South America is becoming a popular study abroad destination for students who are seeking to learn Spanish or Portuguese.
With cultural heritage sites, beautiful colonial architecture, diverse histories and of course, delicious food, South America has a lot to offer a student wishing to study abroad.
Students who decide to study abroad in a South American country will get the best of both worlds. They’ll experience the European influence on the culture as well as the distinct culture of the local and indigenous populations.
Studying abroad in South America also offers the unique opportunity of experiencing another dining culture that has some familiar etiquette and practices, but don’t be fooled by the similarities.
Prepare yourself for some new food and drink customs and make your study abroad experience that much more enjoyable!
One of the most talked about dining customs in Argentina is pouring wine. It’s a bit of a ritual, so it’s always best to leave it to your Argentinean friends to do this!
Another unique cultural ritual is the drinking of mate, a caffeinated beverage popular in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. Mate is served in a gourd with a metal straw, known as a bombilla. When drinking mate, you must take a sip and then pass it to your neighbor.
The biggest faux pas you can make is pouring with your left hand or pouring wine backwards into a glass (i.e., holding the bottle by the bottom instead of the neck or body). Both of these indicate an intense dislike for the person you’re pouring for, so be very careful to avoid doing this!
Also, separate glasses for water and wine will most likely be provided, so make sure you don’t pour water into your wine glass or vice versa.
Tips are not generally included in the check, though you might see a cover charge or “cubierto” on your check. This is a service charge and does not go to the servers, so make sure you leave an additional tip of about 10 percent.
If you’re invited to a home for an asado, or Argentine barbecue, be sure to bring a small gift for your hosts. Expect a great time and a great meal al fresco!
The most important thing to remember about dining in Brazil is to never use your hands. Even foods known traditionally as “finger foods” are eaten with utensils in Brazil.
If you’re going to a small, informal restaurant, you might have to share a table with another party. This is not something that’s common in the US, and so it may take some study abroad students by surprise. While this is not the case in every restaurant in Brazil, it’s still fairly commonplace.
If you’re going to a churrascaria (a Brazilian barbecue restaurant), the most important thing to remember is to use the disk or sign that will surely appear on your table.
The disk usually has a green side and a red side. The green sign indicates that you want service to continue and the red side indicates that you’ve had enough.
Make sure to turn it to the red side when you’re full or you might just be faced with more food than you could possibly eat!
Some other things to remember: you’ll have to ask for the check when you’re ready because it won’t be brought to you otherwise, lunch is the main meal of the day and could take up to 2 hours or more, and tip 10 percent at restaurants.
If you’re invited to dinner or a party in Ecuador, especially if it takes place in a private home, you must always RSVP in advance.
The other golden rule is to never arrive at the scheduled start time for an event!
Though this might stand in contrast with what we’re used to in the US, it’s considered rude to show up on time or early.
To be on the safe side, arrive at least 30 minutes after the start time and be prepared to wait for your hosts and the other guests. Be aware that events start anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour later than originally scheduled.
Do not eat all of the food on your plate unless you want a second helping. This is a huge part of the hospitality culture. Plates and glasses will be refilled until some food remains on the plate and a glass is about a quarter full.
Like in its neighboring countries, utensils are used to eat everything, including fruit. It is considered unsanitary and impolite to eat with your bare hands.
Peru shares many similar dining customs with other countries in the region.
As is the case in most of Latin America, punctuality is not considered especially important and can actually be considered rude in social situations.
Peruvians are also dress more formally and conservatively than we are used to in the US.
If you are socializing in Peru, your safest bet is to dress more formally than you typically would. If you are visiting someone’s home, this shows respect for the host.
A distinct Peruvian custom involves eating ceviche, raw seafood cured with citrus juice, which is a signature Peruvian dish and one you’ll surely want to try while you’re there. Peruvians often pour the leftover liquid, known as leche de tigre, from the ceviche into a shot glass and drink it. This is a totally acceptable practice and might even impress your new Peruvian friends!
As always, enjoy every minute of your study abroad experience and take the opportunity to try new things! Adjust to a different pace of life and enjoy some great architecture, culture, beaches and amazing food.