Customs & Traditions in Bolivia

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Traditions and customs vary by region in Bolivia. Here is the basic Etiquette in Bolivia.

General Etiquette

  • Bolivians tend to stand close to one another while talking. One to two feet is normal. It can be considered rude to back away from someone while they are speaking.

  • You have to maintain direct eye contact, otherwise, you will be viewed as untrustworthy.

  • When speaking with family, it is common to share hugs, touch shoulders, and in general express affection through contact. Otherwise, it depends on if the other person is a friend, a boyfriend or girlfriend, an acquaintance, or someone you don’t know.

  • It is best to always cover your mouth when you yawn.

  • Avoid using a finger to point, it is best to use the whole hand or just nod your head in the direction you are referring to.


  • The family is the main core of social life and structure.

  • Families are very close and in rural areas, many generations still often live together in one house.

  • The extended family or "familia" serves as strong support and network system.

  • Roles within the family are very traditional.

  • The wife is generally responsible for domestic duties whereas the husband will be the breadwinner.


  • 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".

  • If you know someone's title always use it.

  • The typical Spanish name has four parts: first given name, second given name, father's surname, and mother's surname.

  • In Bolivia, many given names are usually derived from biblical names, such as José (Joseph, husband of Mary) or from the names of a saint, such as Bartolomé (Bartholomew). Some Spanish people used compound given names.

  • When baptized, children were usually given one or more given names. One of these might be the name of Saint Day from the day of baptism. The first name, or baptismal name, may not have been used in the child’s life. In Bolivia, the child was usually called by the second or third name given at baptism; this is especially true if the first name was María or José.

Meeting & Greeting:

  • The handshake is the most common form of greeting, shake hands when meeting and departing.

  • At a first meeting, a handshake will suffice and is sometimes combined with slight touches on the arms and/or elbows.

  • Close male friends may hug each other, female friends hug each other and kiss on the cheeks.

  • Maintain direct eye contact while greeting others.

  • 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).

  • when women greet each other At a first meeting, a light handshake will suffice, sometimes usually accompanied by a slight nod and warm smile. Friends generally kiss each other once on the cheek.

  • For men greeting women At a first meeting, a regular handshake will do. Friends, family, and long-time acquaintances will share a light kiss on the cheek which consists of touching cheeks and making a slight kissing noise. This is usually accompanied by a touch on the arm and shoulder and in some cases a light hug.

Visiting a home & Giving gifts

  • When invited to someone's house take flowers, spirits, pastries, sweets/chocolates.

  • Do not give yellow or purple flowers as they have negative connotations.

  • Do not give scissors or knives as they indicate a desire to break off the relationship.

  • Gifts are not opened when received.

Dining & Food

  • Punctuality is not necessary, you can arrive 20 to 30 minutes late.

  • It is not good to discuss business at a social gathering.

  • At a table, the guest is served first.

  • 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 host to insist before accepting.

  • Never touch food or eat anything with your fingers always use utensils even fruit is eaten with a knife and fork.

  • It is polite to eat everything on your plate. Complementing the food will be viewed as a request for more food.

  • Wait for a toast to be made before taking the first sip of your drink. The host makes the first toast.

  • 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.

Communication style

  • Bolivians tend to favor direct eye contact over indirect. Maintaining eye contact creates an atmosphere of trust and respect.

  • It is best to avoid confrontations and maintain calm at all times.

  • Loud voices in public are inappropriate, with the exception of being in bars and discos.

  • It is best for men and women to avoid overly direct eye contact during initial meetings as it may be misinterpreted.

  • An adult might have less eye contact with a child if they are not too interested in what they are saying.

  • The “so-so” gesture (rocking your palm-down open hand from side to side) means “no” in Bolivia.

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