I enjoyed answering your question because it brought back some
wonderful memories. Some of your questions refer to the country or
state so it appears that answers from one specific country are
acceptable. My father is Venezuelan, I lived there as a child and
visit my family frequently. I am also a doctoral candidate
specializing in Latin American politics (just to let you know some of
The following answers pertain to the majority population of Venezuela.
Most Venezuelans live in the rather westernized parts of the country.
There are, however, indigenous cultures such as the Yanomami,
Waraos and others that have different cultural mores.
1. Culture of Interviewee:
Of Venezuelan descent
2. How do people greet each other -- shake hands? bow? embrace? other?
Female family members and friends will often greet each other with a
mutual kiss on the cheek. The same is true between male and female
family members and friends. However, between male adult family
members and friends a greeting often means shaking hands while
slapping each other on the back. Children of both genders are almost
always embraced and kissed by family members and friends of both
genders (at least this is true among my family and most others I
Among business colleagues and people who are being introduced for the
first time, a handshake is common practice.
3. On what occasions would you present or accept gifts? What gifts
are considered appropriate? If flowers, what kind? (some have special
Baptisms, weddings, birthdays and Christmas are all gift-giving
For a baptism and first communion one generally gives a medal of a
saint, a rosary or prayerbook.
Birthday, Christmas and wedding gifts are all tailored to the taste of
the person receiving the gift.
On a girls 15th birthday (quinceañera) she may receive flowers (of
all kinds) and more expensive gifts (like jewelry or a special trip)
than would merit a regular birthday.
4. How are children disciplined at home? at school?
Corporal punishment is not as controversial in Venezuela as it is in
the United States. Children are expected to obey parents and teachers
and any child who rebels from this norm can expect a spanking from dad
or a rap on the knuckles from teacher. I must say that my family was
an exception. My father never spanked me once, though just the threat
of the belt made me lose any ideas I had about misbehaving.
5. Are children usually present/participants at social gatherings?
Elderly members of the family? Women of the family?
Social events tend to be very family oriented in Venezuela (and most
of Latin America). When I say family I refer to the extended family,
meaning grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and children of all
ages. Weddings, baptisms, birthdays, funerals and holiday celebrations
are all family events.
Let me give you an illustration from my own family: There would
always be a lot of dancing. I would dance with my dad, uncles and
cousins. In the corner other uncles, and cousins would be engaged in
loud (but friendly) political debate. In another corner aunts and
uncles would be telling jokes and laughing. Kids would be running
around all over the place. As the night progressed one of my uncles
would pull out his cuatro (a four-stringed instrument like a ukulele)
and start singing. Others would join in. All of this would go on
into the wee hours of the morning.
Women are almost always present at social gatherings and are
traditionally responsible for cooking, serving, cleaning up. In
between these tasks my aunts and older female cousins participate in
the dancing and carrying on and can hold their own when it comes to
drinking, singing and storytelling. Of course not all families are as
rowdy as mine. In many families the women are expected to stay on the
sidelines, cooking and cleaning up at social gatherings.
6. In schools, are children segregated? If so, how -- race? class or
caste? sex? religion? grade level? age?
Children are segregated by grade level in school. Some religious
schools may segregate by gender, but that is not the norm. There is
no de facto racial or class segregation either, though wealthier
Venezuelans, who tend to be of European descent, often send their
children to private schools in which the population is not nearly as
diverse as in the public system.
7. What is the literacy rate for the country or region?
According to the United Nations Statistics Division
98.2% of the population is literate.
8. How are public sanitation and garbage dealt with?
In cities and almost all towns public sanitation and trash pick up
are standard for all legally constructed residential and commercial
structures. I say legally constructed because in most areas there
are, unfortunately,many people who live in slums constructed from
corrugated tin, cardboard and scraps. These folks do not have access
to sanitation services. In rural areas trash may be thrown in a pile
to be burned behind the home or dumped on the side of the road.
Venezuela is such a beautiful country but one too often sees trash
strewn everywhere. Latrines or outhouses are commonly built behind or
beside homes that do not have access to sanitation systems.
9. What is the normal dress of women? of men?
Most Venezuelans have adopted the western style of dress.
Therefore, much like in the United States young people commonly wear
jeans and t-shirts and professionals wear suits. People tend to dress
up more than in the United States when attending church or other
social functions. Women of older generations are more likely to wear
dresses than pants. Older men are known to wear Guayabera shirts
(like the one seen at: http://www.locostyle.com/blue2.html)
10. What foods are taboo? What actions are taboo?
Much like in western countries, there are no strict taboos against any
kind of food, though most people do not consume certain animals like
dogs, cats, mice or rats.
