At the government and business level, attire is formal. Dress shoes are a must. In less formal occasions, people are dressed more casually, but an effort is always made to look tidy and presentable, even in the poorest of settings.
Foreigners working in politics or government might avoid wearing blue or red, as those colors are closely associated to the Liberal and Colorado political parties. Wearing either color will often prompt commentary from Paraguayans.
As in Argentina and Uruguay, Paraguayans use the informal vos instead of tu as the second person singular pronoun. Usted is only used in situations of extreme protocol. For the most part, respect is shown to others via prefixes. People with university degrees are often referred to as Licenciado and teachers as Profesor or Profe, more informally. In more traditional homes in the countryside, it is customary for children to refer to their parents as Senor and Senora when they are responding as a sign of respect and for the eldest brother and sister to be called Hermano or Hermana by younger siblings. Elderly men are given the prefix Don and women Dona which is sometimes shortened to simply Na.
Before entering a room, it is customary to request permission to enter by saying permiso. Permission is granted with an adelante. When leaving a gathering it is important to say goodbye to your host and others in the room. Doing a full round of despedidas (goodbyes) may be time consuming, especially at large gatherings, but it is still worthwhile.
Meet the Mitos
Paraguayans often make reference to a number of strange creatures roaming the country. The so-called mitos (myths) are invoked in a variety of settings. Parents often use them as a threat to scare their children into behaving. Both innocent mischief and serious crimes are sometimes attributed to the more aggressive myths. Like Aesop’s fables, each mito has its own back-story and an implied lesson. The mitos are a big part of the heritage of the indigenous. Their myths have survived and evolved over time, changing to suit the beliefs of the population as it mixed with European colonists. Some myths are so deeply embedded in Paraguayan culture that they still have a place in the modern world. Among the most widespread mitos are:
Jasy Jatere: An elflike childish figure with blonde hair and blue eyes, the Jasy Jatere takes children as his prey during siesta time. He bewitches them with games, leading them deep into the monte (woods) where he eventually abandons them. Although children usually survive encounters with the Jasy Jatere, they may be temporarily dazed and even comatose.
Pombero: A stocky, hairy, caveman-like creature, the Pombero roams the countryside spooking farm animals and causing mischief. Those who dare to disrespect him can expect trouble. In Guarani, he is known as Karai pyhare (man of the night). Some attempt to remain in his good graces by leaving him offerings of hand rolled cigars and cana, sugar cane alcohol at its least refined.
Kurupi: The Kurupi is a wild creature with an enormous phallus that wraps several times around his waist. He lives in the wilderness but is always on the prowl for women to impregnate.
Lobison: The Lobison is Paraguay’s version of a werewolf. Popular legend has it that the seventh son of any couple is destined to become a lobison. According to popular belief, the only way to prevent this is for the President of the Republic to serve as the child’s godfather.
Ao Ao: A fierce, hairy creature with razor sharp claws. Should you be chased by an Ao Ao your only recourse is to climb a coconut tree.
Do people actually believe in mitos? Well, it depends on where you are and who you ask. Most Paraguayans have a distant family member or know someone who knows someone that suffered the wrath of the Pombero, deprived of cigars, or was gripped with fear at the howl of the Lobison. In the countryside, many swear by the mitos. Even for non-believers there is always a small hint of doubt.