Culture and People of South America
Because of its complex history, South America is home to a dynamic variety of people. As a result, you will find many different kinds of cuisine, art, architecture, dance, and music that thrive on the continent. South Americans are also very passionate about their distinct culture and customs. This guide is an introduction to the cultural riches that South America has to offer.
LanguageSpanish and Portuguese are the most common languages found on the continent. In some places you'll find college-educated people who can speak either English or French. There are also many other languages spoken by indigenous people. You will rarely run into people who speak these languages unless you go off the beaten track. For more information check out the Language Guides and Menu Guides section to familiarize yourself with useful phrases.
CuisineFood varies with each region, so you'll be sure to find something different in every country. Argentina, for example, boasts the best steaks in the world, while Brazil in famous for the distinct taste of Bahian food, which comes from its West African influence. For more information of specialty dishes go to the Spanish and Portuguese Menu Guides Sections.
ArtSouth America has wide variety of art, ranging from the art of ancient civilizations to the indigenous tribes. In most cities there are many museums to choose from, including those that feature exhibitions of contemporary and classical art.
ArchitectureThe European influence can definitely be felt in South American architecture, especially in cities like Buenos Aires and in quaint colonial towns. Some places will make you feel as if you have traveled back in time as you walk down cobble-stoned streets lined with colonial mansions. Other cities have a more modern feel as a result of periods of massive economic growth.
LiteratureLatin American literature is famous for its innovative magic realism style. Within this genre writers explore the absurdities of political oppression, family life, and the deep-rooted traditions and values of the indigenous people. Among the most celebrated are Gabriel Garcia Marquez of Colombia, Peru's Mario Vargas Llosa, Chilean Isabel Allende, and Jorge Amado of Brazil.
DanceLatin Americans are very passionate about dancing. Buenos Aires is famous for its romantic and seductive tango, and the samba and bossa nova is very popular in Brazil. Other types of dance unique to South America are the salsa, the merengue, and the mambo.
MoviesLatin America has produced many films of critical acclaim, including some that have been distributed into the mainstream. Like Water for Chocolate, Black Orpheus, The Motorcycle Diaries, City of God, and Central Station, are some of the most memorable. There are also several film festivals in Europe and the US that are dedicated to showing primarily Latin American Films. Argentina and Brazil are the main film centers of South America and host international film festivals in their major cities.
SportsSoccer is huge in South America. In some countries you'll find the best teams in the world. In fact, Brazil has the world record of having the most World Cup wins in history, with Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina not far behind. Latin Americans are very passionate about their futbol and love to talk about it, so it would be wise to know a little bit on the latest news of the teams and players if you want to start up a conversation with a local.
MusicSouth America has made many music genres famous, including Brazil's samba and bossa nova, the romantic tango of Argentina, and the cumbia of Colombia. In some cities there is also a thriving jazz scene as well as world-class opera houses and venues that host international and regional talents.