Whether it is inviting you to sit down for a terere break, helping you figure out what bus to take, or refusing to let you leave without a parting gift, Paraguayans are generally very friendly. They are also very proud of their tranquilo (laid back) attitude towards life. Travelers with experience in other Latin American countries will find similarities in basic etiquette, though Paraguayans tend to be more religious and conservative.
A kiss on each cheek is a standard greeting among women and between men and women. Technically, one places their cheek against someone else’s and makes a kissing sound. This is also done when saying goodbye. When greeting members of the opposite sex, it is also appropriate to shake hands instead of kiss. Men generally shake hands with one other. When greeting someone in passing, most Paraguayans simply say adios as they walk by. This is customary in the countryside but much less so in urban areas.
In Paraguay, tardiness is common and not considered rude. Most business meetings start between fifteen to thirty minutes late while guests for a large party typically arrive between forty-five to ninety minutes late. If you are determined to show up on time, be ready to offer to help set up if your host seems flustered at your early arrival. When arranging to meet with Paraguayans and expats, be sure to clarify whether you will be operating on Paraguayan time (hora Paraguaya) or not.
Sidebar: Enseguida (right away) can actually mean anything from several minutes to several hours.
Paraguayans’ innate desire to be friendly can translate into a reluctance to be the bearer of bad news. White lies, such as saying a broken down bus is arriving enseguida (right away), are par for the course but not made with bad intentions. An indirect, sugarcoated approach is often favored over blunt honesty. For example, when Paraguayans are invited to an event, they almost always confirm their attendance in order to avoid appearing rude. It is up to the host to read between the lines and decipher whose si (yes) or puede ser (maybe) really means no. Foreigners should note that being very direct is considered rude and can sometimes be misinterpreted as having a confrontational attitude.
Paraguayans’ laid-back tranquilo attitude extends to even the most basic transactions, which are often preceded by several minutes of friendly chit-chat. Though it can be tempting to speed things up by cutting to the chase, this can be counterproductive. You may unintentionally come across as rude or pushy. For those looking to get things accomplished in a hurry, it is best to attempt to strike a middle ground between laid back and insistent.
Sidebar: Unless it is an emergency, avoid calling on people during siesta time (noon to midafternoon).
Personal Space & Personal Information
Paraguayans are not accustomed to the idea of personal space or alone time. If you are participating in a volunteer program that pairs you with a host family, be aware that they may think something is wrong if you spend too much time alone. An equally underused concept is that of personal information – it is not uncommon for people to openly discuss topics which many foreigners would consider off limits such as money, personal relationships, and health issues. In addition, gossip is quite common. Especially in the countryside, long stretches of the day may be passed sitting in the shade keeping a running commentary of everything that happens and everyone that walks by. And while Paraguayans are very friendly, they are not particularly tactful. Foreigners may be shocked to hear otherwise kind hosts blithely comment that someone is fat or ugly (many times to their face). Though difficult, it is best not to take these comments to heart, as most Paraguayans do not consider this form of frankness to be rude.
Sidebar: The Paraguayan version of hearing something through the grapevine is radio so’o, which, inexplicably, translates into meat radio.
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