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Social Customs & Etiquettes in El Salvador


Salvadorans are known for their great hospitality. They are among the nicest people in the world. They are friendly, industrious people always willing to help anyone.

Machismo, however, survives in a culture where traditional gender roles remain. The man is the breadwinner and the wife looks after the home. From birth, children are raised to understand that they will have different roles and expectations in life. Women must show respect to men, should not raise their voices to them, and must serve them food on demand.

Attitudes have begun to change although machismo is still deeply rooted. More middle- and upper-class females now go to work, although they are still generally relegated to clerical or support positions. However, women are increasingly becoming doctors, dentists, or teachers. When this will carry over into the business world remains to be seen.

Respect is due to older persons from younger person, and to higher-status persons from lower-status individuals. This includes using titles of respect before people's names and using the formal "you" ("usted "). Greetings are necessary upon entering a store or, in small towns and communities, passing someone on the street. Failure to greet a person is considered offensive.

Time tends to be a loose term in El Salvador. People usually run late to most things. About an hour or so is common.

People point with their lips as pointing with the finger is often considered rude. To beckon someone, it’s often a nod of the head or waving your hand down. To show how tall a child is you show the height with the palm out. Measuring height with the palm facing down is used for animals and plants.

Putting one's feet up on a desk or chair in social and business settings is considered rude. Yawning without covering your mouth is considered rude.

Meeting and Greeting

Salvadoran women often pat each other on the right forearm or shoulder, rather than shake hands. Close friends may hug and kiss on the right cheek.

Men shake hands with other men and with women, although they wait for the woman to extend her hand. While shaking hands, use the appropriate greeting for the time of day: "buenos dias"("good morning"), "buenas tardes" ("good afternoon"), or "buenas noches" ("good evening").

In many ways El Salvador is a formal culture where only close friends and family use first names. Refer to people by the appropriate honorific title (Senor or Senora) and their surname until invited to move to a first name basis.

Communication Style

Indirect communication is very common. Salvadorans often beat around the bush to get to the point. Most Salvadorans prefer standing a little less than an arm’s length apart during conversations. This distance may be less between good friends and family.

There is a decent amount of touching during conversations. This includes arms, hands, shoulders. There tends to be less touching between genders.

Direct eye contact is expected and appreciated during conversations. However, overtly direct or prolonged eye contact may be interpreted as rude or a threat.

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