Society and culture

This section gives specific advice and guidance on Guatemala's Society and cultural norms, including religion, status of the family alongside business and social etiquette, customs and protocols with Meeting & Greeting alongside appropriate communication styles in each country to enable an employee to move, live and work abroad.


Christianity remains strong and vital for the life of Guatemalan society, but its composition has changed considerably in recent decades. Roman Catholicism was the official religion in Guatemala during the colonial era. Pentecostal (Pentecostals are called Evangélicos in Latin America) and later Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy have increased in recent decades. About 42% of Guatemalans are Protestant, chiefly independent Evangelicals or Pentecostals. The Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodoxy claim rapid growth, especially among the indigenous Maya peoples. The constitution of Guatemala establishes the freedom of religion. While it is not a state religion, the Catholic Church is recognized as "a distinct legal personality" that receives certain privileges. According to the constitution, no member of the clergy of any religion may serve as president, vice president, government minister, or as a judge. Registration for religious groups is not required but provides access to property purchase and tax exemptions. The constitution includes a commitment to protect the rights of indigenous Maya groups to practice their religion. Mayan religious groups are allowed to use historical sites on government-owned property for ceremonies. However, representatives of Mayan groups have complained that their access is limited and subject to other obstacles, such as being required to pay fees. Public schools may choose to offer religious instruction, but there is no national framework for such classes. Private religious schools are allowed to operate as well.

The Role of the Family

Community. The Guatemalan culture places a large emphasis on the idea of family and community. Guatemalans have a strong sense of respect, loyalty, solidarity interdependence, and cooperation. Because of these values, they often rely on the community for support and resources. This is believed to be because the Guatemalan church and state are weak in the country, so members of Guatemalan communities look to each other for help.

Extended Family Guatemalan families are made up of relationships within nuclear and extended families. Many times, you will find an extended family living in the same household, sharing responsibilities such as food, childcare, and finances. Extended families even go as far as including the household’s servants, friends, and sometimes orphan children. This ties back to the idea of community and community support.

Marriage and Children Marriages in Guatemala are often arranged by parents, although most children have a say in who their spouse will be. Marriages take place in a religious ceremony. Marriages in Guatemala are monogamous. Divorces are common in Guatemala. Children are strongly desired in Guatemalan families. The average number of children per woman in 2016 was three.


Class Structure and Ethnicity Every

Within Central America the citizens of each country are affectionately known by a nickname of which they are proud, but which is sometimes used disparagingly by others, much like the term "Yankee." The term "Chapín" (plural, "Chapines"), the origin of which is unknown, denotes anyone from Guatemala. When traveling outside of Guatemala, all its citizens define themselves as Guatemalans and/or Chapines. While at home, however, there is little sense that they share a common culture. The most important split is between Ladinos and Indians. Garifuna are hardly known away from the Atlantic coast and, like most Indians, identify themselves in terms of their own language and culture.

Classes and Castes. Social class based on wealth, education, and family prestige operates as a sorting mechanism among both Indians and Ladinos. Race is also clearly a component, but may be less important than culture and lifestyle, except in the case of the black Garifuna, who are shunned by all other groups. Individual people of Indian background may be accepted in Ladino society if they are well educated and have the resources to live in a Western style. However, Indians as a group are poorer and less educated than are non-Indians. In the 1980s, illiteracy among Indians was 79 percent, compared with 40 percent among Ladinos. In 1989, 60 percent of Indians had no formal education, compared with 26 percent of Ladinos. Indians with thirteen or more years of education earned about one-third less than did Ladinos with a comparable level of education.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Dress varies significantly by class and caste. Professional and white-collar male workers in the cities usually wear suits, dress shirts, and neckties, and women in comparable pursuits dress fashionably, including stockings and high-heeled shoes. Nonemployed upper-class women dress more casually, often in blue jeans and T-shirts or blouses. They frequent beauty salons since personal appearance is considered an important indicator of class. Poorer Ladinos, whether urban or rural, buy second-hand clothing from the United States that is sold at low prices in the streets and marketplaces. T-shirts and sweatshirts with English slogans are ubiquitous.

Clothing Many Mayan women, regardless of wealth, education, or residence, continue to wear their distinctive clothing: a wraparound or gathered, nearly ankle-length skirt woven with tie-dyed threads that produce interesting designs, topped with a cotton or rayon blouse embroidered with flower motifs about the neck, or a more traditional huipil . The huipil is hand woven on a backstrap loom and consists of two panels sewn together on the sides, leaving openings for the arms and head. It usually is embroidered with traditional designs. Shoes or sandals are almost universal, especially in towns and cities. Earrings, necklaces, and rings are their only jewellery. Indian men are more likely to dress in a Western style. Today's fashions dictate "cowboy" hats, boots, and shirts for them and for lower-class rural Ladinos. In the more remote highland areas, many men continue to wear the clothing of their ancestors. The revitalisation movement has reinforced the use of traditional clothing as a means of asserting one's identity.


