Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette
Facts and Statistics
Location: Central America, bordering the North Pacific Ocean, between Guatemala and Honduras
Capital: San Salvador
Climate: tropical; rainy season (May to October); dry season (November to April); tropical on coast; temperate in uplands
Population: 6,125,512 (2014 est.)
Ethnic Make-up: mestizo 90%, white 9%, Amerindian 1%
Religions: Roman Catholic 57.1%, Protestant 21.2%, Jehovah's Witnesses 1.9%, Mormon 0.7%, other religions 2.3%, none 16.8% (2003 est.)
Language in El Salvador
Spanish is the main and official language of El Salvador. The local Spanish vernacular is called Caliche. Nahuat is the indigenous language that has survived, though it is only used by small communities of elderly Salvadorans in western El Salvador.
Society and Culture
Many Spanish who settled the country intermarried with the native Indian population and thus the main group are the ‘mestizos’ (mixed European and Indian blood). Only 9% are pure European and usually belong to the wealthiest families; and the remaining 1% are native Indian. The largest native Indian group is the Pipíl. They continue to believe in the traditional gods.
Machismo survives in a culture where traditional gender roles remain. The man is the breadwinner and the wife looks after the home. From birth, children are raised to understand that they will have different roles and expectations in life.
Attitudes have begun to change although machismo is still deeply rooted. More middle- and upper-class females now go to work, although they are still generally relegated to clerical or support positions. However, women are increasingly becoming doctors, dentists, or teachers. When this will carry over into the business world remains to be seen.
Etiquette and Customs in El Salvador
Meeting and Greeting
- Salvadoran women often pat each other on the right forearm or shoulder, rather than shake hands.
- Close friends may hug and kiss on the right cheek.
- Men shake hands with other men and with women, although they wait for the woman to extend her hand.
- While shaking hands, use the appropriate greeting for the time of day: "buenos dias"(good morning), "buenas tardes" (good afternoon), or "buenas noches" (good evening).
- In many ways El Salvador is a formal culture where only close friends and family use first names.
- Refer to people by the appropriate honorific title (Senor or Senora) and their surname until invited to move to a first name basis.
Gift Giving Etiquette
- Salvadorians give gifts for birthdays, Christmas or New Year, as well as religious events in a person’s life.
- A young girl’s 15th birthday is considered a special date and is much celebrated.
- If invited to an Ecuadorian home, bring flowers, good quality spirits, pastries, imported sweets for the hosts.
- A bouquet of roses is always well received.
- Do not give lilies or marigolds as they are used at funerals.
- Do not give scissors or knives as they indicate you want to sever the relationship.
- If you know the person well, perfume is an excellent gift.
- Gifts are generally opened when received.
- Salvadorans enjoy socializing and are extremely hospitable.
- It is rude to leave immediately after eating; you are expected to stay for at least an hour after dinner to converse with your hosts and the other guests.
- Never arrive on time when invited to a home. Although it may sound strange you should arrive a little later than invited, i.e. 30 -45 minutes late.
- Dress well as this affords the host respect.
- Don’t discuss business at social events unless prompted to.
- It is considered good manners to reciprocate any social invitation.
- Table manners are Continental -- the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.
- Guests are served first.
- The host says "buen provecho" ("enjoy" or "have a good meal") as an invitation to start eating.
- Food is always eaten with utensils. Even fruit is eaten with a knife and fork.
- It is considered polite to leave a small amount of food on your plate when you have finished eating.
- Meals are social occasions and can be quite lengthy.
- Expect lively conversation during the meal.
- Wait for a toast to be made before taking the first sip of your drink.
- The host makes the first toast. The most common toast is "Salud!"
- When you lift your glass, look at the person being toasted.
- If you do not want to drink more, leave your glass one-quarter full.
Business Protocol and Etiquette
- Salvadorians are relatively formal in their business dealings.
- Shake hands when meeting someone and also when leaving.
- Handshakes are generally not very firm.
- A man extends his hand to a woman.
- Maintain eye contact when greeting people.
- Professional or academic titles with the surname are used in business. Common titles are "Doctor" (medical doctor or Ph.D.), "Ingeniero" (engineer), "Arquitecto" (architect), and "Abogado" (lawyer).
- If someone does not have a title, the honorific Senor or Senora is used with the surname.
- Always wait until invited before moving to a first-name basis.
- Business cards are exchanged during the initial introductions.
- Try to have one side of your business card translated into Spanish.
Like most relationship orientated cultures, Salvadorans have a strong sense of personal pride, honour and dignity. They can be very sensitive to comments or action that can jeopardize their standing among others. It is therefore important to watch what is being said, how it is being said and who is being said within earshot of. If you think you may have offended someone it is best to apologise immediately and assure them that no slight was intended. If you feel something you have said may have been misinterpreted, clearly re-state the position using different formula of words.
