Nicaragua cultural insights
The following cultural insights are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. The content in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.
On this page
Local and Canadian perspectives for the following subjects:
- Communication styles
- Display of emotion
- Dress, punctuality & formality
- Preferred managerial qualities
- Hierarchy and decision-making
- Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
- Privileges and favouritism
- Conflicts in the workplace
- Motivating local colleagues
- Recommended books, films & foods
- In-country activities
- National heroes
- Shared historical events with Canada
- About the cultural interpreters
Nicaraguans are genuinely friendly people, but at the same time a bit reserved. If you meet somebody for the first time, general questions such as place of origin and/or marital status are acceptable. Humour is accepted as well by the majority of Nicaraguans. The only topic that you must avoid is politics; your opinion can upset people.
If talking to a farmer and they know that you are there to help to increase their productivity they will be more than happy to change their way of working or they would be more open to new ideas. If you are talking to professionals, sometimes, you can encounter difficulties. In Nicaragua, the percentage of unemployment is very high. People are concerned that they can lose their job. If you are implementing a different system, they can feel intimidated.
I recommend that the first time you meet with them, you explain in simply terms the purpose of your work, how important it is to work in a team. It is important that you mention that if they have any concern or opinion, they should feel free to tell you.
Good discussion topics include: Nicaragua, the foreigner’s experience in the country, his/her family as well as that of the person to whom he/she is speaking, and his/her home country. When first meeting someone, avoid talking about politics since people are divided over this sensitive subject. Humour is naturally something that many cultures appreciate and Nicaragua is no exception. Lastly, Nicaraguans are rightly known as particularly friendly people who like to talk with foreigners.
Nicaraguan people are very warm and nobody would get upset if somebody touches her/him while talking; just be careful with some males (if you are a female). Keep a certain distance when talking informally. Nicaraguans use a lot body language to express themselves. They do not get upset if you touch while you talk, but if the person is a stranger, it is recommendable to keep friendly conversation at a certain distance.
For greeting it is okay to shake hand with man or woman.
The amount of personal space that Nicaraguans prefer to keep is significantly less than what Canadians are used to; therefore, expect to have people stand quite close to you when they are speaking (although the distance is not as close as in Arab countries, for instance). Eye contact is not as important as it is in Canada, but it is not poorly regarded either. Thus, in my opinion, it is best to not change your behaviour, but do not be offended if people do not look directly at you when they are speaking. Nicaraguans have very pronounced body language and some gestures may create confusion. For instance, people point with their mouths to indicate a person or object. Rubbing two index fingers together indicates that you want to pay for something and may be another potentially confusing gesture. Canadians often think that the two previously mentioned gestures have sexual connotations, but this is not the case at all. As far as tone of voice and directness are concerned, Nicaraguans express themselves differently as they do not do follow a straight line, but tend to go off on a tangent, particularly when expressing disagreement. Moreover, they have troubles saying "no" or "I don’t know" to a foreigner, especially in the workplace.
Display of emotion
Yes, usually friends salute each other with a hug and/or a kiss. Otherwise, they could feel offended.
People with very little education or exposure to foreigners may be apprehensive with foreign people and may be more likely to show anger than is typical.
Public displays of affection are a lot more common than displays of anger or confrontation. Men and women or two women who know one another usually kiss each another once on the right cheek. Men shake hands and sometimes hug. It is quite rare to see two people quarrel in a public place.
Dress, punctuality & formality
Depends on the situation, the occasion, the type of work, the level of the position and the type of profession. For example, if you work in a financial institution, you are expected to dress semi-formal; if you work in the Ministry of Environment with field and office technicians, you can either dress casually or wear jeans. In rural areas and if doing fieldwork, jeans/working pants are the most common type of wear.
The first time you address your colleagues, it depends on the position they occupy. If at the same level, you can use the person’s first name. Even in more formal situations this can change with time, depending on the frequency of interaction with that particular individual.
Don’t get stressed out about time. Nicaraguans are usually late (at least one hour).