Meeting & Greeting Etiquette

Etiquette varies considerably according to ethnicity. In the past, Indians were expected to defer to Ladinos, and in general they showed them respect and subservience at all times. In turn, they were treated by Ladinos as children or as persons of little worth. Some of those modes of behavior carried over into their own society, especially within Garifuna organisations where deliberate rudeness is considered appropriate on the part of the highest-ranking officers. Today there is a more egalitarian attitude on both sides, and in some cases younger Maya may openly show contempt for non-indigenous people. Maya children greet adults by bowing their heads and sometimes folding their hands before them, as in prayer. Adults greet other adults verbally, asking about one's health and that of one's family. They are not physically demonstrative. Among Ladino urban women, greetings and farewells call for handshakes, arm or shoulder patting, embraces, and even cheek kissing, almost from first acquaintance. Men embrace and cheek kiss women friends of the family and embrace but do not kiss each other. Children are taught to kiss all adult relatives and close acquaintances of their parents’ hello and goodbye. In the smaller towns and until recently in the cities, if eye contact is made with strangers on the street, a verbal "good morning" or "good afternoon" is customary.

Gift Giving Etiquette


Dining Etiquette


Food in Daily Life. Corn made into tortillas or tamales, black beans, rice, and wheat in the form of bread or pasta are staples eaten by nearly all Guatemalans. Depending on their degree of affluence, people also consume chicken, pork, and beef, and those living near bodies of water also eat fish and shellfish. With improvements in refrigeration and transport, seafood is becoming increasingly popular in Guatemala City. The country has long been known for vegetables and fruits, including avocados, radishes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, beets, onions, and tomatoes. Lettuce, snow peas, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, artichokes, and turnips are grown for export and are also available in local markets; they are eaten more by Ladinos than by Indians. Fruits include pineapples, papayas, mangoes, a variety of melons, citrus fruits, peaches, pears, plums, guavas, and many others of both native and foreign origin. Fruit is eaten as dessert, or as a snack in-between meals. Three meals per day are the general rule, with the largest eaten at noon. Until recently, most stores and businesses in the urban areas closed for two to three hours to allow employees time to eat at home and rest before returning to work. Transportation problems due to increased traffic, both on buses and in private vehicles, are bringing rapid change to this custom. In rural areas women take the noon meal to the men in the fields, often accompanied by their children so that the family can eat as a group. Tortillas are eaten by everyone but are especially important for the Indians, who may consume up to a dozen at a time, usually with chili, sometimes with beans and/or stews made with or flavoured with meat or dried shrimp. Breakfast for the well to do may be large, including fruit, cereal, eggs, bread, and coffee; the poor may drink only an atol , a thin gruel made with any one of several thickeners—oatmeal, corn starch, cornmeal, or even ground fresh corn. Others may only have coffee with sweet bread. All drinks are heavily sweetened with refined or brown sugar. The evening meal is always lighter than that at noon. Although there are no food taboos, many people believe that specific foods are classified as "hot" or "cold" by nature, and there may be temporary prohibitions on eating them, depending upon age, the condition of one's body, the time of day, or other factors.


Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. The ceremonial year is largely determined by the Roman Catholic Church, even for those who do not profess that faith. Thus, the Christmas period, including Advent and the Day of the Kings on 6 January, and Easter week are major holidays for everyone. The patron saints of each village, town or city are honoured on their respective days. The cofradia organization, imposed by the colonial Spanish Catholic Church, is less important now, but where it persists, special foods are prepared. Tamales are the most important ceremonial food. They are eaten on all special occasions, including private parties and celebrations, and on weekends, which are special because Sunday is recognized as being a holy day, as well as a holiday. A special vegetable and meat salad called fiambre is eaten on 1 November, the Day of the Dead, when families congregate in the cemeteries to honour, placate, and share food with deceased relatives. Codfish cooked in various forms is eaten at Easter, and Christmas is again a time for gourmet tamales and ponche, a rum-based drink containing spices and fruits. Beer and rum, including a fairly raw variety known as aguardiente are the most popular alcoholic drinks, although urban elites prefer Scotch whisky.


Business Etiquette in Terms of Protocol in Guatemala (Relationships and Communication)

Business Dress For business, a lightweight suit is appropriate for men; women should wear a dress or skirt and blouse. Military clothing is illegal; it can neither be worn nor brought into the country.


Shaking hands and saying "mucho gusto" is considered polite. Handshake may seem limp, which is customary. Titles, especially among the elderly, are very important. Address a person directly by using his or her title only. A Ph.D. or a physician is called Doctor. Teachers prefer the title Professor, engineers go by Ingeniero, architects are Arquitecto, and lawyers are Abogado. Persons who do not have professional titles should be addressed as Mr., Mrs., or Miss, plus their surnames. In Spanish these are:

Mr. = Senor

Mrs. = Senora

Miss = Senorita

Most Guatemalans have two surnames: one from their father, which is listed first, followed by one from their mother. Only the father’s surname is used when addressing someone. Speaking softly without over emotional emphasis is considered the professional thing to do.

Good conversation topics: Guatemalan geography, history, culture

Bad conversation topics: politics or "the violence" since 1978


Guatemalans wave good-bye using a gesture that looks like someone fanning themselves: hand raised, palm toward the body, and a wave of the fingers back and forth, with the fingers together as if encased in a mitten.

The "fig" gesture (thumb-tip protruding from between the fingers of a closed fist) and the "O.K." sign (thumb and forefinger forming a circle) are both considered obscene.

Gift Giving Etiquette

Gifts are given in a business setting, but not necessarily on the initial visit. Easily breakable gifts may not be the best choice; Guatemala is in a tectonically active zone, with frequent earthquakes and occasional volcanoes. Don’t give white flowers; they are reserved for funerals


Business Meeting Etiquette

Business people are usually punctual. Male guests sit to the right of the host; women to the left. Business breakfasts or lunches are preferred to dinners. Social conversation before business is the custom

Business Card Etiquette

Have plenty of business cards and treat other business cards with respect when they are given.