Elena has a PhD in linguistics from University of La Laguna (Spain). Currently, she teaches Spanish as a foreign language and creates teaching resources.
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.
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).
Time and Meetings
Be aware that the concepts of time and punctuality are not as strict as in European countries, Asia or the United States. Caribbean people are quite spontaneous and have a laid back attitude and Dominicans, especially, tend to be unpunctual. Therefore, if you have an appointment, allow some flexibility in your schedule and be prepared to wait. Notice that the lack of punctuality is not considered disrespectful or offensive. It's just that Caribbean people value relationships and quality time spent with people more than schedules or tight deadlines. Therefore, even when the meeting starts, its common to have some small talk instead of talking directly about business.
Dress Code and Dining Etiquette
The adequate attire will depend on the social setting; in general terms, Dominicans value elegant and stylish attire, but Cubans and Puerto Ricans usually have a more relaxed dress code. So, if the situation is not too formal, bright and casual clothes are fine, but beachwear should be reserved for the beach or pool areas. In more formal situations, such as business meetings, men are advised to wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and women could wear dresses or skirt suits. Also, it's a sign of respect to remove your hat or cap when entering a church.
If you are invited to have lunch or dinner at someone's house, allow yourself some extra time. Arriving too early might not be polite; also, bring a present, such as flowers or chocolates, to show gratitude to your host. Once at the table, wait for the host or hostess to say, Buen provencho! (Enjoy your meal! Make the most of it!) before starting to eat. Also, notice that in order to make a toast, you should say, Salud! which literally means health.
Eating and sharing a meal is a social ritual; people enjoy spending time together during and after a meal, so leaving the table immediately after consuming your food might be considered rude. Make sure you take your time to appreciate the food and have a chat with the other dinner guests after finishing your food. The Spanish language even has a word to express this concept: sobremesa. There is no equivalent word in English but it can be translated as ''table talk'' or ''after-dinner conversation.''
The Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands include Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. These regions have many social conventions, which are basically unspoken rules of politeness within a society, and values in common, including their communication style, their view of time and their dining etiquette, or manners.
We learned some basic phrases that can be used to interact with people, such as, Buen provecho! (Enjoy your meal!) or Salud! (Cheers). We also learned how to use the right titles and make sure you're familiar with their cultural etiquette to make the most of your visits and travels.
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