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Cultural Etiquette in Spanish-Speaking Caribbean Islands

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Instructor: Elena Sacramento Lechado

Elena has a PhD in linguistics from University of La Laguna (Spain). Currently, she teaches Spanish as a foreign language and creates teaching resources.

Despite differences, the people of the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Puerto Rico share similar customs and social norms. Explore the shared cultural etiquette in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands, including their greetings and addresses, lax regard for time and meetings, suitable dress code, and dining etiquette. Updated: 01/04/2022

Cultural Etiquette

The Caribbean is a region that comprises more than 700 islands, islets, and reefs and has a population of over 44 million people. It's Spanish-speaking territories are Cuba, the Dominican Republic, on the island of Hispanola, to the east of Haiti, and Puerto Rico, although the latter is a commonwealth of the United States.

Although each of the three main Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands has its own culture and traditions, there are some basic manners and social conventions that are shared by all of them. Let's take a look at some of the region's social conventions, which are basically unspoken rules of politeness within a society, such as greetings, interactions, time or dining etiquette or manners, while learning some Spanish basic vocabulary on the way.

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  • 0:04 Cultural Etiquette
  • 0:53 Greetings & Addresses
  • 3:00 Time & Meetings
  • 4:11 Dress Code & Dining Etiquette
  • 5:18 Lesson Summary
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Greetings and Addresses

In formal settings, a firm handshake is the standard way of greeting someone. However, in more informal or casual settings, it's not unusual for Caribbean people to use one kiss on the cheek between women and between women and men even if they just met someone. If in doubt, use the handshake or reciprocate the other person if they approach you, and always maintain direct eye contact since it's a sign of respect and shows interest. Don't forget to say: buenos dias (good morning), buenas tardes (good afternoon/evening) or buenas noches (good night), depending on the time of day. And notice that closeness, loudness and signs of affection are common in these regions.

If you've been introduced to someone or you know their name, address them as senor (Mr.), senora (Mrs.), or senorita (Miss), followed by their surname or by their titles if this applies, such as Profesor(a) (professor) or Doctor(a) (doctor). Titles are important, so they shouldn't be taken for granted. Also, notice that in Spanish, that there are two ways of addressing an interlocutor: the informal, tu and the formal, usted. Moreover, verb endings change depending on the way of addressing, so, we should say:

Como esta?' (How are you (formal)?) or

Habla usted ingles? (Do you (formal) speak English?) rather than:

Como estas? Hablas ingles? especially when addressing strangers or older people.

So, if you don't know the person well or you just met them, try to stick to the formal addressing unless your interlocutor asks you to do the opposite. If the setting is casual and relaxed, your interlocutor will probably ask you to switch to tu. It's interesting to point out that the Spanish language has a verb that expresses this idea: tutearse (to address as tu), so you might hear someone saying: Podemos tutearnos (We can address each other informally).

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