Republic of El Salvador

El Salvador: Cultural Profile

Kluckhohn: Salvadoran Culture versus American Culture

Innate Predisposition

The first value orientation developed by Klukhohn is innate predisposition. According to Kluckhohn, societies determine whether man is inherently good, evil, or a mix of the two. For Salvadorans, man is both good and evil. The majority of Salvadorans are Catholic, although the numbers of Protestants have been increasing in recent years. Salvadorans’ religious convictions are strong, thus through their beliefs, they would believe that man is inherently good. Catholics are born with Original Sin – placed upon them because of the acts of Adam and Eve – and through baptism they are forgiven. Through continued faith, good works, and repentance for sins, Catholics can be saved. People are good and may sin, but will be forgiven if they ask for forgiveness from God and from the community.

Salvadoran history, however, would lead a Salvadoran to believe that man is inherently evil. El Salvador’s history is full of unequal land distribution and civil conflict. The country recently ended a civil war in 1992, and is adjusting politically and economically. After 12 years of civil conflict Salvadorans may not be trusting of leaders and may be looking for protection. Salvadoran culture falls somewhere between mutable and immutable. The people are willing to accept change, but are not open to radical change. After a 12 year period of civil war and conflict, the country is moving toward stability for the first time in a long time.

Typically, Latin Americans believe in the goodness of human nature. However, relationships must be established and continually worked upon. First impressions are lasting and are important.

For communicators, this means that knowledge of local customs and at least a basic understanding of (or interest in) the Spanish language is important. Salvadorans appreciate a failed attempt at a conversation in Spanish rather than no attempt at all. After the first contacts are made, the communicator must remain in contact with his or her client and continue to build a good client relationship, even more so than with an American client. Good client relationships with Salvadorans are important and may be more difficult to achieve because one must prove to the client that he/she is trustworthy.

Man’s Relation to Nature

The second value orientation Kluckhohn describes is man’s relation to nature. She states that man can be subjugated to nature, can be in nature, and can be over nature. When man is subjugated to nature, he feels that natural forces are inevitable. When man is in nature, he feels that he is a part of nature. And finally, when man is over nature, he feels as though he can control nature. Salvadorans feel they have little control over nature; the country is incredibly susceptible to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and hurricanes. Due to this susceptibility, and due to belief in Catholicism and thus belief in a higher power, most Salvadorans place their faith beyond themselves and do not believe they can control nature. However, they do believe (because of outside cultural influences) that things can be done to protect the country from the devastation caused by natural disasters.

El Salvador saw incredible destruction in 1998 by Hurricane Mitch and again in 2001 from two earthquakes. The country received large amounts of foreign aid and in rebuilding efforts, materials were used that are more resistant to damage by such natural disasters.

A spectacular view of a mountain en route to the Pacific Ocean.

Americans seem to believe that they have more control over nature. With the technology the country develops and the environmental standards the country tries to put forth, the United States attempts to have control over its natural environment.

Communications campaigns in El Salvador must take potential natural disasters into consideration. In this country, such disasters are possible at any time. The communications practitioner, therefore, must be aware of this potential and also must be aware of how the country handles the situation during the event and afterward. A practitioner must be aware of the messages he or she is using during a natural disaster and in the periods preceding and following such a disaster. If the culture feels it has no control over the circumstances, then the practitioner should not be advocating otherwise.

Time Dimension

The third value orientation is time dimension. According to Kluckhohn, every culture has some concept of its past, its present, and its future. Americans tend to be future focused and are always thinking about how what they are doing today will affect tomorrow’s outcome. The culture is focused on results rather than the process, and is generally concerned with youth and their vibrancy rather than age and wisdom.

Tradition is important in America, but tradition is diversified. There are many different sub-cultures under the umbrella of American culture, and each of these sub-cultures has its own traditions. Overall, Americans are more likely than Salvadorans to not strictly adhere to tradition.

Salvadorans now look toward the future, but still believe heavily in their past. History is relevant in El Salvador. The people there are still living their history. El Salvador’s history has been one of inequality and this was true until recently and in many ways is still true. The country is rich in history and Salvadorans honor that history. People here are living in the present, are very aware of the past, and are looking toward the future.