Nicaraguans are proud of their body and their appearance. They dress rather conservatively. At work, it is recommended that you dress the same as they do. This means that men should wear short-sleeved shirts, slacks and shoes. It is the more or less the same for women; they wear comfortable, but formal clothes. Even if it is very hot, nobody wears shorts to work. Furthermore, you should always iron your clothes.
When first addressing colleagues, it is best to speak to them in a formal manner and use the polite form of the word "you". It usually does not take that long to get comfortable with your colleagues and interact with them in a more familiar fashion. Nicaraguans generally call one another by their first names. To show respect, it is best to use the polite form of the word "you" and put the word "Don" or "Donna" in front of the person’s first name: Don Francisco, for example.
Nicaraguans’ view or perception of time is very different. It is definitely one of the most challenging cultural differences, particularly in the workplace when deadlines and productivity are in question. Most Nicaraguans work very hard (particularly the women) since families are large and there are few available resources. Therefore, people have less free time than in the ’West’. For the majority of the population, the concept that productivity will be rewarded by vacation simply does not exist. As a result, and also due to other factors such as the heat, Nicaraguans work at their own pace.
As for punctuality, again you also need to know about the culture. In Nicaragua, if you have a 9:00 meeting, you are not late until it is 9:59. However, this seems to be changing and, as a foreigner, it is best to be punctual since Nicaraguans will expect this from you.
Finally, regarding absenteeism, it is common for people to be sick due to many different reasons including heat. Moreover, holidays include an official day off as well as two or three non-official days off. As previously mentioned, Nicaraguans do not have a summer vacation period as Canadians do; instead, they have several days off that total less than a week, in addition to the holiday season.
Preferred managerial qualities
First, education; second, being hard working. Usually young professionals are open to changes and eager to learn new ideas that can help them get more work experience. On the other hand, you can find some difficulty with older professionals. Some of them are not willing to change their ways, but you can ask questions and maintain your point of view in order to get their support.
Hierarchy is very important in Nicaragua and usually people become local superiors/managers through their contacts and the degrees that they hold. Most executives have titles before their names depending on their degrees; for example, someone who has a bachelor’s degree is called a "licenciado", and someone with a masters or doctoral degree is called a "doctor". Managers/superiors are usually rather authoritarian and do not often delegate important decisions that need to be made. I can only speak from my own experience in NGOs (free trade zones must be very different), but expatriate superiors/managers are usually seen as being rather open; at the same time, they are perceived as absolute authorities since they are the ones who pay salaries in US dollars. Therefore, it is very difficult to actually know if the staff like you or not since employees will very rarely get upset with an expatriate executive.
Hierarchy and decision-making
Supervisors or managers make the decisions unless it is teamwork; in such case it is better to discuss any problem or proposal with the team leader.
As mentioned above, decision-making is done in a vertical manner, which means that it is often a single person who makes all the important decisions in a NGO having 15 staff members. Yet, teamwork and meetings where colleagues share ideas do exist. It is acceptable to go to your immediate supervisor for answers and feedback. In my opinion this is even the most appropriate thing to do.
Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
Men and women have the same opportunities to get an education and to find a job.
73% of the population is Roman Catholic and the other 16% are protestant.
In the urban context there are three main categories:
- High class: Aristocratic families (indicator of this are last names) and big scale business people;
- Middle class: Professionals and small business;
- Low class: which includes paid labourers, people living in poor neighbourhoods and marginal urban and peri-urban areas. The class issue in rural areas is less conspicuous and mostly determined by access to land and natural and economic resources.
The population is composed as follows: 69% Mestizo; 7% European descendants; 9% Africans; 5% Indigenous. Nicaraguans are very respectful with the way you think and act. In general, religion and ethnicity do not affect relations in the workplace.
Nicaragua is a very chauvinistic country and gender is a taboo topic; therefore, children generally do not receive much in the way of sex education. This partially explains why there are problems such as women’s inequality and teenage pregnancies, which are linked to the male chauvinism.
