Venezuela 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
- Related information
In general, when meeting someone, Venezuelans expect a polite introduction (e.g. good morning, afternoon, etc). Shaking hands is always acceptable. Venezuelan men like a strong handshake; it is a way to express trust to the other person. On the other hand, women shake hands softly. For conversation topics, Venezuelans like to talk about family, work, hobbies, sports, past experiences, vacations, etc. (It might depend on the formality of the meeting). One topic that people should avoid discussing is politics. Some Venezuelans take this theme very seriously, and the reaction could be unexpected.
Most of the time, Venezuelans like making jokes when meeting someone. It is a notorious characteristic of the Venezuelans. The humour is always a good mechanism to break the ice, even in formal events.
Venezuelans are very fond of North American culture. As such, they are likely to shower visitors with questions regarding their country of origin, as well as their reasons for coming to Venezuela. A friendly attitude and willingness to answer these questions is the best way to make a good first impression. They are also very proud of their own country and a display of interest in Venezuela’s history, natural beauty and culture is the best way to break into a conversation.
Politics is an often discussed, yet controversial topic. Most Venezuelans are very eager to debate the country’s political and economic situation. However, given the high level of social polarization, visitors should approach the subject delicately and refrain from expressing explicit opinions until they are familiar with their host’s stand on the issue.
Venezuelans have a very strong yet, at times, indelicate sense of humour. The use of nicknames that draw attention to ones physical features, such as weight or skin colour, may be especially offensive to Canadian visitors. However, in Venezuelan society such nicknames are considered to be terms of endearment and should not be taken personally.
Venezuelan people have a mix of habits, backgrounds and behaviours that vary from different regions. The first time, an adequate distance (arms length or so) must be considered for both men and women, otherwise it will be impolite.
Venezuelans consider eye contact as a way of expressing a high level of interest in what someone is saying. Moreover, keeping eye contact during a conversation will create an atmosphere of trust.
Touching should not be considered at the first contact. Venezuelans need to gain some trust before touching. Touching may be a palm on the shoulder or on the arm when people are talking to each other. It tells us that the other person appreciates the relationship, and it is a vote of trust. It is seen very frequently between men. In a social context and after you meet them for the first time, it is customary to give women a kiss on one cheek when greeting them.
In Venezuela, the use of body language is very common. Most of the time, Venezuelans express themselves through gestures and facial expressions. For example, a signal of agreement could be the thumps up sign or nodding one’s head. There are other gestures and facial expressions that could be considered offensive or impolite like making gestures with the lips, showing the erect middle finger or giving someone your back when he/she is speaking.
It is important to mention that the above applies whether in a formal or informal situation.
Venezuelans tend to be loud and more so in an informal context than in a formal context. For example, it is common to overhear people when they are talking on the phone or in a restaurant. Usually Venezuelans are direct when they want you to know their ideas and points of view.
Personal space does not play a significant role in Venezuelan society. Women greet both men and women with a kiss on the right cheek, while men offer strong, adamant handshakes. Random gestures of friendship such as a touch on the arm or the shoulder are to be expected even from strangers. Canadians may also be surprised by the Venezuelan propensity to maintain direct eye contact when passing by strangers and the common use of loud ’hisses’ in order to flag down friends, acquaintances or waiters.
The pursing of ones lips is also a common gesture used to point in a specific direction or to particular persons or objects. When shopping, Canadians may feel compelled to respond to the, often repeated, question "a la orden?" Meaning, "at your service", this expression does not necessitate a response and is simply a way for the store clerk to indicate his or her presence.
Display of emotion
It is common for Venezuelans to express their feelings; it does not matter where they are. For example, they will give you a warm hug in a public or private place. In particular regions of the country, especially rural towns, far away from the big cities, people are very friendly. They will display affection publicly, but when they feel threatened their anger will appear; in some cases they could react aggressively. This situation does not occur all the time, but foreigners take care to not offend them.
While most public shows of emotion, whether anger or happiness, are acceptable, Venezuelans will generally refrain from expressing negative sentiments amongst strangers. On the other hand, public displays of affection are extremely common and widely tolerated. Venezuelans are not embarrassed about drawing attention to themselves in public and friends often greet each other with animated language and gestures. Random singing and dancing is also not uncommon and can be quite entertaining for foreigners. However, Canadians looking for a quiet meal may sometimes be disturbed by large, rowdy gatherings in public restaurants.
