Left cheek, right cheek, or both? Is this the right moment for a formal greeting or a relaxed “hola!”? Do I kiss the 85-year-old grandmother sat in the corner? Will I sound like a 17th century musketeer if I say goodbye with an “adios!” or should I stick with a simple “chau”…?
For the uninitiated, a foreign land can be an etiquette minefield. And while Peru is fairly relaxed when it comes to cultural customs, it’s always a relief to know your etiquette is at least passable, especially with day-to-day interactions like Peruvian greetings, introductions and goodbyes.
(This article focuses on Spanish greetings and goodbyes simply because Spanish is Peru’s dominant language. I’ll try to cover Quechua and Aymara in a later article.)
Peruvian Greetings and Introductions
Formal greetings in Peru are defined by the time of day, as they are in English. Generally speaking, these formal greetings are used in business situations (unless you know the person well); when speaking to people in positions of authority (police, border officials etc.); and when speaking respectfully to your “seniors” (people who are significantly older than you).
You can use formal greetings in any situation without sounding weird, with the exception of saying high to your friends — in which case you might sound like a strange foreign stiff.
The three main formal greetings in Peru are:
- Buenos días — good day or good morning (used until midday)
- Buenas tardes — good afternoon or good evening (used from midday until nighttime)
- Buenas noches — good night (used at night as a greeting and as a way of saying goodbye)
For extra politeness/respect/suck-up-ness, you can tag on señor (m) or señora (f): Buenas tardes, señora. For example, a respectful “Buenos días, señor” to a Peruvian border official might just be enough to get you the full 183 days in Peru rather than just the 90.
You can also say buenas by itself — without the following días, tardes or noches — as a more informal version of the above.
The most common way of saying hello in Peru is with a simple hola. It’s informal, so stick with the formal greetings above if you have any doubts.
There are endless ways to embellish hola — especially if you know some Peruvian slang. But some common ways of following up hola include short questions like:
- ¿Cómo estás? – How are you? (you can use this formally, just drop the “s” from the end of estás: “¿Cómo está?“)
- ¿Como va? – How’s it going?
- ¿Qué tal? – What’s up? Or How are you? (¿Qué tal? Can also be used to ask how something was or went, like “How was it?”)
You can play around with hola and other combinations. For example, “¡Hola! ¿Qué tal, amigo?” (“Hi! How are you, friend/buddy/mate?”)
Handshakes, Hugs and Kissing in Peru
Peruvian greetings and introductions typically involve some kind of physical gesture, be it a handshake, a hug or a kiss on the cheek. In the case of introductions, it’s typical to say mucho gusto — “it’s a pleasure” — when you are introduced to someone.
Men normally shake hands: a firm handshake and a certain level of eye contact is the norm. Younger men have also started adopting the fist bump, so you can expect a few of them, particularly if you’re hanging with the cool kids. A handshake is also used between men and women in business situations, unless they are friends (in which case a kiss on the cheek might be appropriate).
A single kiss on the left cheek is a standard gesture when saying hello or goodbye in Peru, and when being introduced in informal settings. But there’s no cheek kissing between men, just between men and women and between two women. In business situations, handshakes are often used instead of kissing, unless the people involved are already acquaintances.
As for the 85-year-old grandmother sat in the corner who I mentioned at the start of this article, I’m still not too sure on the etiquette here. Despite living in Peru since 2009, the Grandmother Conundrum remains a case-by-case decision for me. I’ll often shake hands with elderly señoras, as a kiss on the cheek sometimes feels wrong. I’ll let you decide.
Hugging in Peru is normally between good friends and family members. Men don’t hug other men very often, preferring a handshake or a hand on the shoulder instead of a hug.
The physical gestures above — handshakes, hugs and kisses — apply for goodbyes in the same way as they do for greetings.
You can say goodbye in Peru in various ways, but by far the most common is a simple chau (bye). It’s informal, but so widely used that it’s rarely a faux pas to use it in formal situations.
At night, you can also say buenas noches (good night) as a goodbye.
Then there’s adios, which to my ears always sounds overly dramatic — like a scene from an 18th Century romance novel where a woman waves her handkerchief and shouts “¡adios!” as her lover marches off to war (or a farewell scene in any Mexican telenovela, one of the two).
It’s not incorrect to use adios to say goodbye in Peru, but it does carry a certain melodramatic weight. Save it for the big goodbyes — like when it’s finally time to leave Peru and head home. Then there’s nothing better than a heartfelt “¡Adiós, amigos!”
Other ways of saying goodbye in Peru include:
- nos vemos — literally “we’ll see each other,” but meaning “see you later”
- te veo — “I’ll see you”
Arnold Schwarzenegger made “hasta la vista” famous. And while you can use hasta la vista (literally “until the next sighting,” but more like “see you!”), other hasta phrases are more common in Peru. In most cases, hasta — which means “until” or “up to” — is used in farewells in the same way we’d say “see you…..”:
- hasta luego — see you later
- hasta mañana — see you tomorrow
- hasta pronto — see you soon
- hasta entonces — see you then