Social tips for newbies in Paraguay

Posted on March 29, 2011

(1) One should always drink out of plastic bottles with a straw.  Or pour your drink into a glass.  Do not drink directly from the mouth of a plastic bottle.  There’s a local mythology about how plastic bottles are recycled which doesn’t include the part where the bottles get washed and melted down and reformed.  So Paraguayans are disgusted by the thought of drinking from the mouth of potentially recycled plastic bottle.

(2) Parking downtown is officially ‘free’, but it isn’t really free – it’s governed by an informal system of extortion.  There is a man (or rarely a woman) on every block downtown who acts kind of like a parking attendant.  You can usually spot them because they’re wearing a vest, or they have a rag they use to wash the cars in their hand.  They will definitely spot you and guide you to a parking spot.  Basically you pay them to keep an eye on your car while you go about your business.  And if you don’t pay them, they’ll just look the other way should anything happen to your car…  Usually people pay them 2000 Gs.  I don’t think it has much to do with a time limit, but if you park somewhere all day usually you would pay them to wash your car too while you were away.  I’m not sure what the going rate for car washing is.

(3) There’s no tipping in restaurants (usually service charges are included with the bill). And yet I get some of the best service of my life here.

(4) You do tip the porters at the airport.  5000 Gs is the going rate.  During my most recent arrival I got a guy who said if I ‘helped him out a little more’ he would make sure I got through customs/security no problem.  I said ‘I don’t want any special treatment’, but he kept on about it.  I eventually agreed to pay him 10,000 Gs to keep him happy enough not to sabotage me (I had some weird stuff in my bags, being a researcher and all that).  After the bags went through the scanner and we were exiting into the airport he tells me the security guy who asked me about my bags is his brother – his hook up for getting through customs easy.  Sheesh.

(5) Paraguayans have a different take on salads (remember, if it doesn’t have meat in it it’s not food!).  Most commonly, you get lettuce and sliced tomatoes.  The dressing is some combination of olive oil, salt, and vinegar (usually red wine vinegar) that you put on yourself.  Sometimes there’s a lemon slice too.  I’ve had some variations on this theme (like bean salads), but I’d say the salad is rarely composed of more than 3 vegetables, unless you go to a fancy restaurant with Waldorf or Nicoise salads.

(6) When you offer something to a Paraguayan and they say “Gracias,” what they mean is “No, thank you.”  This also applies to when you’re drinking mate/terere socially.  They will keep filling the cup and handing it to you for your turn until you say “Gracias”.  So don’t say “Gracias” after the first cup, or you’re not getting any more terere.

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