Only a few generations ago, Venezuela was a country with a small population, few roads and little national coherence; a fragmented rural country with strong regional identities. All that changed when oil wealth was discovered in the 1920's. Since then, evolution has never stopped and continues to accelerate as Venezuela reaches out to establish new partnerships with China, Russia and most recently Africa.
What are Venezuelan people really like? Today's citizen might be a barefoot cowboy in the llanos; a store owner in Caracas; a high powered oil industry executive in Maracaibo or a Yanomami Indian in the Amazon basin whose lifestyle has not changed much from that of his ancestors a thousand years ago.
Women have attained a place in Venezuelan society that could be the envy of some other developed nations. Women business executives, medical doctors, judges, engineers, and architects are common. In some professions such as lawyers, women actually outnumber men. It is rather bizarre that sexual equality has been accomplished in this male dominated, beauty obsessed culture, but it appears that this is the case.
More than 90 percent of Venezuelan society claim to be Catholic, yet only 20 percent attend church regularly. There is however, fervent devotion to religious figures such as La Virgien del Valle here on Margarita Island. To Margariteños, the weeklong celebrations from September 7 to 15 are the year's most important event. The Virgien del Valle is the patrona of all fishermen and sailors who commend themselves to her before going to sea. She has the allegiance of the Navy and is present on all its vessels. There are also numerous cults, perhaps the most well known is dedicated to María Lionza and combines elements of Catholicism with witchcraft.
At least 85 percent of Venezuelan society own a TV set. Even shacks in the slums of Caracas have television antennae on their roofs and satellite dishes are on nearly every building even in the remote areas. Recently, Venezuela in partnership with China launched a communication satellite that will eventually provide internet service to the entire population at little or no cost.
Venezuela is a young country, approximately 30 percent of the population is under 14 years old with just five percent over the age of 65. Venezuelan culture is youth oriented reflected in advertising, music, sports, and other youthful pursuits. The vast majority of the population are mestizos — people whose descent mingles the blood of Spanish settlers with that of indigenous peoples or African slaves. There are also a large number of immigrants from Europe, China, the Middle East and nearby Latin American countries, especially Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru.
Be a good ambassador
Venezuelans are a proud and generous people who will react quickly to any kind of insult on their cultural identity. Please remember that you are a guest in a foreign country with a different culture and its own rules of conduct.
Simòn Bolívar is their highest role model and this Liberator of five South American countries is honored everywhere. If you find yourself in Plaza Bolívar, respect must be shown to Bolívar's statute. Do not cross in front carrying large bulky packages, or stand around in your beach clothes. Respect for Bolívar also extends to his printed likeness.
To disrespect someone is to faltarle el respecto,a serious insult. Although a uniformed official may be overstepping his authority, be careful in word and facial expression when dealing with the police, they are always right.
In Venezuela, social graces are important. When people meet, the custom is to inquire about the welfare of their family before speaking about business matters. Always be complimentary first and make complaints later. Try to provide a way out of the situation for the other person, avoid situations that would embarrass others.
Latin men are particularly sensitive to insults. A cold drink, coffee or even a stick of gum can diffuse a potentially explosive situation.