tips for Chile! I hope you enjoyed this article and I was able to prepare you in some way for your future South American travels, or that you were slightly enlightened by these cultural differences!
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x – Jenn, The Redhead Abroad