Nicaraguans are very religious. Most are Catholics (approximately 80%) but over the past 15 to 20 years there has been an increase in other Christian groups (from 5% to 20% of the population in 2002).
Nicaraguans went through a socialist revolution and as a result many are very politicized. Nonetheless, the richest class does not even acknowledge the majority of the population, which is underprivileged. Some of the poor still admire the lifestyle of the rich and famous.
This is difficult to sum up since the topic is very complex, but in Nicaraguan society there does not seem to be blatant racism probably since the majority of the population (approximately 85%) are people of mixed-race (European and Native origins). However there is a lack of understanding about other ethnic groups even if Nicaraguans are generally open and curious people. Do not think that they are racist because of the way they express themselves and their sense of humour. For example, in Spanish the word "Negro" means "Black", not "Negro". Furthermore, Nicaraguans characterize people by the way they look since, in Latin America, the body is perceived to be something very public and not private as it is in Canada. Thus, in Nicaragua, someone who has slightly almond-shaped eyes may be called "Chinese" and some who looks Arab might have the nickname "Turk" since the first Arabs to visit Nicaragua sold Turkish carpets.
This has direct repercussions since people work according to their particular belief systems and it is essential that you take them into consideration and not make a judgement without realizing the underlying factors.
Nicaraguans are very friendly people, but at the beginning is better to keep business separate from friendship. This may come with time.
First, when buying things at a local market, you can barter for certain items (e.g., furniture, handicrafts, or clothing). Between colleagues and/or clients, it is best to not talk about "business" early on in the meeting. Instead, for example, you should show your interest in the country and its people without going overboard.
Privileges and favouritism
Although it is not a rule of thumb, it does happen, particularly if the boss is a national. In the case of foreigners in the workplace what would usually happens is that he/she might be approached to borrow money or to do a favour such as hiring a relative or an acquaintance.
It is possible that a colleague or employee might expect special privileges or considerations given your friendship. When working in Nicaragua, the worst thing that you can do is to "act like Santa Claus" and promise things to new friends or colleagues. You should keep to professional ethics and avoid encouraging any existing patronage.
Conflicts in the workplace
You will notice that they become more distant or try to avoid you. You could ask politely, in private, what is bothering him/her. If you are not able to clarify the situation with him/her it would be a good idea to talk to the supervisor/team leader.
In my opinion, it is best to confront a colleague directly and in private since Nicaraguans usually expect Westerners to be direct and to not know how to act in any other way. Obviously, this should be done with respect. I believe that the best way to know if a colleague is offended by something I’ve done is to politely confront him in private.
Motivating local colleagues
Motivation in the work place mostly depends on the country’s economic situation as well as on individual’s status, and the ability to meet one’s basic and economic needs. Loyalty is the most common motivation factor followed by commitment, good working conditions and money.
Basically the same factors (e.g., working conditions, social recognition, etc) that seem to motivate Canadians to perform well on the job also inspire Nicaraguans. The main difference is that Nicaraguans live from one day to the next and often one person’s salary supports an entire family.
Recommended books, films & foods
Useful internet links
Even though I read these books in Spanish, the following are probably available in French or English since they are written by famous Nicaraguan authors or poets: Amérique Centrale : Les Naufragés d’Esquipulas, Maurice Lemoine (policital journalist); La mujer habitada (The Inhabited Woman), Gioconda Belli (writer and poet whose works discuss the Revolution); Adios Muchacho (Good-bye Fellows), Sergio Ramirez (book about the memoirs of the former Vice-President of Nicaragua from the 1970s to 1990s); and Once anos despues del ajuste, Oscar René Vargas (analysis of the socio-economic situation in Nicaragua from 1990 to 2001).
Examples of folkloric music include Los Mejia Godoy and Dimension Costena.
The most common traditional dishes include gallo pinto (rice mixed with beans), chicken, fish (in seaside cities or towns on Lake Nicaragua), plantains, avocados, fruit, and fruit juices.
