Chilean etiquette can, in general, seem to be very similar to American conventions. Nonetheless, the quicker you learn that what is expected of you in Chile is not always the same as what you would do in your home country, the better. This guide is an attempt to help new arrivals to Chile in their daily activities. Mainly, I hope to help you avoid strange looks and uncomfortable situations. In this overview, I will address manners in Santiago as I’ve spent most of my time there. However, if you’d like to add something about another city in Chile, please let me know in the comments.
On the metro
- You’re stuck at the back of the metro car with little chance of being able to move. However, you have to get off at the next stop. So, how do you do this politely in Chile? Ask the person in front of you ¿bajas?. This can be taken to mean an abridged version of “are you getting off at this stop?”. If the person in front of you says no, this is your chance to step in front of them.
- If you get to your stop but are still unable to exit the train, the polite thing to do is say permiso (excuse me) as you push your way through.
- Specific seats are designated for the elderly, pregnant women, and those who are disabled. If no one fits this description on your train, you’re allowed to sit in this seat. Nonetheless, keep your eyes peeled in case you need to give your place up when someone enters at another stop.
- Musicians and artists will often hop on the metro and sing/play music/rap. From what I understand, it’s socially acceptable to both give money and not give money to these people. However, I always try to carry small coins with me just in case.
- If you are wearing a backpack on the metro, you are expected to take it off if the subway is crowded so as not to take up more space. It’s best to either hold the backpack by the handle between your legs or to hold it in front of you.
On the micro
- So, here’s the thing. Sometimes, even though you are waiting at the bus stop, not every bus will actually stop. If you see your bus coming, you’ll need to indicate to the driver that you want him to stop. This is done by sticking your arm straight out.
- If you know that you need to get off at the next stop, press the little orange buttons that are located throughout the bus. These let the driver know that he needs to stop.
- If your bus driver stops at your bus stop but does not open the door for you to get off, say la puerta, por favor and he will open the door.
- If you are sitting at a window seat with a person next to you and you will be needing to get off at one of the following stops, say permiso and the person will let you by.
At the grocery store
- If you are buying fresh fruit or vegetables, you will need to weigh the food before going to the register. You will also need to weigh bread in the bakery section.
- When checking out, it is polite to tip the person who bags your groceries. I usually tip 100-500 pesos depending on how many groceries I’m buying. Remember that these workers are typically only paid off of these tips.
- When you go to check out at the register, they will typically ask you for your RUT. This has to do with the loyalty cards that each supermarket offers. If you don’t have one, all you have to do is say “no tengo”.
At a restaurant
- As far as using utensils goes, there are some situations where I see Chileans using utensils more than Americans would. For example, I’ve witnessed Chileans eat pizza using a fork and knife. Americans typically would eat this kind of food with our hands. Just be conscious of how others around you are eating!
- Your waiter will not bring your bill until you ask for it. This is done by saying la cuenta, por favor. If you are out of earshot, there is also a hand motion in Chile to indicate that you are ready for the bill. This is done by motioning your hand as if you were signing a check. Eye contact is critical here!
- Chilean etiquette regarding tipping is very different from tipping in the United States. In the U.S., I tip based on the service I receive. This is usually anywhere between 15-25% of the cost of my meal. At home, if your service is absolutely horrible, you have the option to leave no tip at all. However, in Chile, you are typically expected to leave the 10% tip no matter what kind of service you receive. You don’t HAVE to leave a tip, but if you’re going to not leave a tip at all, I’d recommend not going back to that restaurant.
- When you receive the bill, the total will be at the bottom both with or without the tip. When you pay, you’ll indicate that you are paying with the tip by saying con propina.
At a bar
- When giving a toast and clinking drinks together, always look the other person in the eyes.
At the bank/pharmacy
- To be attended in either of these places, you will need to take a number and wait for your number to be called.
Greeting/saying goodbye to someone
- It is Chilean etiquette to greet/say goodbye to someone with a kiss on the cheek or a hug. For example, being a female, I almost always greet people with a kiss on the right cheek.
- This can be extremely different from what is expected in American society, especially when it comes to parties. When you go to a party in Chile, you will need to greet everyone there individually, even if you don’t know them. This is the same for when you leave a party.
- When saying goodbye to someone, it is typically expected that you say more than just chao. A very standard phrase is espero que estés bien.
When meeting your polol@’s parents
- Always speak to your significant other’s parents in the usted form unless you have specifically asked permission to talk to them in tú (also called tutear).
I hope that these tips about Chilean etiquette will help those traveling to the country shortly! If you have any other situations that you’d like to add, please do so in the comments.