Dress, punctuality & formality
There are two factors that should be taken into consideration when dressing for work. First, Venezuela is a tropical country. It has weather conditions that differ from region to region. For example, Zulia State on the west side of Venezuela has high temperatures during the whole year; therefore, people are forced to dress casually. The second factor would be the type of job. In general, Venezuelans like to dress formally if the job requires that. Also, Venezuelans consider personal grooming as a reflection of self-esteem and may criticize someone who does not take it seriously. Some women wear very short skirts and open tops. Some foreigners may find this inappropriate.
Addressing a supervisor or manager must be done in a respectful manner, accompanied by appropriately formal language. Usually, a manager would be called by his profession and last name (e.g. engineer Martinez, doctor Bryan) or by Mr. or Mrs. The use "tú" (you) is often misused by foreigners. The correct word to use when addressing a supervisor/manager would be "usted"; otherwise it could sound disrespectful. Colleagues could be addressed less formally, but in a respectful manner.
It is my impression that many organizations (including the Government) legally force its workers to be punctual, productive and to reduce the level of absenteeism by applying the Venezuelan Labour Law. However, Venezuelan blue collar workers are not expected to be punctual by nature, many often say; "It is better to be late than never". For example when processing immigration documents, licenses or general public work or government related services, you may be told that it will be ready "mañana" (or tomorrow), but you may get that answer several days in a row. Also you will find that many things are delayed and cannot be controlled. Some foreigners find this situation very frustrating and upsetting.
In an office environment, professional business attire, such as a suit and tie, are the standard for men. Women dress professionally, but have a tendency to highlight their femininity with more revealing skirts and blouses. However, the level of conservatism often increases in proportion to the position held.
The work environment is generally relaxed and friendly. Venezuelan’s are quite informal in their language and the "Usted" form, commonly used in other Spanish speaking countries, is reserved for formal exchanges with supervisors and strangers. As with attire, the formality of the exchange is highly conditioned by the social position of the individuals in question.
Although reflective of their generally relaxed attitude, Venezuelan’s sense of time can become frustrating for Canadians. Meetings are often delayed and many Venezuelans can be over 30 minutes late for personal appointments. In the rainy season, unexpected downpours have a tendency to paralyse the city and further aggravate the punctuality problem.
Nevertheless, while not always adhered to by the locals, a general respect for punctuality and deadlines is often expected and appreciated in their encounters with foreigners. Furthermore, Venezuelans are generally hardworking and tend to work long inflexible hours, especially at major international firms.
Preferred managerial qualities
In Venezuela, a good manager could be characterized as having a high level of education and adequate experience in the field of work and good leadership skills. A good manager would be moral, punctual, open minded, and a good communicator. Also managing by example will give managers a lot of credibility. For a non-local manager, the same qualifications would apply; Venezuelans will respect him/her regardless of his/her nationality. If a non-local manager wants to know how his/her staff views him/her, the best way would be to meet periodically and go through the objectives planned. Working as a team member would give the manager feedback on how things are going. Participating in social events can improve the relationship between team members. It will be an excellent opportunity to get information of how the team views its manager.
Experience and leadership are important qualities in the Venezuelan workplace. Strong, decisive yet personable supervisors are highly respected and generally looked up to. Foreign supervisors are likely to be viewed with a higher level of respect by virtue of their international experience and training. In such an environment, a professional yet friendly and modest relationship with the staff is most often well received and appreciated.
Hierarchy and decision-making
In Venezuela the old, inflexible philosophy of centralization of power still exists. It is rare to see a manager delegating responsibilities to his/her employees for making decisions. The decision making process is usually done by managers, except if someone is specially authorized. The team members generally generate the ideas, but they do not decide when and how to implement them. A manager often does this. It is common for managers to tell their subordinates, "Do not come to me with the problem, please come to me with the solution". It does not mean that employees cannot ask for help from managers.
Venezuelans have high regard for personal initiative and the workplace is a relatively open environment. While final decisions are usually made by the supervisor, employees are often invited to provide comments and suggestions. Maintaining an appropriate level of respect, Canadians should have no reservations about approaching their supervisors with questions regarding their work or particular projects.
Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
People are quite right when they say that Latin-American men often discriminate against women at work (machismo). In Venezuela, this is changing. Every day, women are demonstrating (in real terms) they can be as competitive as men at any position, if not more. As in many countries, Venezuela has experienced the same phenomenon regarding the change of the role of women in society. In other words, women have the same rights as men. The increasing rate of divorces in Venezuela is forcing women to work, and also a high percentage of women enrolling in colleges and universities. Now days, Venezuelan women occupy many positions from being an operator of a heavy machinery to president of a well-known corporation. Also, you can find many women working as Ministers, Senators, Members of Parliament, etc.