Due to the need to protect face Salvadorans are indirect communicators. If you are from a direct culture you may wish to moderate your communication style to avoid coming across as rude or abrasive. For example, disagreements and criticism should be handled in private, away from others.
As a result of being indirect Salvadorans may avoid telling the absolute truth if doing so might upset the person. For example, a simple “yes” may not mean ‘yes’ but indicate that the listener agrees or is merely acknowledging a point. It is important to learn to ask questions in several ways to ensure that you understand the response.
- At a first meeting, introduce senior people first and according to rank. Use titles for both your own personnel and your Salvadorian counterparts.
- Meetings are structured. They generally start on time and run according to an agenda. Initial meetings will be spent indulging in conversation unrelated to business. It is important to invest this time in building a rapport and firming up the relationship. It is not uncommon for business discussions to be continued over a meal. If you are invited to share a meal you must accept as this is a sign the relationship is going places.
- Decisions are generally made by the most senior person. Whether or not decisions are reached after consultation with key stakeholders is a matter of personal preference rather than a cultural nuance. Salvadorans place greater emphasis on their ‘gut-feeling’ rather than on facts and figures.
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Unfortunately there is a lot of inequity for women. Generally they earn less, have lower positions in organizations and face strong pressures to stay at home, even though things are changing. It is still a man’s society, but women are progressively improving their status. It is generally accepted to offer help to a woman open the car door and offer your seat. These attitudes are very well viewed.
Sexual harassment can be a problem. Men are used to flirting with women. It does not matter if they are on the street, at the job or in a party! They will do the same every time! For a Canadian woman this could be the most difficult situation to deal with while working and living in El Salvador.
The official religion is Roman Catholic, but there are others religions such as Baptist and other denominations. You will not find any strong barriers to establishing a relationship with someone of another religion.
There are different social classes, with marked differences between them. Higher classes are located in the capital and in the rest of the country it is fairly rare to find rich people. 35% of the population is considered very poor and another 30% as poor.
due to political and social problems, inherited by colonialism, native people were forgotten and our roosts almost disappear, however the Mayan culture is still alive in some areas along Central America. The native dialect is "nahuat", which just few people know. There is not a predominant race.
It is common to see wealthy businesswoman/man, but some of them treat their employees with no respect. This is noticeable through: a different kind in communication, their expressions when taking about poor people, differences in opportunities, and mainly in the salary. This situation can be clearly observed in some sectors as the industrial, commercial, and agricultural and you can find your self involved implementing some decisions, in the organization, which could affect impoverished employees.
Problems or impacts in the workplace are generated mainly because of gender and class position, but not by religion or ethnicity issues.
Like many other Latin American societies, machismo is alive and well in El Salvador. The majority of women are in low level jobs, both in regards to their responsibility, status and salary. Many women are employed in the informal sector, as domestic workers and market or ambulatory vendors. The wages in the informal sector are unregulated. This presents a serious problem considering that about one third of all families are headed by single mothers. These factors combined translate to a lower social status for women.
Some people believe that women should not work outside of the house but rather devote their time to raising a family and maintaining the house. Domestic violence is a serious problem with little recourse to be taken by the victims. The government has invested little in these issues and many non-governmental organizations are trying to increase awareness about the low status of women. The low status of women is seen in the workplace in the positions that they hold and the benefits they receive (an insured woman is entitled to 3 months maternity leave but no day care is available for when this period lapses).
Religion is a constant part of Salvadoran culture. The majority of Salvadorans are Catholic but the segment of Evangelical Protestants is increasing. While religion is present from daily language ("how are you?" Is often answered with "thanks to God, good") to street-corner preachers, I have not felt its impact in the workplace.
El Salvador is a class society. More than 50% of the people live below the poverty line, many of who live in absolute poverty. People working in offices usually fall into the middle class category which can be further divided into:
1. lower—those who makes at least double the minimum wage or have relatives in the US who send at least double the minimum wage to them;
2. middle—people who make at least double the minimum wage/received remittances of equal amount and can afford a car;
3. upper—people who make more than double the minimum wage, have a car and have a substantial disposable income. The small group that is the upper class is made up of 14 families; high-level politicians and people with inherited money and connections. Most offices have a muchacha who is a cleaner and brings beverages to employees and guests. She may be the only person who belongs to the lower class.
El Salvador has a small indigenous population when compared to its Guatemalan neighbour. Much of this population was massacred in the 1930s, losing language and culture in addition to human lives. Most of the remaining indigenous people live in the countryside and are agriculturalists. As they live in the poor parts of the country and are undereducated, they are often perceived as being unintelligent. There are parts of the country that are known to have indigenous roots and there is interest in the crafts that they make and the festivals they hold.