Women and Men
Foreign visitors are often shocked by the overwhelming machismo in some parts of Latin America. Women in bars - and foreign women in general - are often regarded as promiscuous. Females who drink and act rowdy, or even just express their opinions in a public setting, will shock men who expect and prize meekness in women. Whether you're male or female, be sensitive to rising testosterone levels. Never say anything about a man's mother, sister, wife, or girlfriend.
Personal hygiene and appearance are often difficult to maintain while traveling, but they are very important in Ecuador. Clean-shaven men with short hair and women who don't show much skin are more likely to receive respect than scruffy mop-heads or bra-less women. Men should remove hats while indoors.
Communication and Body Language
Latin Americans hold politeness in high esteem, both in acquaintances and strangers. When meeting someone for the first time, shake hands firmly, look the person in the eye, and say "Mucho gusto de conocerle" ["Pleased to meet you"
]. When entering a room, greet everybody, not just the person you came to see. Females often greet each other with a peck on the cheek or a quick hug. Sometimes men shake hands with women in a business situation, but the standard greeting between a man and a woman - even upon meeting for the first time - is a quick kiss on the cheek. Salutations are considered common courtesy in small towns. "Buenos dias" in the morning, "buenas tardes" after noon, and "buenas noches" after dusk should be said to anyone with whom you come into contact. Another custom is saying "buen provecho" ["enjoy your meal"
] in a restaurant upon entering or leaving.
When signaling for people, don't use one finger pointed upward; simply motioning with your hand in a sweeping motion is more polite. The American "OK" symbol [a circle with the thumb and forefinger]
is considered vulgar and offensive. Spitting is perfectly acceptable in this region - but beware of the burp, as it is considered rude in public.
Punctuality isn't as important as it is in Europe and the US [as bus schedules will quickly confirm
], but there are, of course, limits. A different perspective on time is apparent during meals, which are rarely hurried. After a big meal, enjoy the ingenious tradition of siesta, a time in the afternoon when it's just too hot to do anything but relax, have a drink, or nap; don't expect much to happen during the mid-afternoon, as banks and shops often shut their doors.
Be sensitive when taking photographs. If you must take pictures of locals, first ask permission - they may object strongly to being photographed.