Venezuela sits in the northernmost part of South America, with the Caribbean Sea forming its northern border. The country of 28 million was home to numerous indigenous people for centuries until 1498 when the first European set foot on its shores -- Christopher Columbus. Spaniards soon colonized Venezuela (so named because the stilted homes built above a lake reminded a subsequent explorer of Venice), and eventually large numbers of African slaves were brought over [sources: Garcia, Geographia]. It was the customs of these three groups -- the native people, Spaniards and Africans -- that blended together over time to create Venezuela's modern traditions.
While these three groups were in Venezuela together, the Spaniards dominated. Customs from the native and African populations were pushed to the side or abandoned. One reflection of this is that Venezuela today is an overwhelmingly Catholic country. Venezuelans are also fairly biased, namely in regard to race and monetary status. Lighter-skinned people are generally viewed as better than those with darker skin, as are those in a higher social class [source: Every Culture].
Venezuela is a patriarchal society, with an emphasis on men showing plenty of machismo. Men are expected to be the wage earners and prove their virility with numerous sexual liaisons. In addition, men openly stare at women in public and shout complimentary remarks, which the women ignore [source: Every Culture]. While women are legally equal to men, they generally earn less and have more social restrictions placed upon them; this is starting to change, though, due to Western influences.
Like several other South American and Caribbean countries, Venezuelans celebrate Carnaval during the three days before Ash Wednesday. The revelry includes parades featuring costumed people, plus parties with lots of dancing and drinking.
Some of the most ubiquitous foods are fried corn- or flour-based pancakes and bread, which are served with almost everything. Fruit is also popular, specifically mangoes, papayas, avocadoes, oranges, bananas, coconuts, passion fruit, melons, pineapples, guava and sour sap, which comes from the graviola tree.
Venezuela grows a lot of coffee and has a strong coffee culture, thanks to the introduction of espresso by Spaniards. Coffee is the most common beverage in the country and is always offered to guests. It's considered rude to say no if you're offered a cup of joe because it's a symbol of hospitality. Other typical drinks are fruit juices, milkshakes and chicha, a concoction crafted from ground rice, salt, condensed milk, sugar, vanilla and ice. Chicha is most common in Venezuela's llanos, or grasslands [sources: Hoag, Kwintessential].
Whether dining out or at home, some of the most common traditional menu items are:
- Arepas -- Fried or baked corn pancakes filled with everything from eggs and tomatoes to shrimp and cheese. Venezuelans snack on them throughout the day, and small arepas are served as side dishes at most meals.
- Empanadas -- Deep-fried cornmeal turnovers filled with meat, cheese or seafood.
- Cachitos -- Hot croissants filled with ham and cheese.
- Cachapas -- Thick, sweet, maize (corn) pancakes served with queso guayanesa, a mozzarella-type cheese.
- Hallaca- - A dish of chopped beef, pork and chicken mixed with green peppers, onion, garlic, tomatoes, raisins, olives and herbs and spices, typically served at Christmas. Corn dough is wrapped around the mixture and then steamed in banana leaves.
Women's traditional outfits consist of long dresses with full, flowing skirts. The material is usually a floral print, reflective of the Venezuela's Spanish and Caribbean influence. The dresses, or blouses if a skirt-and-blouse combination is selected, are often worn off the shoulder or have one sleeve off the shoulder [source: Ahsan]. The outfits frequently feature ruffles, and women usually put flowers in their hair.
Tribal people have different traditional outfits, of course. Some tribal women favor shorter skirts, beads and cropped tops, for example, while the men have some variation on campesino (native Latin American who lives in a rural area) attire [source: Ahsan]. In general, though, Western styles predominate today for formal occasions.
While Venezuelans are definitely attuned to fashion, they're even more focused on physical beauty and overall appearance. For example, it's very important to Venezuelans that their contestants either win or place highly in the annual Miss World and Miss Universe pageants, and they have. Venezuelan women, in an amazing feat, have won the Miss Universe competition six times, a number only exceeded by the U.S., which has a far bigger population (312 million compared to Venezuela's 28 million) [source: Grainger]. And while the country traditionally has focused on women's beauty, an annual male beauty contest now takes place: Mr. Venezuela.