Traditions in El Salvador are based heavily on the country’s Spanish and Roman Catholic heritage, and these traditions are unlikely to change. Tradition is very important to the Salvadoran people, and this is apparent in holiday traditions and even in food preparation. Like in many cultures Salvadorans have traditional fare that is served at family gatherings and special occasions. For example, “pupusas” are tortillas filled with cheese and/or other items like beans or pork. Another example of traditional Salvadoran food is the “tamale” which is a dumpling like food wrapped in banana leaves.


Holidays are important to Salvadorans, and in particular “Semana Santa” or Holy Week – the week leading up to Easter. The importance of Semana Santa reflects the importance of religion and of continuing tradition to the people of El Salvador. Christmas is also important to Salvadorans, when families gather on Christmas Eve and share a midnight meal.

With regard to communications, the importance that Salvadorans place on their history and tradition needs to be considered when conducting a campaign. The country is now beginning to look more toward the future, but the people also have strong historical ties that will not easily be forgotten. Therefore, it will not be easy for a communicator to try to bring about radical change in a short amount of time.

Valued Personality Type

Valued personality type is the fourth value orientation identified by Kluckhohn. There is a “being” orientation emphasizes what a person is based on his or her relationships or social standing; the “doing” orientation defines a person by his or her activities; and the “being-in-becoming” orientation is a combination of both. El Salvador is primarily a “being-in-becoming” culture. Relationships define a person, but what a person does individually is also important. How a person relates to other people and fits in with his or her community is valued over his or her achievements, but in an ever modernizing country, achievements and developments are becoming increasingly emphasized in Salvadoran culture.

America has a “doing” culture; Americans are not judged by their family origins or their ages. Americans are judged based on their achievements and accomplishments, by where they have been and where they have the potential to go.

Here, communicators must take into consideration that, although becoming more “doing” oriented, Salvadorans are primarily “being” oriented and still value their relationships within the community and particularly within their families. Messages here can be crafted to reach individuals and to highlight individual successes, but also must contain an element that relates that individual back to his or her community. This is particularly true if the message is intended to reach an audience in rural areas. Community bonds are stronger when one travels outside of El Salvador’s metropolitan areas.

Modality of Relationship

The final value orientation proposed by Kluckhohn is modality of relationship, which relates to family patterns. Individual orientation has a small scope and the bonds between members are not very intense. The collateral orientation has a wider scope than the individual and family bonds are stronger. Linear orientation has an even wider scope than does collateral orientation. The United States has an individual relationship pattern, where family bonds rarely extend outside the nuclear family and the bonds that do extend beyond this are relatively weak. In the United States, much more emphasis is placed on the nuclear family.

El Salvador has a collateral relationship pattern. Families have more intense bonds, with the typical family extending far beyond the immediate family. Often, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and even family members further removed than these are seen on a regular basis and included in all family activities. Family friends are also often considered members of the family. As mentioned earlier, relationships are very important to Salvadorans, but none more so than those relationships within the family.

When crafting a message in El Salvador, the communicator must be aware of the importance of family. Messages can appeal to individuals, but for certain products, services, or organizations, messages should appeal to the extended family. As stated earlier, the “doing” orientation is becoming more important in Salvadoran culture, but family and community bonds are important and will remain important, since tradition and heritage are important to Salvadorans.


El Salvador is deeply rooted in tradition and history. Salvadoran culture is important to the people of El Salvador and communicators must understand customs, language and history in order to create successful campaigns. Appropriate media for campaigns will be similar to that in the United States, for 80.2 percent of the population is literate and television and internet access is widespread. Messages, however, must be specially crafted for the audience and should not be mere translations of English messages because, often, English slogans or phrases do not translate properly into Spanish and particularly not into Spanish that has local colloquialisms.

There is a large divide between the upper class and the lower class in El Salvador with a very small middle class in between. Communicators must also take this into account when designing messages. Target audiences need to be specifically defined and messages designed accordingly. For example, a campaign for health promotion will have different messaging for the rural Salvadoran population than it will for the urban population.

All cultures are beautiful and rich, and with at least a basic understanding of it, communication campaigns have great potential to succeed.



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Jen Costa (Master of Arts, 2005); R.S. Zaharna, International Public Relations, American University