Life in Chile: 4 Unwritten Cultural Rules You Should Know If You Travel

Life in Chile: 4 Unwritten Cultural Rules You Should Know If You Travel

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Updated November 8, 2022

Learning Spanish is fun but learning cultural rules can be more confusing than grammar sometimes.

Growing up as a Chilean-American in the United States, I was confronted with unwritten cultural norms every time I visited my family in Chile. I had to learn how to act by observing and even by making some mistakes. Nowadays when you plan to travel or live in a Spanish-speaking country, you can learn all the cultural tips to help you blend in. 

Unwritten rules of life in Chile

If Chile is on your bucket list, it’s time to pay attention. Today I am going to share with you a few unwritten cultural rules about life in Chile.

Chilean friends talking together

Kiss everyone hello

When you greet somebody in Chile, cultural tradition says that you have to kiss on the cheek. As a general rule, men don’t kiss other men but otherwise the rule stands. Women and men, women and women, adults and children…everybody gets a kiss hello. Even if you just met for the very first time, the greeting kiss is expected.

The Chilean style of greeting kiss is unique and differs from a European greeting kiss. Chileans do a single kiss with a slight noise. No double kisses please! There is cheek-to-cheek contact here, but your lips do not touch anything so even if you pucker, let it be an air-kiss. Finally, remember the kiss is performed on the right side and only lasts a moment. 

What about hands during the Chilean kiss greeting? Avoid awkwardness by slightly hugging the other person’s arm with one hand, leaving an arm at your side. That gives the other person room to do the same. Sound complicated? It’s one swift motion: lean in, cup the arm, touch right cheeks, make the noise, and back off. 

Go to one carrete or party in Chile and you will be an expert. Why? Well, every time you enter a room, you have to kiss every single person hello. This goes for work parties, all family members in the house, and even your friends at the bar. It really is a lot of kissing. 

Mix raced couple embracing each other goodbye. Close friends meeting on outdoor building terrace, hugging and greeting each other. Friendship and greeting concept

Kiss everyone goodbye

Not only do you have to kiss hello, but you also must kiss goodbye. In Chile it’s respectful to acknowledge people when you leave. Everybody that you kissed upon arrival will expect a goodbye. Don’t forget that going to bed falls under the same category that requires a goodbye kiss. Did I mention it’s a lot of kissing?

Chileans eat four meals a day

Most visitors to Chile might be used to having three meals a day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Chileans enjoy an extra fourth meal between lunch and dinner and it’s called once or “elevenses”. Some say it comes from the British tradition of teatime, but nowadays once is a uniquely Chilean meal. 

Served after 5 p.m. this is supposed to be a mid-afternoon snack, but don’t be surprised if your once looks like a feast. A typical once can be cake and coffee. It can also be a full spread including sándwiches, soup, salad, tea, toast with butter and jam, avocado spread, pate, cheeses, deli meats, pie, coffee, and even wine. Buen provecho enjoy and eat up!

Santiago, Chile- Dec 29, 2018:  Street food on plaza de Armas in Santiago de Chile. It's the main square of city.

Chilean Spanish is unique

Every Spanish-speaking country has its own special vocabulary, its own accent, and its own unique pronunciation rules. Chile is no different.

Did you know that Chileans don’t even claim to speak español or the standard Spanish? In Chile, we say castellano which means Castillian like 15th century Spanish explorers. If you want to fit in at a social gathering in Chile, you should probably brush up on your chilenismos or Chilean idiomatic phrases. 

If you can handle these things, you will definitely blend in and feel comfortable living in Chile. Don’t forget: Cheek kisses as greetings, enjoy your once, and learn your local slang.  

Now that you know these unwritten rules about life in Chile, you can be sure you won’t stand out for all the wrong reasons in social settings. Even if you go to somebody’s house, you will know how to act just like a Chileno.   

Are you planning to travel or live in Chile? Do you need to brush up on your conversational Spanish? You can practice with a native speaker and improve your Spanish language online. Read more about países hispanohablantes or visit the Lingoda website to schedule a free trial Spanish lesson!

If you’re interested in learning Spanish so you can travel to South America, visit the Lingoda website and sign up for your free 7 day trial with our native speaking teachers. You’ll be prepped and ready for your trip in no time.

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