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13 Things You Should Never Do in Uruguay

Picture of Milena Fajardo
Updated: 29 November 2017
Uruguay has a reputation of being very laid-back and chilled out. Uruguayans don’t tend to get emotional or offended, almost everyone you meet is friendly and calm, they don’t aggressively honk during rush hour traffic, and bar fights rarely ever happen. Even though you could get away with almost anything in Uruguay, there are still 13 things you should avoid.

Compare Uruguay to Argentina

Uruguay has a fraternal rivalry with Argentina, particularly between the capitals; Montevideo and Buenos Aires. If you start making negative comparisons between the countries, even as a joke, Uruguayans won’t take it very well. Appreciate Uruguay for what it is: quiet, peaceful, and tranquil. Uruguayans take pride in this and don’t want it any other way.

The border between Uruguay and Argentina
The border between Uruguay and Argentina | © Nick Webb/Flickr

Disrespect the mate circle

Mate is an Uruguayan icon. This characteristic beverage is a cultural phenomenon, and as such, is embedded with traditional customs and rituals. The two most important rules when sharing a mate around a circle of people, is that you must respect everyone’s turn, don’t cut in line, and never pour water into the mate if you’re not the designated “pourer” of the group. The person who made (and usually owns) the mate is the cebador (or “pourer”) and the only one allowed to pour water into the mate before each person’s turn.

Mate
Mate | © Pixabay

Mistake Uruguay for Paraguay

There’s nothing as irritating as people mistaking your country for some other one just because their names sound similar. Uruguay and Paraguay are incredibly different countries with different cultures, that don’t even border each other. Paraguay is landlocked whereas Uruguay is a world class tourist destination due of its incredible beaches.

Bad mouth a Uruguayan in front of another Uruguayan

Uruguay is a country with a very small population: only 3.45 million people. If you consider that half of this number live in Montevideo, you can imagine there’s a high chance that you might be talking about someone the other person knows, is friends with, or even related to! If you’re angry with how slow the staff were at the local bakery and start telling other Uruguayans about it, they’re not going to take it very well because they may well be friends.

Insult the national football team

Football is the most popular sport in Uruguay. The national team is a mark of pride for Uruguayans due to its long history of excelling at the sport. Even if the team isn’t playing very well, you shouldn’t insult it because people can get very offended. Making fun of the team if they lose a game or stay out of an important competition won’t be appreciated either.

Uruguay’s National Football Team
Uruguay’s National Football Team | © Jimmy Baikovicius/Flickr

Disrupt a comparsa

Comparsas are processions of people playing drums and dancing. They are very popular in Montevideo, especially in the neighborhoods Barrio Sur and Parque Rodó. During Carnival, there are culturally significant comparsa competitions so the ensembles practice all year to ensure they give their best performance. Don’t disrupt their parade by standing in the middle of the street taking pictures, for instance.

Ask for pizza without faina

Pizza was brought over from Italian immigrants, but faina is Uruguayan. This delicious savory food is made with chickpea flour and oil, and then baked in the pizza oven. It’s best enjoyed with white pepper on top. The classic Uruguayan way of eating a slice of faina is on top of a slice of pizza, which is called pizza a caballo or “pizza on horseback”.

Only visit Montevideo

Uruguay has so much more to offer than just its capital, so just staying in Montevideo is a big no-no. If you don’t have a lot of time to spare, there are many trips you can do from the capital by car or bicycle that would only take a day. Get away from the city to explore Uruguay’s gems: the countryside, the glorious beaches, or the thermal spas. No country can be defined by its capital city alone!

Ask for Thai food in a parrillada

Parrilladas, or “grillhouses” are easily recognisable and a staple of Uruguayan cuisine. You can enjoy the most amazing grilled beef, as well as other grilled meats, cheeses, and vegetables. A rule of thumb in any parrillada is that you shouldn’t order world cuisines, it’s not something the kitchen would be used to cooking, so you wouldn’t get an authentic flavor anyway.

Beef
Beef | © Pixabay

Be careless in the ocean

Most beaches have lifeguards during the summer, but after high season they leave the seas unattended. Be very careful because some of the ocean currents can be misleading and treacherous, even for experienced swimmers. Most importantly, please do not get into the sea if it’s night or if you are not sober!

Pollute

Uruguay cares a lot about the environment. 98% of Uruguay’s energy is green and the first green school was built a year ago. The school is constructed entirely of recycled materials, has solar panels, and a compost orchard. Also, there are plenty of native forests that have been maintained as nature reserves that remain untouched by humans. Please respect this by throwing your trash in the appropriate recycling bins, avoid polluting any natural landscape, and don’t light a fire or leave a burning cigarette in a dry area.

The first sustainable school in Latin America
The first sustainable school in Latin America | © Jimmy Baikovicius/Flickr

Smoke inside

Smoking indoors is banned in Uruguay and very frowned upon. Don’t make the mistake of lighting a cigar or cigarette in a restaurant, bar or nightclub because you will get kicked out. Even when you’re outdoors, try to avoid smoking under any roofed area because Uruguayan law forbids this too although it is accepted in some places. Also avoid smoking right next to a non-smoker, no one likes being a passive smoker.

Disrespect the wildlife

There are a lot of native animal species in Uruguay that live in complete freedom in their natural habitats. Reptiles, mammals, birds, and sea creatures find a safe haven in Uruguay as most people here have tremendous respect for animals. Hunting is mostly forbidden unless you have a licence and know the few areas where it’s allowed. Hunting without a licence is extremely irresponsible and dangerous. The same goes for feeding wild animals with food that they aren’t used to eating; you’d most likely be doing more harm than good. If you see a nest or any kind of young animal leave it as it is and be wary of its parents.

A wild carpincho
A wild carpincho | © Kevin Jones / Flickr