Uruguay is a Latin American country and shares a number of characteristics with its neighbours. The tendency to judge visitors on their appearance is hard-wired into the Latin psyche. Overseas travellers who are poorly dressed or groomed have long been the object of curiosity since it is (still) a common assumption that people visiting from overseas are comfortably off – a view that is slowly being challenged by the influx of foreign retirees of all income types.

Polite forms of address (señor, señora) in shops and restaurants are always welcome, even though locals are hardly as decorous or deferential in their speech as Colombians or Chileans, for example. But make the effort and you will make a good impression.

Business travellers may find a casual and even willful lateness for appointments a source of frustration. It's noticeable that when Uruguayans want someone to arrive on time they will often add the expression "hora inglesa" for punctuality. Even though bumper-to-bumper traffic can rarely be used as an excuse in Montevideo, delays of 15 minutes or so are to be expected at more or less all business meetings. Make sure you have a ready stock of business cards as their exchange and mutual admiration are the prelude to even the shortest encounter.

Uruguayans dress conservatively. Men should wear dark suits for formal business meetings – and for weddings and Christenings too for that matter. Shorts are uncommon outside seaside resorts, even at weekends. Speedo-type swimwear for men will elicit stares on most beaches – go for baggy surfer shorts instead. Meanwhile, women's fashions tend to be a little dowdy and ladies of a certain age who prefer a younger look will be the object of a certain amount of eyeballing, even (perhaps especially) in Montevideo's chic residential neighbourhoods. Punta del Este in January is undiluted bling.

If you are lucky enough to be invited to a Uruguayan home, be prepared to meet the whole family. Meals are often barbecue-based and thus quite informal, with the man of the house fiddling with the embers and slabs of meat to the accompaniment of coos of appreciation from everyone present. Children tend to stay up late in Montevideo and are both seen and heard; if you have children who are not present, you will invariably be asked to produce a photo. A gift from your home country will go down well, otherwise flowers are sold at kiosks on main roads and are a sure-fire token of appreciation for your hostess. If a man celebrates his birthday at home and invites five guests, he may well end up with five bottles of whisky (and no-one will consider this unusual).