Some people go into the international travel experience with gusto, determined to learn the language, wear native clothing, eat only local foods, and basically blend into the culture in order to get the most immersive experience. Others prefer to stand back and view other cultures from the outside, literal strangers in a strange land. But most world travelers opt for something in between, learning a few common phrases, exchanging some cash, and seeking out points of interest to explore before they hop a plane to their foreign destination. However, it behooves the conscientious tourist to learn a bit about the customs and etiquette that are observed by other cultures before they infiltrate the society and put the proverbial foot in their mouth. So if you happen to be planning a fantastic trip to Puerto Rico, here are just a few such cultural norms you’ll want to observe so as not to offend your host country.
- A kiss on the cheek (it can be quite continental). This is a standard greeting between two females or a male and a female upon meeting, so don’t be surprised if you stick out your hand for a shake and find your new acquaintance closing in for a peck on the cheek. Two men generally won’t kiss on the cheek unless they are very familiar (a father and son, brothers, or longtime friends, for example), and in the business setting, a handshake may be substituted for reasons of formality, especially between international business partners. But if you’re traveling for leisure you shouldn’t expect people to be too formal. And be prepared to chat a bit; Puerto Ricans expect more than a simple greeting in passing.
- Seating yourself. This is a weird one for some westerners, but when you enter a restaurant in Puerto Rico you are generally expected to find your own table (unless otherwise specified, as in American chains operating in this island nation). And often, you are not required to tip at the end of the meal, especially in establishments like panaderias that offer limited menus and seating. However, you should tip the standard 15-20% for restaurants with sit-down service.
- Surnames. One common blunder that many westerners make in Puerto Rico is to call a Mrs. by her husband’s last name. Women almost never adopt their husband’s surname and kids are often given the last names of both parents.
- Church etiquette. Many foreigners are keen to visit some of the beautiful, old buildings dotting this island nation. But churches are not tourist attractions; they are functional houses of worship and that’s what the population uses them for. So try not to disrupt the spiritual setting with noisy kids or flash photography as this behavior is considered extremely rude. You should also wear appropriate clothing, including pants or modest skirts and a covering for shoulders.
- Hours of operation. You’ve no doubt heard the phrase “island time”, and it definitely applies in laid-back Puerto Rico. Although you will often find hours of operation posted for a variety of businesses (from restaurants to salons to the local leisure centre), you may find that these establishments don’t always open or close at the times stated. These services are customer oriented, so if there are patrons hanging around they may stay open long after the posted closing time. And if they’re having a slow night they will likely close up shop early. So be prepared for the possibility that local businesses might not be open, even during specified hours of operation.
Sarah Danielson is a freelance writer and part time student. In her spare time she likes to go hiking and help with an animal rescue out of Los Angeles, California.