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Bolivia: What You Need to Know

As I traveled to Bolivia, I began to write about some of our cultural differences.

When we decide to travel, we leave our cultural background to discover a new one. This involves learning a minimum about the local customs in order to avoid mistakes.

Of course, this is what I feel and it is purely subjective even if I think some information might be useful if you come to Bolivia. The country is very diverse with marked differences between regions. The social interactions that one can have with the Bolivians will highly depend on where you are and who you speak to.

How to greet someone

A kiss on the cheek no more! How many times did I feel uncomfortable by holding out the other cheek. After a few missed greetings I finally understood how it works.

Men shake hands as they greet each other and maintain direct eye contact. During a first meeting between women, a light handshake can be enough, sometimes accompanied by a slight nod and a warm smile. Friends usually kiss each other once on the cheek. Between a man and a women, a handshake is usually enough if you meet the person for the first time, but if you know the person already or have common friends, you can kiss.

The notion (or not) of time

Bolivians and time: 10 minutes, … 20 minutes, … 1 hour and your friend hasn’t arrived? No panic it’s normal or almost! Like many Latin American countries, Bolivians are usually late. Nevertheless, a punctual person is very much appreciated because it shows a sense of responsibility and professionalism, especially in business situations.

My feelings:

  • The Bolivians are honest and direct and there is very little hidden meaning behind what they say. Many times, I have been surprised to see that Bolivians comment on physical characteristics and especially on weight. Whether at the market, during a first meeting or simply in the streets, I was often referred to as “the flaca” …Translation, it means « skinny ». After talking with locals, I realized that you should not be offended because it is natural for them to mention your weight, the color of your skin, or your general attitude in public.
  • In terms of personal space, I noticed that Bolivians are quite tactile: they easily cuddle, hold a shoulder while talking or other marks of affections. For people like me, who limit my physical contact to the simple cheek kiss, I was really surprised to be cuddled while talking.
  • Dynamics: Bolivians generally like talking. Whether it’s the waiter in the restaurant, the taxi driver, it’s not very common

Bolivian to sit next to you in a public place without talking to you or asking about you … and even if you tell them you don’t speak Spanish!

This list is exhaustive and presents some characteristics of Bolivia but you have to come to experiment the local culture by yourself.

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