In reference to religion, Venezuelans are mainly Catholic, some Jewish and some Anglican. Religion is not a sensitive issue or topic. All religions are respected.
In the past there were many social classes in Venezuela. Now the gap between Poor and Rich does not include so many social classes in between. Some of the poorer Venezuelans have a lower level of education.
Ethnicity is not an important issue in Venezuela, there is no discrimination of people because of their ethnic background. Calling someone "Negro" (Black) is not perceived in a bad sense. In fact, some people use it as a nickname or to express affection. The same applies to "Chino" (Chinese) or "Flaca" (slim) or "Gorda" (chubby).
Gender relations may cause some initial discomfort for women unaccustomed to the local culture. Venezuelan men often approach women on the street and try to attract their attention by making sexual comments. While often unnerving, such actions are generally harmless and should be politely ignored. This is especially true for light haired women who are likely to stand out amongst the local population.
Venezuela is a highly religious yet tolerant country. While a majority of the population is Roman Catholic, a number of faiths such as born-again Christian and Jehovah’s Witnesses are becoming popular amongst the poorer sectors of society. While religion is not a contentious issue, some foreigners may be surprised by the relative strength and fervour with which Venezuelans express their faith and devotion. Indeed, Venezuelans often invoke the name of God when discussing the future and children ask their parents for a "benediction" (blessing) when parting for extended time-periods.
Venezuela is a highly unequal and polarized society. While a small percentage of the population enjoys First World luxuries, the majority of Venezuelans, approximately 60%, live in absolute poverty. Sprawling mansions are often encircled by crumbling, self-constructed Ranchos and class conflict has become highly politicized in the last few years. As foreigners, most Canadians are likely to be identified with the wealthier, negatively termed "escualido", classes. This identification is usually unproblematic, however in times of political turmoil, it may trigger resentment especially in less affluent areas.
Ethnicity plays an interesting role in Venezuelan society. Most Venezuelans fall into the mestizo category of ethnically mixed Spanish, Indigenous and Africans. Given the high percentage of racial mixing, most Venezuelans are very relaxed about drawing direct attention to ones ethnicity or skin colour. In fact, Canadian visitors may at first be offended by the explicit use of racial categories, such as "negrito" (black) or "moreno" (brown), in everyday social language. Although racism is not prevalent in Venezuela, the relationship between ethnicity and class may sometimes cause tensions between Venezuelans of purely Spanish and mixed Native- African origins.
The attitudes discussed above should not have a significant impact on most professional workplaces. Given the high level of social polarization, a significant line must be drawn between the street and the professional work environment. Most professional Venezuelans have had a great deal of exposure to North American attitudes and culture. As such, they are more likely to temper any commonly held stereotypes and attitudes in the workplace. This is especially true with regards to gender relations since women in the workplace are generally treated with great respect.
You will find that in general Venezuelans are very open and warm. Both in a formal-business or informal-social context, Venezuelans will make conversation, tell you about themselves, or invite you for a coffee or a drink to foster a personal relationship.
It is not a priority to establish a personal relationship before getting down to business. It is very common to start a good business relationship and from there, go to a personal relationship, depending on common interests such as sports, food, drinks, travel, hobbies, family, etc.
Venezuelans are not shy about establishing personal relationships with their clients or colleagues. Business is often discussed over extended lunch meetings where the atmosphere can be a lot more personal and informal. Inviting a client out for a meal or a coffee is probably one of the best ways of establishing a positive rapport. The cultivation of such personal relationships is especially important for the creation of trust, which is often lacking in Venezuelan society.
Privileges and favouritism
It is common for colleagues or employees to expect special privileges given a personal relationship, but it is important to highlight that it also depends on whether your colleague or employee is a hard worker and can be relied on. When you are asked for a "favour", it is important to let them know that you can try, but it is not guaranteed. If you really do not want to do it you can stick to your "company policy" argument.
Venezuelans often rely on informal contacts or connections when doing business and the hiring of family or friends is not uncommon. However, while such requests may be put forward, their granting is not directly expected and should be reserved for very special circumstances or emergencies. Most professional work environments are highly sensitive towards corruption and given Venezuela’s unstable economic environment, the bottom line is usually placed above most personal considerations.
Conflicts in the workplace
The best thing is to do is to talk directly to your colleague first, privately. If the issue cannot be solved or a compromise be reached, then talk to your supervisor or a third party with the knowledge and authority to mediate and bridge any differences. One issue that must be considered is that some Venezuelans like to gossip in the place of work.
