In my Paraguayan community I greet everyone. As I walk by people’s houses I wave and smile or call out a casual “adios.” As I pass people in the street I say “adios” and when I go to someone’s house I shake everyone’s hand or do a two-cheek air kiss. If you don’t greet everyone, you’re liable to appear standoffish, and that’s not helpful at all.
As someone who lived in a bigger US city before coming to Paraguay, adjusting to saying “hi” to everyone took some time. I’m used to it now, but there are times when it’s still awkward; like when I’m walking past a group of guys who are staring at me the entire time I walk. Staring here is culturally acceptable, common, and unavoidable when a woman walks past any man.
Greetings here are social cues. For example, my host sister will say a guy likes a girl if he walks by her without greeting her. Or, when someone stops greeting another person it can be a sign that she is angry with him. Paraguayans avoid confrontation and are very indirect, so they’ll rarely tell a person if something that person did bothered them.
I hated having to remember to greet everyone when I first got to my site. But, now that I’m used to it, I kind of like it. It’s nice to acknowledge people, and it’s nice to be acknowledged. It’s also easier to just put the greeting on autopilot—just always keep your eyes up, and say “hello” to everyone. Trying to decide who to greet and who not to greet is just too complicated.