¡Hola! The Art of Saying Hello in Another Country

July 01, 2015
Kayla Bernardino
2 min read

One of our Wetravel bloggers, Kayla, is participating in a work exchange program in Costa Rica for two months. Enthusiastic about travel, she’s sharing her adventures, experience, and the lessons she’s learned in Costa Rica through our blog posts!


Image source: Kayla Bernadino


In some countries, eye contact is considered offensive. A simple Google search brings up pages and pages of results, including Yahoo’s “World’s Worst Cultural Mistakes.”

It may seem insignificant to some, but really, you should always aim to be respectful of other traditions when you’re traveling. While observing others is one way to figure out what the cultural norms are, I prefer to save myself the trouble and know these kinds of things in advance.

Like others who grew up in the United States, I am accustomed to making eye contact when speaking to others, especially if I am meeting them for the first time or if it is a job interview. I was also taught to maintain a general air of friendliness around others, because being standoff-ish does not give off a good impression.

The idea that saying hello or that smiling at others could be perceived badly was an unfamiliar concept to me for the majority of my life. It was only a few years ago, when I became a frequent reader of all things educational travel, that I came across an article introducing me to the idea. Now, I try to be aware of the implications such simple actions can have.


Image source: Kayla Bernadino


Fortunately, Costa Rica is not a place that considers eye contact offensive. So far, it seems that most people smile and say “¡Hola!” to one another, whether they’re old friends or strangers. People are even more than willing to help us foreigners out with our Spanish. For instance, at the hostel I am staying at, the individuals at the front desk humor me and answer all of my grammar questions. They speak slowly to me, as I get used to using my Spanish skills from high school (which oddly enough, are coming back). When I ate at a local soda with two other Americans, one of the waitresses even took the time to write out “un vaso de agua” on a piece of paper for my friend Sam, who wasn’t sure how to order water (true story).

Still, I’ll continue to do my research before each trip that I take, as every country is different. My advice would be for others to do the same, but really, to each his (or her) own. There is no right or wrong way to learn!

Loved reading about Kayla's adventures in Costa Rica? Make sure to check out Kayla's previous blog post, Lessons Learned in Costa: Airport Edition.

Featured Image Source: Kayla Bernadino