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Customs of Chile

Marriage and Family

Most people wait until they have finished their education before getting married. Most men do not marry before age 22; most women marry between 18 and 23. Couples often date from one to three years before getting engaged. Traditional Christian wedding ceremonies are common. Divorce is legal.

The father is considered head of the family, but the mother has considerable influence, and the relationship between husbands and wives is generally one of reciprocity. Men have tended to dominate private and public life in the past, but in recent years attitudes about the position and role of women in society have been changing. 33.2 percent (1999)

It is customary for Chileans to bear two family names. The father’s family name, which is the official surname, precedes the mother’s family name. People use either their full name or go by their father’s family name. Therefore, a person named José Felipe Correa Pérez could be addressed as Señor Correa or Señor Correa Pérez.


Many national dishes are prepared with fish, seafood, chicken, beef, beans, eggs, and maize. The main meal is usually eaten between 12:30 and 2:30 pm, and a lighter meal between 8 and 10 pm. Many people also have a snack of sandwiches and cookies or cakes in the afternoon. There are large supermarkets in major cities. Traveling markets, or ferias, sell fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, and flowers in smaller cities and towns. What is eaten depends on the region, but popular dishes include empanadas de horno, which are meat turnovers with beef, hard-boiled eggs, onions, olives, and raisins; pastel de choclo, a baked meal of beef, chicken, onions, maize, eggs, and spices; cazuela de ave, chicken soup; and seafood casseroles and stews. Children enjoy eating sopaipillas, which are made from a pumpkin dough, deep fried, and sprinkled with sugar. Manjar, made by boiling an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk for hours, is used as a spread for bread and as a baking ingredient.

Chileans generally converse freely at the table. Forks are normally held in the left hand, knives in the right, and etiquette requires that both hands be kept above the table during a meal. Offers of second helpings should be initially refused, and finally accepted only if the host insists. When the meal is over, guests are expected to stay for more conversation. In a restaurant, a waiter can be summoned with a raised finger. As fast food increases in popularity, it is now no longer unusual to see people eating while walking in public, although many still consider it inappropriate.


In Chile, the affectionate abrazo is the most common greeting among friends and relatives. It consists of a handshake and hug, sometimes supplemented with a kiss to the right cheek for women or family members. When parting, the abrazo is repeated with every member of a small gathering of friends or family. Generally, a handshake is appropriate when meeting people for the first time, and eye contact is important on all occasions. Traditional greetings include ¿Qui’ubo? (“What’s up?”), ¿Cómo está? (“How are you?”), and ¡Gusto de verte! (“Nice to see you!”).

Titles are important when addressing Chileans. Señor (“Mr.”), Señora (“Mrs.”), and Señorita (“Miss”) are common for strangers and acquaintances, as are professional titles (Doctor, Director, Profesora). Don and Doña are used with the person’s first name for men and women, respectively, to show special respect and familiarity.

Much leisure time is spent socializing with family or friends, and weekend barbecues are popular. Unlike the custom in some parts of South America, guests usually wait outside the door of a home until invited inside. It is appropriate to greet the head of the family first. Many people bring a gift of flowers or wine when invited to dinner, while close friends may bring bread or offer to provide dessert when asked to a meal. Informal conversation usually precedes any business discussion; political topics are best avoided unless initiated by the host.


Popular recreational activities in Chile include sports, theater, music, cinema, and television. Fútbol (soccer) is the most popular sport. During the summer, many people travel to the coastal beaches or the countryside. In cattle-raising areas, rodeo is very popular. The main event consists of a pair of huasos, or cowboys, on horses trying to trap a steer against a padded arena wall. Points are earned for the portion of the steer that is pinned.

Holidays and Celebrations

Chileans celebrate the New Year on 1 January. They celebrate Good Friday (the Friday preceding Easter), Easter Saturday, and Easter Sunday. Labor Day is observed on 1 May, and 21 May is a day of remembrance for the Naval Battle of Iquique. Corpus Christi, which honors the Eucharist, is celebrated sometime in May or June, depending on the date of Easter.

On 29 June, Saint Peter’s and Saint Paul’s Day, boats decorated with images of Saint Peter, the patron saint of fishermen, float from the seaside town of Valparaíso. This procession has been held annually since 1682. Saint Paul was martyred on the same day as Saint Peter. Assumption Day, when Mary’s body is said to have been “assumed” into Heaven, is on 15 August.

Independence Day, 18 September, celebrates Chile’s liberation from Spanish rule in 1818. On Independence Day many Chileans gather in parks to eat empanadas; drink chicha, a sweet drink made with fermented grapes or apples; and dance the cueca, the national dance, to guitar music. Army Day is observed on 19 September.

Columbus Day on 12 October honors the Spanish explorer’s arrival in America on this date in 1492. All Saints’ Day is observed on 1 November. The Day of the Immaculate Conception, on 8 December, celebrates the Roman Catholic belief that the Virgin Mary’s soul was preserved free from original sin. Chileans celebrate a warm Christmas on 25 December—in the Southern Hemisphere, it is summer—which may help explain a custom of leaving one’s door ajar to invite passersby to come in and say a prayer to one’s pesebre (crèche).

Source: Encarta Interactive World Atlas