Arriving in any country for the first time can come with a little bit of culture shock. It always helps to quickly read up on the customs, cultures and etiquette of the country rather than accidentally finding yourself in a little bit of a pickle. Here is a guide of everything you need to know before you arrive in Chile, to avoid any unnecessary misconceptions or misunderstandings.
Meeting & Greeting
A kiss or a handshake?
When you first arrive in a new country, it can be tricky if you don’t know how to greet someone properly. For example, if you lean in for a kiss on the cheek, but the other person goes in for a handshake, you might end up awkwardly banging against each other. In Chile, if you’re European like I am, then you might be tempted to go in for a second kiss on the cheek after the first one. If you do, then you’re likely to be left hanging, because one kiss on the cheek is all they do in Chile. Although a kiss on the cheek is the most common way to greet someone, it isn’t always the case.
Men will usually shake hands in all situations, but if they are very close, they will likely greet each other with a big hug (‘un abrazo’) and energetically pat each other on the back. Women will mostly always kiss once on the right cheek, in all situations. In some more formal cases, they may shake hands, but this is uncommon. When it’s a man and a woman, they will mostly always kiss once on the cheek, too.
While Chileans may seem more touchy-feely than you’re used to if you’re from the UK or other more reserved nations, they are not compared to other Spanish/Latin American countries, so they may give you a hug and kiss you on the cheek, but they’re not going to invade your personal space too much.
Remember, any meeting is usually accompanied by the appropriate greeting for the time of day – “buenos dias” (good morning), “buenas tardes” (good afternoon) or “buenas noches” (good evening).
Etiquette of addressing someone
Like many South Americans, Chileans use both their maternal and paternal surnames. The father’s surname comes first and is the one used in conversation. In more formal situations, try to use any titles if you know them, but if no title exists then simply use “Senor” (male) or “Senora” (female) followed by their first name. First names are used between close friends, when they start to call you by your first name, then you are invited to do the same.
Spanish in the official language of Chile, although there are also quite a few indigenous languages, such as Mapudungun and Aymara, that are still used. Chilean Spanish is very different than the Spanish spoken in Spain, and so can be very difficult to understand and learn, even for some native Spanish speakers.
Pronunciation: The first reason why Chilean Spanish may be difficult to understand is because it is accented distinctively, with final syllables of words and “s” sounds dropped. The aspiration of the ‘s’ and other letters often makes it hard for those learning Spanish to distinguish where one word ends and another begins.
Example: “Los chilenos son más conservadores” becomes “Loh chilenoh son máh conservadoreh.”
Slang: Like with any country, Chilean Spanish has its own phrases, sayings – slang. In fact, Chile is notorious for its slang (chilenismos).
Chileans love their slang. They use chilenismos and sayings in every sentence, and if you don’t know them, there’s no way you’ll be able to guess what they mean, as they’re so unique. Here are a few examples:
Tocar el violin – to be the third wheel.
Pierna peluda – a way of referring to your (male) significant other that literally translates to “hairy leg.” Female significant others can be called pierna suave which means “smooth leg,” since ladies tend to shave their legs.
¿Cachay? – do you get it?, do you understand?
Transport: It is NOT necessary to tip your taxi, uber or minivan driver. However, if the trip was fast and efficient, you can simply round the price up to the next thousand, for example, if the trip cost $4,600, you can round it up to $5,000 CLP. If the driver helped with your bags and was extra polite, an extra $1,000 CLP or so would surely be appreciated, too.
Hotels: When you arrive at your hotel, tipping is voluntary, yet expected, so only tip if you feel like the service is good/excellent, that way you encourage better service. It is common to tip Doorman, Bellmen, Concierge, Waiters, Bartenders and Room Cleaning Staff. In small hotels a $1,000 CLP bill should be enough. In Five Star hotels, perhaps consider tipping more.
Restaurants/Bars/Cafés…: The tip is included in the price in 98% of restaurants, bars, pubs and coffee shops in Chile. They will add 10% to your bill total (it should be properly stated on the receipt), and they will ask if you would like to add the tip (“¿con propina?”) as you pay. If the service was excellent, maybe consider something extra and if service is poor, then leave NO tip and the message will get across.
Supermarkets: The people that work bagging your items work for tips, so yes you need to tip them. $200 – $300 CLP should do just fine. If they bagged everything nicely, keeping warm bread away from the ice cream and double bagged the heavy stuff, then go for CLP$500.
Other Customs and Traditions
–Asking for directions: Chileans are friendly and always willing to help, especially if you are a foreigner. This willingness to help, however, often leads them to give directions that aren’t always accurate. Instead of saying “I don’t know where that is, sorry”, a Chilean may proceed to give you directions anyway. Unfortunately, these erroneous directions aren’t always easy to spot. They are given with confidence and sound reasonable, so be sure to cross-check with other people, or have a map handy! You can see offline maps within TheBesty app when you download the Local Guide section.
–Fiestas and bank holidays: Festivals and holidays are a vibrant part of Chilean life, they love to go above and beyond and celebrate in large groups of family and close friends.
Independence Day (Fiestas Patrias) is the biggest event of the year in Chile and is celebrated on 18th September. It marks the beginning of the Chilean independence from Spain. The celebrations generally last for a week and include food, drink, dancing, parades and rodeos. Note that for large events or bank holidays the city shuts down and the streets go quiet. If you want to really experience the true feeling of celebration on Independence Day, you should go to a fonda (a party with lots of traditional Chilean music and drinks during the national holidays), or a family/friends party, otherwise you might struggle to find anything going on!
–Meal times: Chileans usually eat four times a day. The first meal of the day is breakfast, which consists of rather light meal most commonly including toasted bread with butter and instant coffee with milk.
Lunch (served between 1:00 and 2:00 PM) is the biggest meal of the day. Traditionally, two main dishes are served. The first course is often the ensalada chilena, including sliced onions, chopped and peeled tomatoes, an oil and vinegar dressing, and fresh cilantro. The second dish will be a heavier dish such as the traditional Pastel de Choclo or Cazuela.
Around 5:00 PM, Chileans take their once, an afternoon tea with bread and jam, which often also includes cheeses and palta (avocados).
Around 9:00 PM, most families serve dinner, which is usually a single but substantial dish, most often accompanied with wine grown in one of the many Central Valley vineyards.
You can find a list of all the different types of traditional Chilean food and drinks, learn about the Chilean slang and chilenismos, search for events happening near you and book tours and activities all in one place on TheBesty App, so be sure to download it on Google Play or the App Store!