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The People

The majority of the people are middle class; the extremes of wealth and poverty found in most other South American countries don't exist. Uruguayans take a pragmatic, utilitarian and materialistic approach to life. They have an inherent trust of people and a strong belief in social justice. A great deal of emphasis is placed on education. Uruguay has the best-educated workforce on the continent. People enjoy easy access to a good education, compulsory for nine years and free through post-graduate studies. The literacy rate is 96%, one of the highest in South America.

Meeting and Greeting

  • Greetings are warm and accompanied by a firm handshake.
  • Friends kiss once on the right cheek when meeting.
  • People do not greet strangers when passing on the street. Greeting or smiling at a stranger may be misunderstood.

Body Language

  • Uruguayans stand very close when conversing, both socially and in business.
  • People touch shoulders and hold arms while they talk to each other.
  • Never sit on or put your feet up on a ledge, desk or table.
  • The “ch-ch” sound is used to get someone's attention or to get a bus to stop.
  • The North American “O.K.” sign is extremely rude.
  • You may see people brush the backs of their hands under their chins to signal “I don't know.”

Corporate Culture

  • Meetings are extremely formal, but don't usually start on time. However, be sure to arrive on time.
  • Kinship and friendship play a major role in business transactions. Expertise and experience are less important than who you are.
  • Present business cards to everyone in a meeting.
  • Be ready to make small talk before the business discussions begin.
  • Many executives will speak English, but arrange for an interpreter.
  • Print all materials in Spanish, from business cards to brochures.
  • Hire a local contact to help you in the business community and to navigate you through red tape.
  • A highly trained and educated businessperson may be working at a low-level position due to exile, imprisonment or political affiliation. Do not ask questions.

Dining and Entertainment

  • People are very casual about time for social events. An invitation for 9:00 p.m. usually means to arrive by 10:00 p.m. Uruguayans usually dine at 9:00 or 10:00 p.m.
  • Uruguayans are comfortable conducting business over lunch.
  • Business dinners are to socialize. Do not talk business unless your host initiates the conversation.
  • It is extremely impolite to use a toothpick in public.
  • If an Uruguayan invites you to his/her home for coffee after dinner, don't stay late on a work night. Be alert for cues from your counterpart that tell you he/she is tired and wants to end the night.


  • Uruguayans dress conservatively and seldom wear the bright colors popular elsewhere in South America.
  • Women may not wear nylons during the summer. If your Uruguayan colleagues do not wear ties or jackets in the summer, you may follow.
  • For business, men should wear conservative, dark suits and ties.
  • Women should wear blouses with dark suits, skirts and dresses.


  • Everyone likes North American jeans.
  • Women love flowers, especially roses. A rare, salmon-colored tea rose is a favorite.
  • It is polite and common for guests to send candy or flowers to a hostess before the occasion.
  • Gift giving is not an important part of doing business. Give scotch (Black Label or Chivas Regal) and gifts made in the United States, especially from your region.

Helpful Hints

  • Uruguayans are extremely political people. Ask about politics.
  • Ask questions about Uruguay. People are very proud of their country.
  • Don't confuse Paraguay and Uruguay.

Especially for Women

  • A foreign woman will have no problem doing business in Uruguay. It may even be an advantage. Men like to be with and enjoy doing business with women.
  • Do not misinterpret an invitation to join a man for a business lunch. He is not attempting to seduce you.
Adapted from material compiled by Window on the World, a cross-cultural training and consulting firm. Originally based on material contained in the "Put Your Best Foot Forward" series of books by Mary Murray Bosrock.
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