Socially, there are taboos against incest and bestiality. However,
social interaction is guided more by moral codes rather than a strict
notion of taboos. This is particularly true when it comes to the
behavior of men and women. For example, it is more acceptable,
(almost expected) for men to engage in extra-marital affairs than it
is for women. In many families women are expected to remain pure
until marriage, while men are expected to sow their wild oats before
they settle down. Rather than dating, young people often go out with
groups of friends. In my family many of my cousins remained in their
parents house until their wedding day, even if they were in their
30s or even 40s. Women who leave the home unescorted, especially at
night, often fall victim to lewd comments and unwanted advances by men
in the streets. There is a terrible double standard for women who are
expected to look sexy, but who are then considered fair game for
This is slowly changing with the new generation but remains a
It is generally considered very impolite to refuse something that is
offered to you, be it food, drink or a gift. It can also be dangerous
to discuss politics with strangers.
11. If, as a customer, you touch or handle things that are for sale,
will you be considered knowledgeable, or inconsiderate, within or
outside your rights?
In the marketplace customers are expected to handle merchandise and
bargain/haggle with vendors, but only in the open air markets and
tourist shops. In the more modern stores and malls, many of the
same rules apply as in the west (you break it you buy it, for example)
and prices are fixed. One can certainly try on clothing and ask for a
demonstration of a product but should not practice the same kind of
hands on approach as in the street markets. Customers should always
act as if they know exactly what they want or they run the risk of
getting ripped off, even in stores where prices are fixed.
12. How widely available is technology? Television? Cable? Computers?
Note that the population of Venezuela is: 24,287,670 (July 2002
According to the CIA WorldFactBook
Televisions: 4.1 million (1997 estimates)
Television Broadcast Stations: 66 (plus 45 repeaters) (1997)
According to the Network Society Map:
5.4% of households with a television have a cable connection (1997)
(which, according to my calculations, means 221,400 connections)
According to the United Nations Statistics Division
Telephone lines and cellular subscribers: 9,248,221 (2001 estimates )
Personal Computers 1,300,000 (2001 estimates ):
Internet Users: 1,300,000 (2001)
13. What is the attitude toward drinking? Gambling?
Drinking and gambling are not uncommon pastimes in Venezuela.
Venezuela produces several brands of rum, a common drink throughout
the country. The two most popular brands are Ron Pampero and Ron Añejo
However, beer seems to be the drink of choice:
[t]otal volume sales of alcoholic drinks were expected to increase by
9% in 2001, to reach almost two billion litres. With beer accounting
for over 99% of total volume sales (WorldInformation.com, 2001)
Two popular brands are Polar and Cardenal
My familys house in Venezuela is a block away from a beer bottling
facility and to this day the smell of beer reminds me of Caracas.
Aguardiente, a hard liquor made from sugar cane, is also popular and
cheap (its comparable to cheap corn liquor in the United States). It
can be purchases in a bottle but is often produced in small stills in
All of this information should tell you that drinking is not
particularly frowned upon in Venezuela. Alcohol is usually present at
most social events. Though the legal drinking age is 18, it is not
strictly enforced. Children are often allowed sips of beer or wine at
Gambling in Venezuela is generally informal, meaning casual betting on
sporting events (particularly soccer) and, unfortunately, cock fights.
The lottery is legal and there are several casinos on Margarita
Island, which mostly attract tourists.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, alcoholism and gambling are
among the primary vices of Venezuela
However, I dont believe that many Venezuelans consider these vices.
14. How do adults and children spend their leisure time? (specific
Well, given my previous answer, you might guess that drinking and
gambling are common ways to spend leisure time in Venezuela.
Both children and adults (generally male) often play futbol (soccer)
and baseball. One can find spontaneous playing games in both urban
and rural areas. For example, lots of kids would play soccer on the
street in front of my grandmothers house using chairs, or whatever
was available, to mark the goals. When a car came everyone would just
move out of the way and then resume playing after it passed.
Dominoes are also very popular, particularly among older folks.
Bullfights remain common, though the very concept disgusts me.
For Venezuelans who have a television, watching telenovelas (soap
operas) can be an addictive pastime. I, myself, have declined
invitations so I could be home to catch my novela.
People who live on the coast go to the beach. Wealthier Venezuelans
are known to vacation at the lovely beaches of Margarita Island.
I dont know any Venezuelans of any age who dont like to dance.
Nightclubs are very popular in urban areas and, as I said before,
social events throughout the country usually entail dancing. Common
types of social dancing include cumbia, salsa and merengue, though
Western pop music has found a place in many urban dance clubs.
In Venezuelan cities (just as in other modern areas) there are plenty
of movie theaters, shopping centers and restaurants where people spend
their time and money.
15. What is the normal pattern of work (school) days and days off?
What are normal working hours -- for men? for women?
Venezuelan law stipulates that the workday may not exceed 8 hours
daily or 44 hours weekly
Sunday is the standard day off
Officially, wage laborers work a Monday-Friday workweek.
That said, however, many Venezuelans work more than 44 hours a week
out of necessity. A lot of this labor is performed in the informal
sector, where folks sell gum, produce, and other products on street
corners. This type of work isnt regulated and it doesnt follow any
type of schedule.
Throughout the country shops and other businesses will often close for
1-3 hours in the middle of the day for lunch, the biggest meal of the
day. This is changing with the influx of international enterprises
that adhere to a more western business schedule.