Because of their attention to beauty, Venezuelans -- both men and women -- often have plastic surgery performed. It's easy to find a plastic surgeon in the country, and banks do their part by offering inexpensive loans to have procedures done. So not surprisingly, it's no big deal to admit you've gone under the knife [source: Grainger].
More Great Links
- Ahsan, Tania. "15 wonderful and quirky national costumes: Venezuela." Nov. 29, 2010. (Aug. 1, 2011) http://travel.uk.msn.com/inspiration/family/photos.aspx?cp-documentid=155381963&page=4
- Bumblehood. "National sports in Venezuela." (Aug. 1, 2011) http://www.bumblehood.com/article/3MS1ji-tQBGFtdVzf3sO9g
- Carnaval. "Food & Drink." (Aug. 1, 2011) http://carnaval.com/venezuela/food/
- Catholic Online. "Patron Saints." (Aug. 1, 2011) http://www.catholic.org/saints/patron.php?letter=V
- Embavenez. "Folklore and Traditions." (Aug. 1, 2011) http://www.embavenez-us.org/kids.venezuela/folklore.traditions.htm
- Every Culture. "Venezuela." (Aug. 1, 2011) http://www.everyculture.com/To-Z/Venezuela.html
- Food of South America. "Traditional food in Venezuela." (Aug. 1, 2011) http://www.foodofsouthamerica.com/traditional-food-in-venezuela.htm
- Garcia, Jesus "Chucho." "Demystifying Africa's Absense in Venezuelan History and Culture." Venezuelanalysis. Jan. 15, 2004. (Aug. 4, 2011) http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/316
- Geographia. "Venezuela History and Culture." (Aug. 1, 2011) http://www.geographia.com/venezuela/history.htm
- Grainger, Sarah. "Venezuela's young men eye beauty contest success." BBC. May 7, 2011. (Aug. 4, 2011) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-13264460
- The History of Christmas. "Venezuela: Christmas traditions & customs." (Aug. 1, 2011) http://www.thehistoryofchristmas.com/traditions/venezuela.htm
- Hoag, Christina. "Venezuelan coffee makes a comeback." All Business. April 1, 1997. (Aug. 4, 2011) http://www.allbusiness.com/manufacturing/food-manufacturing-food-coffee-tea/621432-1.html
- Kwintessential. "Venezuela – Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette." (Aug. 4, 2011) http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/resources/global-etiquette/venezuela-country-profile.html
- Maps of World. "Venezuela Sports." (Aug. 1, 2011) http://www.mapsofworld.com/venezuela/sports/
- Mary Pages. "Our Lady of Coromoto." (Aug. 1, 2011) http://www.marypages.com/LadyCoromoto.htm
- Medical Tourism New York City. "Venezuela Male Beauty Contest Includes Plastic Surgery." May 28, 2011. (Aug 4, 2011) http://www.medicaltourismnyc.com/blog/venezuela-male-beauty-contest-includes-plastic-surgery/
- Reference. "Liqui Liqui." (Aug. 4, 2011) http://www.reference.com/browse/Liqui_liqui
- Think Venezuela. "Food and Drink." (Aug. 1, 2011) http://www.think-venezuela.net/food.htm
- U.S. Census Bureau. "U.S. POPClock Projection." (Aug. 4, 2011) http://www.census.gov/population/www/popclockus.html
- World Flags 101. "Venezuela." (Aug. 11, 2011) http://www.worldflags101.com/v/venezuela-flag.aspx
- World Wedding Traditions. "Wedding traditions in Venezuela." (Aug. 1, 2011) http://www.worldweddingtraditions.com/locations/south_american_traditions/venezuelan_traditions.html
- Vergara, Kervin. "Culture and Traditions of Venezuela: Holidays, Tourist, Vacations Tips." Tourism in Venezuela. May 5, 2010. (Aug. 1, 2011) http://www.tourisminvenezuela.com/2010/05/05/culture-and-traditions-of-venezuela-holidays-tourist-vacations-tips/