People and Culture in Puerto Rico

With endless sand, swashbuckling history and wildly diverse tropical terrain, locals fittingly call Puerto Rico the ‘Island of Enchantment.’

Remember how your parents used to tell you to keep your elbows off the table during meals? Or that it’s rude to slurp your soup? Well there’s good news guys, these American cultures and customs don’t always translate to other countries! While the local people you meet won’t expect you to be fluent in their language, culture and customs, it is important to familiarize yourself with them.

Do you know how kissing, snoring and other things sound in other languages? That’s right, even sound effects can be translated!

The most important thing to remember while you’re abroad is that things will be different. But, different doesn’t mean wrong. Be open, be curious, and read more about the culture you will be stepping into. Get excited about LIVING the life you’ve only dreamt and read about until now!

People and Culture in Puerto Rico

Official name: Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

Population: 3.6 million

Capital City: San Juan

Famous People: Benecio del Toro, Jennifer Lopez, Victor Cruz

Culture in Puerto Rico:

Many Puerto Ricans will stand fairly close to one another in social settings. In contrast, North Americans and many Europeans believe that people should stand about an arm’s length from one another. Moving away from a counterpart may be considered offensive or insulting.

Other customs to be familiar with:

Puerto Ricans love plantains! Try to sample dishes that are made with plantains, such as mofongo or alcapurria.

If you happen to be in Puerto Rico in January, check out the San Sebastian Festival, a 4-day Mardi Gras-like experience in honor of Puerto Rico’s history and culture. You will see a variety of music shows, artisans, and dance performances all along the streets of the Old City.

To greet someone, it is normal to kiss them on the cheek. It is also common and appropriate to stand very close to the person who you are speaking to.

Smoking was banned in all restaurants, bars and casinos in March 2007.


Since Puerto Rico has ties to the US, tipping etiquette is important when travelling to the island. In restaurants in the capital city, a tip of 15% – 20% tip is expected. Porters expect about $1 per bag and maids expect $1-$2 a per day.

Phrases to know before you go:

Hola – Hello

Gracias — Thank you (although colloquially pronounced “gracia”)

¿Cómo está ud?  – How are you?

¿Cuánto es? / Cuánto cuesta? — How much is it?/How much does it cost?

Habla inglés?  — Do you speak English?

Por favor — please

No comprendo, no se entiendo –1) I don’t understand (this thing, fact) 2) I don’t understand (you)

Hable lento, por favor — Please speak more slowly

Lo siento — I’m sorry

No lo sé– I don’t know

Aqui está — Here it is

Sí — yes

No — no

esta mañana — this morning

esta tarde — this afternoon

esta noche — tonight

¿Qué calle es esta?  What street is this?

Cuán lejos queda? — How far is…

Aeropuerto — airport

¿Qué hora es? — What time is it?

baños (pron. BAN-yoes)  /toilet — toilet,bathroom

¡Ayuda! /¡ Auxilio!  — Help!

¡Llame a la policia! — call the police

¡Llame a un médico! — call a doctor

barato — cheap

caro — expensive


Super Special Slang

Wepa – Wow!