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Social Customs & Etiquettes in Guatemala


Guatemala is the most populated of the Central American republics and is the only one which is predominantly Indian, although the Spanish have had a strong influence on the way of life.

Full names should be used when addressing acquaintances, particularly in business. Dress is conservative and casual wear is suitable except in the smartest dining rooms and clubs.

Locals are often suspicious of foreigners taking photographs, particularly of young children. Before approaching children for photos, or even just to talk to them, you should check with an an adult that this is acceptable. However, if you are in any doubt, refrain from doing so. You may be asked to pay a small amount of money to take photographs of both children and adults.

Don't engage in loud and aggressive behaviour. Guatemalans tend to be polite and on the formal side.

Meeting & Greeting

Address people you don't know in a formal manner (Señor, Señora, Usted), and greet people in the following way: day – “buenos dias" "feliz dia"; night – “feliz noche" "buenas noches".

You'll encounter this in more suburban, rural areas. Native Guatemalans are raised to greet strangers formally.

A handshake, although not a firm one, is the common form of greeting. Men may lightly kiss a woman on the cheek in greeting, but this is reserved for women they know well. It is considered polite to stand when greeting someone.

Conversations about family, travels and hobbies are appropriate. When you mention your own family, it's best to present the image of a loving household. Guatemalans are close to their own families and often continue to live with their parents well into their 30s.

Body Language & Gestures

Two men or two women may stand very close together during conversation. When a man talks to a woman, the distance is generally greater. Do not cross your arms – it will be taken as an indication that you are bored or uncomfortable. Many Guatemalans will look around instead of maintaining eye contact when they are speaking. This is not meant to be rude.

Table Mannerism

If you are invited to a Guatemalan's home, it is likely that his wife will serve everyone first, even if there are servants, and then will be seated herself. Unless you are attending a meal served in a household from the privileged class that observes European-style customs, all of the food will be served at once. If the meal takes place in a private home, bring a small gift to indicate your appreciation.

However, do not bring a gift of food – your hosts will think that you do not appreciate the food they have prepared or that you consider the woman of the house an inadequate cook.

It is appropriate to eat everything you are served. If you don't like the taste of something, just attempt to eat a bit of it. If you cannot eat something for health or religious reasons, explain this and apologise for any inconvenience it may cause.

At the start of a meal, it is the custom to say to everyone, "Buen provecho." (Enjoy your food.) Most Guatemalans are fairly quiet once the food is served. Compliments about the food will be welcome. In some areas of the countryside, food is eaten with the hands. Follow the lead of your hosts. Napkins are provided. There are no special rules about their use.

If you must leave the table, before getting up say, "Con permiso, ya vengo." (With your permission, I'll be right back.) It's appropriate to stand when someone arrives at the table. If you do not want to drink, say, "Lo siento, pero no yo tomo." (Sorry, I don't drink alcohol.) Guatemalan women are expected not to drink. If they do, they have only a glass of champagne at most. This rule is applied to foreign women as well. Women who drink are oftentimes considered "easy."

The standard toast is to raise your glass and say, "Salud!" You should always offer your own toast: say how pleased you are to be in Guatemala and commend everyone for treating you in such a family-like manner.

If you are invited to a restaurant, your host will pay. It is appropriate to offer to pay for your part of the meal, but your offer will be politely declined. Reciprocate your host's hospitality with an invitation of your own soon afterward.





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