We’re learning a lot here in Guatemala and it’s not just how to speak Spanish. We’re also learning how to interact in our new culture!
Guatemala has a very friendly culture and, similar to many Latin cultures, greetings are handled differently here than we were use to in the States. We discovered this pretty quickly when we were invited to be part of a family gathering for some new friends of ours.
- For guys to girls and girls to girls, the greeters give a light hug and touch cheeks. Usually right cheek to right cheek. As their cheeks touch they make a slight kissing sound and there you go!
- Guys to guys give a hand shake or possibly a hug, but usually just a hand shake unless you know them well.
It was a Sunday morning after church a few weeks ago when we packed in their little Toyota and drove up the valley from Quetzaltenango to the village of Totonicapan. We stopped in at the matron of the family’s home and started our greetings. “Grandma” greeted us at the door with the traditional greeting though she actually gave us kisses on the cheek. We went through the whole house greeting everyone with, “Buenos Dias!” and the traditional hugs and air-kisses.
We headed into town in a local transit bus called a microbus (these inexpensive buses are a great way to get around…and they’re’s always room for one more!).
Our friends gave us a walking tour of the city and the local cemetery (Cemeteries are local attractions in Guatemala for some reason and some have interesting legends.) then we headed back to the house for lunch.
At the house Chrisi and our new friend Shes, walked in the gate one of the cousins, a 10-year-old boy, ignored Shes and walked straight up to Chrisi and said a bold, “Hello!” He leaned up to give Chrisi a traditional greeting, but turned his head and gave her a big kiss right on the cheek! Chrisi was caught off guard by this bold youngster and he walked away smiling to obvious amusement of his friends. I missed the whole thing, but with Chrisi as pretty as she is, it’s no wonder to me that this young upstart would want to kiss my bride!
So, while there are unspoken rules and it’s generally O.K. for grandmas and moms to actually give real cheek kisses, you have to be a bit careful with the bold youth who just might take advantage of the “air kiss” and substitute a real one!
Here’s a few more tips for greetings:
WHEN TO SAY WHAT…
- “Buenos Dias!” — From 6 a.m. to 12p.m.
- “Buenas Tardes!” — From 12 p.m. to about 6 p.m. or dark
- “Buenas Noches!” — From about 6 p.m. or dark to when you go to bed.
WHAT NOT TO SAY…
- It’s “Buenos Dias!” with the “o” in “Buenos” saying this with an “a” is a typical mistake of new Spanish speakers.
- You’ll hear it on the streets, but try to avoid just saying, “Buenos!” (Our house mom taught us not to do this. She once incredulously asked, “Buenos? Buenos que?” (“Good? Good what?”) explaining that you should give the full greeting.