Belize shows hints of British and North American influences as well as the attitudes of the countries that surround it. While still being formal and reserved in public, Belizeans are also very laidback and fun-loving. The mixture of Belize's customs can sometimes be confusing; familiar yet different, making it very tough to adjust and often contributing to heavy culture shock among expatriates. Dress, dining, tipping and conversation etiquette is close to North American customs, with a few minor differences.
Following local etiquette is a good way to show respect and have it reciprocated. In case of a faux pas, however, you'll find Belizeans are understanding and quick to forgive.
“No shirt, no shoes, no problem!” is written on signs all over San Pedro and reflects the attitude towards clothing on the cayes. San Pedro is a beach town with sand streets and many people walk around barefoot in their bathing suits, though women should consider throwing something over their bikinis.
On the mainland, dress is always casual, though not quite so liberal as on the cayes. Even the prime minister wears slacks and a light shirt. For both men and women, short sleeved shirts, shorts and sandals are acceptable. Away from the cayes, people are generally more covered up, more for functional reasons than fashion. Longer clothing and covered shoes are commonly worn as protection against insects, and for the occasional chilly night. You'll find Belizeans dress most formally for church. Suits are common, though the majority of men wear black slacks and dress shirts, and women wear nice shirts and pants or long skirts.
In business, dress is semi-casual. Long khaki pants and collared or knit shirts are the norm for men and long pants or skirts for women. Sandals, but not flip-flops, are perfectly acceptable.
Dining etiquette is very similar to North American customs. Belizeans typically eat three meals a day, breakfast in the morning, lunch around noon, and dinner in the evening. Lunch is the largest and most important meal of the day. Businesses are usually closed for an hour or two for lunch and people often head home to eat with their families. Tables are laid out in North American fashion with forks, knives and spoons. Dining is usually very casual and dressing up, though perfectly acceptable, is very rarely expected.
Tipping is becoming more common in Belize due to the heavy tourist influence on the service industry. Tipping is generally expected wherever you might tip in North America, such as restaurants and hotels. The tip is often not included in the bill, though it would be wise to check first. A tip of 10 to 15 percent is the norm, with a little more for exceptional service and a little less for mediocre service. Taxi drivers do not expect a tip unless they provide an extra service and it's customary to tip bellhops, maids and tour guides a few dollars. One place where tipping is commonly overlooked is with diving instructors, where USD$5 per tank is about right.
One of the things some expatriates have trouble adjusting to is the Belizean perception of time. Belizeans are very laidback and time just seems to move slower. Punctuality isn't expected; even public transit doesn't follow a strict schedule. Starting a business meeting on time is rare as someone will show up half an hour late, with people trickling in even after the meeting has begun. Some try to fight it but the happiest people in Belize are the ones that adapt and learn to go with the flow.
With the increasing tourist influence on the country, the attitude towards time and punctuality is slowly changing. If you have a deadline or appointment, others may arrive late, but it's courteous to show up on time and meet deadlines as often as possible.
While the nightlife scene is limited in Belize, locals love to socialize and drinking is very popular among young adults. Dressing up is rarely expected, though some enjoy looking nice when going out for a night on the town. Depending on the people you're with, a night out could see your head hitting the pillow anywhere from midnight to dawn.
If going to someone's home, it's appropriate to bring something to eat or drink as a gift, be it wine, an appetizer or a dessert. Punctuality, while not expected, is a nice display of respect.
Belizeans are very friendly and gentle. Greet them with a warm “hello” or “good morning” and treat them with respect and your attitude will be reciprocated. In a more formal setting, avoid the firm handshakes you may get back home; a very gentle shake will do. With better acquaintances, greetings for both men and women may develop to include a hug or light kiss on the cheek.
Where personal space is concerned, Belizeans are neither shy nor affectionate. Sometimes they find themselves very close to one another, like when using public transit, but don't find it awkward or uncomfortable. In social settings, apart from greetings, they tend not to touch one another. Strong displays of affection are rare and are considered rude by some people.
Making small talk in this small country is easy; Belizeans are laid back, friendly and always eager to share their culture with their guests. There are, however, a few things that should be left out of casual conversation. Belizeans don't appreciate it when tourists and expatriates start telling them what's wrong with Belize and how to fix it. Politics and religion are both taken very seriously and are often taboo subjects. Keep in mind, too, that Belize is a small country and word travels fast. Be careful if you talk about someone negatively, as the person you're talking to might know them.
Belizeans tend to avoid confrontation as much as possible. Eye contact, while not actively avoided, isn't usually held through an entire conversation. Belizeans try to remain respectful and polite and will often answer “Yes.” to a question, even if they don't fully understand it. To prevent any miscommunication, try to phrase your questions to get full answers.
In the rural parts of Belize, especially in Mayan communities, women marry young, at about 14 or 15, and hold the traditional roles for raising children and keeping house. In the more developed areas of the country, the roles of women are expanding beyond traditional norms and gender equality is expected, especially with the younger generations. Though men still hold higher positions in government and business, women are more accepted as equals with many women emerging as important figures in every industry.
In dating situations, women are expected to be monogamous and if a women is alone with a man in any context, it is assumed she is dating him. Friendship between sexes is rare, as is casual dating with women. However, it is assumed that men will seek multiple partners and monogamy isn't expected until marriage. As the younger generation ages, these values are also changing.
Men tend to flirt openly with women, though the machismo seen in other Caribbean countries isn't as prevalent. Whistling and calling on the street are common, as are physical compliments and suggestive language. If the attention is unwanted, it's best to simply ignore it.
Though homosexuality is illegal in Belize, these laws are weakly enforced. There is a very small, and discreet, gay scene in Belize. Belizeans generally have a "don't ask, don't tell" attitude about homosexuality, and prefer not to talk about it. As with other gender attitudes, the feelings towards homosexuality are changing with the new generations.
Taking pictures of official buildings is illegal and pictures within churches aren't usually allowed. When photographing locals, it's polite to ask their permission first and a small tip is always appreciated.
View Real Estate for Sale in Belize
View Vacation Rentals in Belize