Venezuelans are not ones to vocalize their discomfort and are likely to voice criticism in private. However, they are often able to communicate their unease by adopting a rather cold demeanour. Since most Venezuelans are very friendly, a general decline in their openness is a likely sign of a problem. Such situations may often pass within a short time period, yet if confrontation is needed, it should be handled delicately and in a private manner.
Motivating local colleagues
In Venezuela, employees are very hard workers, motivated and committed to work. Compensation according to the market is one of the most important incentives for employees, however benefits are equally if not more appreciated. The reason is that in Venezuela the public service and government related benefits are highly inefficient, therefore a good health plan or savings plan is highly valued by employees. Performance bonuses and stability are very important incentives.
Given Venezuela’s precarious economic context, job security and money are the most likely motivators. In fact, the level of employee commitment and performance is directly related to the relative prestige of their position in the company. High-level supervisors and executives are often extremely driven and put in long-hours at the office. In professional settings, the prospect of advancement is also a strong motivator amongst younger employees, who, in Venezuela, constitute a significant percentage of the company’s staff roster.
On the other hand, customer service employees such as store clerks and waiters often make an effort to demonstrate their lack of motivation and interest. While this may not have an impact on the work environment, it is important to keep in mind when eating out or running daily errands.
Recommended books, films & foods
Learning about our culture will not be a difficult task. There are many sources that people can use to understand Venezuelan culture. Reading books about history of Venezuela and going to visit historical places, museums, art galleries, theatres, and major cities would help foreigners to find out about the Venezuelan people. Another means to understand Venezuelan idiosyncrasies is watching the local TV stations.
VENAMCHAM (Venezuelan American Chamber of Commerce) has a very helpful guide about Venezuela, directed at North Americans; The Venezuelan Guide to Restaurants and Tourism; and Simón Bolívar-El Libertador, written by Francesc Cardona. This book will provide information about the liberation of Venezuela from the Spanish Empire. Also, there’s La Venezuela Agrícola, written by Arturo Uslar Pietri. This book provides information about changes in the production modes during of the 1900’s.
Websites to visit
Concejo Nacional de la Cultura (Cultural National Department) www.conac.gov.ve; Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores (Ministry of Foreign Affairs); www.mre.gov.ve/ contains links to the rest of the Government Ministries, departments, etc.; For Venezuelan food www.arecetas.com/venezuela/ provides recipes, information about the origin, and other characteristics for the most traditional food.
The "Culture Shock: Venezuela" guide by Kitt Baguley provides a great deal of insight into Venezuelan society. The "Lonely Planet" South America/Venezuela travel guides can also be helpful in outlining specific regional customs, and highlighting places of interest as well as accommodations. The Venezuelan government website, www.venezuela.gov.ve, and the national newspapers, www.elnacional.com and www.eluniversal.com may also provide some useful information regarding current events in Venezuela.
Places to visit
Some historical places, museums, and theatres in Caracas: The National Pantheon, Museum of Bolívar, El Paseo de los Proceres, the Cathedral of Caracas, the Museum of Arts and the Theatre of "Teresa Carreño". Outside of Caracas, there’s El Paseo de Carabobo (in Carabobo state) and El Fortin de Juan Griego (Margarita Island).
There are 3 major national Newspapers in Venezuela: El Universal, El Nacional, and Quinto Día (Weekly). There are 4 major national TV channels: RCTV—Channel 2, Venevision—Channel 4, Televen—Channel 10 and Venezolana de Televisión (Government TV station)—Channel 8.
The most common sport in Venezuela is baseball. The season is from October to February. Basketball and soccer are also common but not as much as baseball.
In Caracas the most famous cafes or restaurants are located in Las Mercedes or El Hatillo.
Venezuela has many tourist places. You can find interesting places at the beach, the jungle or in the Andes. Depending on what you like, you are sure to find something for your delight. For example: In some national parks, there are beautiful beaches where you can go Scuba diving: Los Roques (Archipelago), Mochima (East Coast), Morrocoy (West Coast).
In Bolivar state you can find tourism of adventure in the Amazon Jungle, see the Tepuis (huge tablelands) or visit The Angel Falls (the highest in the world). Make sure that you go during the rain season to watch the water fall (from May to Oct) at Canaima National Park.
In Mérida State there is Bolivar Peek, part of the Andes Mountain Range. It is one of the highest peeks in the world. The cable car in Mérida. It is the longest cable car in the world. Margarita Island is one of the favourite places for foreigners. The caves of Guacharo in Monagas State are also very interesting. La Llovizna falls and Roraima National Park. They are located in Puerto Ordaz, Bolivar State. Foreigners can also visit one of the largest bridges in South America on the Maracaibo Lake. It is located in Maracaibo, Zulia state.