The school year begins in September and ends in July. Christmas
vacation begins mid-December and lasts until the second week of
Dia de la Raza (Known as Colombus Day in the U.S.), October 12
Carnival, Two days before the beginning of lent (date changes from
year to year):
Semana Santa/Holy Week, the week before Easter Sunday (date changes
from year to year)
Labor Day, May 1
Independence Day, July 5
16. What are the important holidays? How is each observed?
Christmas: Even though Christmas trees are becoming more popular,
this is a relatively new phenomenon. The nativity scene is the
primary center of attention. In my Grandmothers neighborhood, as in
many others, neighbors go on a parranda going from house to house,
singing songs and looking for the baby Jesus. The house where Jesus
is found offers food and drinks for the searchers and then the baby
is placed in the manger. Families go to midnight mass then return
home to open the gifts brought by baby Jesus (though this is changing
to Santa Clause as Venezuela becomes more westernized). Kids dont
have to wait until morning to open their gifts as they do in the U.S.
In Caracas on Christmas Eve a lot of people go roller-skating downtown
or to church for midnight mass. Traditional Christmas foods are Pan
de jamon (bread with ham and olives baked in the center), Hallacas
(cornmeal cakes filled with meat, raisins, onions and spices) and
ponche crema (kind of like egg nog).
New Year: Many people set off firecrackers, eat 12 grapes and wear
yellow underwear for good luck in the coming year.
Carnaval: Like people in many Catholic countries, Venezuelans
celebrate a few last days of excess before the austere season of lent.
Carnival is the time for a lot of parties. Some people throw water
balloons at each other.
Semana Santa (Holy Week): The week before Easter the kids are out of
school and some families take the opportunity to go on vacation, often
to the beach. During this week there are dramatizations of the last
days of Christs life. During la via cruces there are portrayals of
Jesus carrying the cross and occasionally even real crucifixions. On
Easter Sunday an effigy of Judas is burned.
Corpus Christi (May or June): This is not a major holiday but I
mention it because it corresponds to the Devils of Yare, one of
Venezuelas more colorful traditions. In the town of San Francisco de
Yare, many people put on amazing devil masks and dance in the center
of town. The devils are paying penance to God and it is said that the
number of horns on each mask represents the number of sins for which
the devil is repenting. I found some pictures of this celebration at:
Independence Day, July 5: There are a lot of official ceremonies like
floral offerings to the forefathers, especially Simon Bolivar. Mostly
families enjoy the day off and kids set off firecrackers in the
Dia de la Raza, October 12: This is a celebration of Columbus and the
creation of the Latin American race (via the mix of European and
Indigenous blood). The day is celebrated with cultural pageants,
concerts and theme parties at the night clubs.
17. How do people get married? Who makes the arrangements? What is the
attitude toward divorce?
Civil marriages (officiated by judges or magistrates) are the only
officially recognized marriages. Many people, however, have the civil
ceremony first, then a church wedding. In my family only the
immediate family attends the civil ceremony but everyone goes to the
church ceremony and the huge party that follows. The brides family
is traditionally responsible for the wedding but that is changing
among more modern couples. One custom involves the groom giving the
bride 13 gold coins (often chocolate) as a symbol of his ability to
care for her financially.
Because Venezuela is a Catholic country divorce is frowned upon in
society. It is legal, however, and does not carry the stigma it once
did. The divorce rate is quite low compared to other countries. See:
18. What is the common language? What other languages are used?
Spanish is the official language, various dialects are spoken by
different indigenous groups.
19. What is the principal religion? Is it a state (official) religion?
What are its basic doctrines? Who are its originators and shapers?
According to the State Department:
Though there is no state/official religion, 70% of the population is
Roman Catholic, 29% are Protestant. The countrys Jewish, Muslim and
atheist populations constitute the remaining 1%.
Protestant churches are the country's most rapidly growing religious
community (State Dept., 2002).
20. What is the attitude of believers in the principal religion
towards other religions and their followers?
The Venezuelan constitution guarantees religious freedom. However,
Church leaders tend to be powerful figures and may influence policy as
this article suggests:
Among the citizenry, however, religious tolerance is more the rule
than the exception.
The generally amicable relationship among religions in society
contributed to religious freedom (State Dept., 2002).
21. Who are the country's national heroes -- women as well as men? For
what kinds of achievements are they celebrated?
The principle hero of Venezuela is Simon Bolivar, The Liberator,
akin to George Washington in the United States, Bolivar led the
struggle for independence from Spain. In fact, President Chavez
recently renamed the country from the Republic of Venezuela to the
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The unit of currency the Bolivar.
In every city there is a plaza Bolivar with a statue. Bolivar is
Other heroes of the war for independence include general Francisco de
Miranda and Antonio Jose de Sucre, Jacinto Lara and Juana Ramirez
Romulo Gallegos and Teresa de la Parra, two of the most important
writers in the countrys history
Teresa Carreño was one of the countrys most illustrious musicians.
The main theater in Caracas is named for her.
If you requre any more assistance please request a clarification and I
will be happy to help.