There is a strong stereotype about tourists, or ‘gringos’ in South America: we don’t wash, we dress like beggars and we’re ignorant. There are quite a few reasons to put in effort to avoid looking like a gringo including everything from safety and acceptance to simply not wanting to stand out.
As a foreigner in South America you’ll automatically be labelled a gringo, but that doesn’t mean you can’t at least try to break these stereotypes and make an effort to fit in. Culturally people in South America like to dress smart. In general, people dress as nice as they can afford to and if you dress down with ripped jeans and t-shirt they will judge you!
Just because you’re living out of a suitcase doesn’t mean you can’t put in the effort. Prove the stereotype wrong by behaving and dressing more like the locals to get off the gringo trail of South America.
These tips are to help you navigate life as you explore a new country while being sensitive to locals. After all, if you arrive somewhere and everyone is wearing heels and all you have is flip flops you’ll feel a bit silly. Here’s our tips for how to avoid looking like a gringo and respecting the cultural norms and values of South America.
1. Dress the part
Of course South America is home to some incredible nature experiences. You might be climbing mountains or trekking through the jungle and those activities require activewear and hiking boots or sneakers to complete. But, and this is a big but, remember that South America is more than wild jungle and sandy beaches. As we mentioned, people in Latin America like to dress as well as they can afford. In the cities there are a few key faux pas to avoid looking like a gringo.
First of all, avoid wearing shorts. This is a particularly bad stereotype for men travelling in South America. Especially avoid cargo shorts – that’s a guaranteed way to stamp yourself as a tourist! Secondly, know that singlets (vests), t-shirts and sports shirts are just for around the house. A plain t-shirt is okay, but most people will opt for a starched ironed shirt or polo when roaming about town. And thirdly, sandals and flip flops are usually just for the beach.
A nice shirt, pair of trousers and a skirt will not take up too much precious suitcase space and will help you blend into the crowds.
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2. Sneakers are for exercise
In South America if you’re wearing sneakers or joggers you’re going for a run or you’re on your way to play a sport. As a tourist wandering around the cities and towns, leave your sneakers in the suitcase and opt for leather lace-up shoes or boots. The same goes for tracksuit pants or exercise clothes. While we might think of them as a relaxed fashion choice for heading to the shops or weekend brunch, here people will even change or shower at the gym to avoid wearing such clothes on the streets.
3. Style your hair
Personal appearance is a point of pride for South Americans. Show respect by acting as they do. Each country has it’s differences and quirks, so observe the world around you and speak to your Travel Director about how to style your hair in different places. Do men slick it back? Do women wear it in a bun or plait?
4. Groom your face
For many men a holiday might mean letting that facial hair do it’s thing, but in South America a five o’clock shadow or three-day growth gives off unsavoury vibes, as does a messy unstyled beard. Keep yourself looking neat and well groomed!
5. Respect the church
Latin America is very religious and so if you wish to explore churches and cathedrals across the continent then remember to cover your shoulders and knees and generally dress respectfully for the occasion.
6. Learn some dance moves
It’s no secret that in South America they love to dance. Us gringos, however, get laughed at for our stiff, jerky moves and lack of coordination. Before you land on Latin ground why not take up a salsa or samba class to get your body used to the beat. A few classes will loosen up those hips and have you feeling confident to mix with and impress the locals.
7. Brush up on the language
If you still insist on wearing cargo pants and flip flops around town (you do you), then at least learn a few phrases to gain respect from the locals. First up, know that not every country in South America speaks Spanish. If you’re heading to Brazil you’ll need to learn some Brazilian Portuguese phrases too. Just a few basic sentences and greetings is enough to unlock that warm hospitality. You don’t need enough language to buy a house, but at a minimum learn to order a beer. Salud!
8. Don’t wear shorts
Yes, we already mentioned how to dress but we’re circling back around to emphasise this point. Seriously, don’t wear shorts. Even in the peak of summer, locals dress smartly in nice jeans or trousers when wandering the cities.
Is South America on your list? Let us know in the comments….