Venezuelans love to dance so a trip to a salsa club is a definite must for visitors. On the weekends most Venezuelans go to the beach, which offers an opportunity to mingle with locals and sample some fresh fish, a true delicacy. Finding a "cultural interpreter" should not be difficult since most Venezuelans are eager to meet foreigners and practice their English. In fact, some visitors may be taken aback by the relative directness of the locals in inviting newcomers to various family gatherings and cultural events. For sporting fans, baseball is Venezuela’s official sport and baseball games can be a very rowdy and exciting experience. A taste of traditional cuisine is easily accessible with a trip to the local Areperia, where customers have a choice of filling their corn-flour dough with an array of local favourites such as beans, minced pork or tomatoes with scrambled eggs.
Simón Bolívar is our National hero. He is "El Libertador" who freed Venezuela (as well as another five South and Central American countries: Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Panamá) from the Spanish Empire. Besides Bolívar, there are other well-known heroes such as José Antonio Páez (El llanero), Antonio José de Sucre, Rafael Urdaneta, Francisco de Miranda and others.
It will not take long for foreigners to become acquainted with Venezuela’s revered national hero, Simon Bolivar. His statue graces the centre of virtually every town-square and his birthday is celebrated as a national holiday. Indeed, all major cities have a street dedicated to the great "Liberator" who freed the region from Spanish rule in the, 19th Century, wars of independence. His name is also invoked by many populist leaders who use Bolivar’s unrealized dream of a "Grand Colombia" as a way to rally public support around their political programs.
Shared historical events with Canada
Canadians are well regarded and welcomed in Venezuela. There are no specific historical events between Venezuela and Canada. There have been good commercial relations between the two countries, especially in technology, oil and gas industry, telecommunications and others.
Most Venezuelans have a very positive image of Canada and are very curious about the country, its people and culture. In fact, Canada’s cordial relationship with Cuba, one of Venezuela’s close allies, has boded well for intercultural relations between the two countries. Nevertheless, some Venezuelans may have a rather exaggerated impression of Canadians’ prosperity. While not necessarily dangerous, this impression may lead to inflated expectations of wealth and consequently, prices. Some Venezuelans also view Canada as an open gateway to the United States, and may often request help in getting visas or other travel documents.
There are no stereotypes that might be harmful to effective relations. In any case it would be a positive stereotype of wealthy, organized, trustworthy, highly educated and highly experienced professionals. It will not be a disadvantage, but because they perceive foreigners that way, some people may want to take advantage of you by charging higher taxi fares etc.
Caucasian, English-speaking Canadians may be associated with or identified as "Americanos" or "Gringos". Historically, Venezuela has had a good relationship with the United States. Americans are well regarded, but in these times of confusion and unrest, it will be important to keep an eye on how people perceive you, and make sure to clarify that you come from a different country.
Many Canadians can be easily frustrated by the lack of punctuality and predictability in Venezuelan society. In fact, foreigners may often mistaken Venezuelans’ open and relaxed manner for unaccountability and laziness. Consequently, a great deal of tolerance is required in this instance if Canadians wish to maintain friendly relations with the local population.
Furthermore, Venezuela’s lack of a strong service culture may offend some Canadians who are not accustomed to the cold and unwelcoming demeanour of local restaurant and store employees. This is especially true in tourist areas, and is often an expression of local defiance towards a historic sense of foreign dominance. While this type of behaviour is striking, given the relative friendliness of Venezuelan society in more general contexts, Canadians should not take it as a personal offence.
About the cultural interpreters
Your cultural interpreter was born in Maracaibo, Zulia State, Venezuela, the third of four children. He was raised in this city until the age of 25 in the west of Venezuela and graduated as Economist from the University of Zulia. He moved to Caracas to continue his studies and work at Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Finance as a Financial Analyst. Afterwards, he travelled to Canada to pursue an MBA in Financial Services at the University of Quebec in Hull. He is currently living in Ottawa. He is married and has 2 children.
Your cultural interpreter was born in Warsaw, Poland and grew up in a small village in the Southwest of the country. At the age of nine, her family immigrated to Toronto, Canada where they have been living for the last sixteen years. She studied Political Science at Queen's University and then participated in a foreign exchange program with the University of Warwick, England. After graduation, she spent a year teaching business English in Caracas, Venezuela. She returned from Venezuela in August of 2003 and is currently living in Montreal, Canada where she is completing her Masters degree in the Politics of Developing Areas. She plans to return to Venezuela in the upcoming months in order to participate in an internship with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
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.