Helpful internet links
Information about Nicaragua: http://www.ibw.com.ni/; ENVIO: a magazine about the current situation published by Centroamerican University: www.uca.edu.ni/publicaciones and UNDP’s report on human development in Nicaragua in the year 2000: http://www.undp.org.ni/idhnicaragua/pdf.htm.
El Nueveo Diario: http://www-ni.elnuevodiario.com.ni/ and La Prensa: http://www-ni.laprensa.com.ni/
Theatre Ruben Dario, La Plaza de la Revolucion, El Malecon, La Casa de Los Mejia Godoy (Music).
La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario, (www.laprensa.com.ni; www.elnuevodiario.com)
Gallo pinto, baho, sopa de mondongo, indio viejo, vigoron.
Places to Visit
Nicaragua is a small country and there are many things to discover including its people, towns, and the following outdoor sites: Ometepe and Solentiname Islands, San Juian del Sur and its surrounding beaches, the colonial towns of Granada and Leon, Masaya and its market, the Atlantic Coast and in particular Corn Island, various volcanoes, and much more. However, the city of Managua is not very interesting to visit, although it is not particularly dangerous to live there (providing you are careful where you go).
The Mejia Godoy brothers put on a concert at the Casa Mejia Godoy in Managua every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
The Casa del Café, Restaurante El Moelle, Bar La Rumba and Bar Island Taste are all located in Managua.
Radio Primerisima is a recommended radio program.
Cacique Nicaraocalli; Rafaela Herrera; Andres Castro; Augusto Cesar Sandino; Rigoberto Lopez Perez; Carlos Fonseca, AND ALL THOSE WHO HAVE PERISHED AT WAR.
Ruben Dario Sarmiento; Salomon de la Selva; Pablo Antonio Cuadra, and Ernesto Cardenal.
Jose de la Cruz Mena, Rafael Gaston Perez, Elias Palacio, el Indio Pan de Rosa, Los Mejia Godoy
National heroes include: Augusto Sandino, a Nicaraguan patriot who fought against the American invasion and the poet Ruben Dario.
Shared historical events with Canada
None that would affect any social relations.
Other than being mistaken for Americans, I cannot think of things that could affect Canadians’ work or social relations with Nicaraguans. In particular, Canadians are respected for their kindness.
None that I know of.
Stereotypes that Canadians have about Nicaraguans would be that they think that Nicaraguans are not hard-workers and that they like to nap all afternoon. Moreover, they sometimes think that all men are macho and that Nicaraguans are free-loaders.
About the cultural interpreters
Your cultural interpreter was born in Chinandega, Nicaragua, the youngest of three children. She was raised in a small village in the northwest of the country until the age of fifteen. Afterward, she moved to Managua, the capital, to continue her studies and graduated with an Agricultural Engineering degree from the Universidad Nacional de Ingenieria. She and her family then immigrated to Canada to flee the civil war in Nicaragua and your cultural interpreter went on to study Computer Science for two years. She currently works as an office administrator.
Your cultural interpreter was born in 1974 and is the youngest of two children. He grew up in a rural area and studied Administration and Political Science at the Université Laval in Quebec City. His studies first took him abroad in 1997 when he took part in a student trade mission to Argentina. Subsequently, he worked as a project manager for a Canadian NGO in Nicaragua for two years. His duties included coordinating youth internships in Nicaragua. He then went to Colombia on a six-month internship program through AFS Interculture. He has been living in Montreal for the past few months and works as a part-time researcher with CLSC Côte-des-Neiges while completing his MA in Political Science at the Université du Québec à Montréal. He is living with his partner and does not have any children.
Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.
You may disagree with or object to the content of some responses. This is to be expected given the complexity of the subject and the problems associated with speaking generally about an entire country and its people. We would encourage you to share your experiences; your contributions will help to make Country Insights a richer environment for learning.
The content of Country Insights in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.