Culture shock is a term used for the overwhelming feelings that come with experiencing a country and culture drastically different than what you are used to. It’s normal to experience this shock, especially when you aren’t prepared. That’s why it’s so important to do research on the country and its people you plan to visit before boarding the plane.

A few weeks ago, we brought you Costa Rica’s Customs and Etiquette for participants ready to study, intern, or volunteer among the diverse ecologies of Costa Rica. But if you’re more interested in visiting the traditional Maya land of Guatemala, this article is for you.



The Guatemalan culture can be described as formal and conservative. Titles are important and respected; doctors should be addressed as doctor or doctora and attorneys should be addressed as licenciado or licenciada. If known, titles should be used when addressing such professionals in person, and via correspondence.

Women greet one another, and men, with air kisses, while men greet one another with firm handshakes. The usually well-received hola is formally replaced in Guatemala with the more acceptable buenos dias, good morning; buenas tardes, good afternoon; or buenas noche, good evening. When meeting someone for the first time, it’s customary to say mucho gusto or nice to meet you.

Dress & Appearance

On all occasions, Guatemalans expect the very best in terms of dress and appearance; neat grooming, appropriate dress and cleanliness are of utmost importance. You’ll notice extremely proper presentation especially in the bigger cities. Jeans and sneakers are typically unacceptable for most events although this is starting to change with the younger generations. Relaxed and casual dress is much more acceptable by the beach or in the countryside.

Traditionally, Guatemalan textiles and clothing have great significance in Maya culture, history, and identity. Locals take great pride in their traditional fashions so great care and consideration should be taken for visitors wanting to don the garb.

Gender Equality

Traditionally, women took on more domestic responsibilities while men earned their wages in business, agriculture, and manufacturing. Statistically, women are oftentimes less educated and paid less than their male counterparts.  However, with women now having more access to higher education, their degrees can land them with more professional careers in big cities where they are accepted and often highly respected as equals; These women often find themselves as small business owners and managers.

In rural areas, men and women both work in agriculture, however crops are assigned by gender; men tend to basic grains such as beans and corn, while women tend to fruit and vegetable crops. Men engage in labor such as woodwork, carpentry, laying brick, upholstery, and fishing;  Women, girls, and small boys gather wild foods, firewood, and tend to sheep and goats.

National Events

Fairs and religious festivals are scheduled across the country throughout the year. Semana Santa, Holy Week, is regarded as Guatemala’s most popular holiday as locals and foreigners from all over the world flock to be in attendance for the festivities that take place. But the most popular city hosting Semana Santa is Antigua, Guatemala. Services are attended by the masses at the great Baroque cathedral, and processions take place several times throughout the day honoring the religious traditions set forth.

Guatemala’s independence day, September 15th, is celebrated throughout the country with fireworks, parades, futbol matches, dances and cockfights. Indigenous crafts are often made and sold during the festivities.

November 1st marks All Saints Day with the traditional Barriletes Gigantes festival taking over the Sumpango district. Here you’ll find giant, custom made kites being flown to honor the dead and send inspiring and motivational messages to those still living; you can also indulge in the traditional fiambre dish served during this event.

Weekly market days are also typical in several local villages throughout the country. At the markets you find local vendors selling everything from local handicrafts to livestock. One of the most famous among tourist is Chichicastenango.


It’s a considerable offense to the local people should you choose to photograph without asking permission first. Though it may be tempting to capture candid shots of people living their daily lives, it’s important to respect their rights and their privacy. On the bright side, it forces you to interact with the local community and you’ll find that many are open to having their photos taken.

Check out this article for more tips on photographing while abroad.

With the above tips on the customs and etiquette of the people of Guatemala, we hope you will be relieved of some of the culture shock you can expect upon landing for your internship, volunteer, TEFL course, or Spanish immersion at #MaximoGuatemala.