Okay, calm down. I know the word weird should be something like different, unusual, cultural or some other less offensive word. But “11 slightly different cultural Guatemalan habits” would be too long for a good blog. And I am pretty sure these things don’t only happen in Guatemala, but for now let’s keep it like this. So let’s be honest: the next 10 things are weird for this Dutch girl, even though this is already my third time in Guatemala. Here we go!
10. Using a motorbike for family transportation
I know this is not really Guatemalan, but it continues to amaze me every time I drive to the office. Sometimes there are even five people on a motorbike! Usually the dad is driving, the mom is in the middle, squished between the mom and the dad there’s a baby and sometimes there is one child or two children at the far back of the bike, holding on to dear life. I don’t know hów they do it, but they do it. Needless to say it’s extremely dangerous, especially because none of them wears a helmet. There are even stories of babies flying off the motorbike and ending up under a bus. Thank God for the Dutch traffic laws!
9. Security guards with shotguns
Totally normal here, even though they are just guarding a supermarket, gas station or museum. They wear the biggest guns and the most impressive outfits and it might be a little intimidating when you come to Guatemala for the first time, but it is just a safety precaution. They even show up on a motorbike next to your car. Because of all the stories I heard about gangs on motorbikes robbing cars, I almost had a stroke the first time I saw someone with a gun on a bike. Turned out to just be a police officer. Should have hid the gun there, buddy!
This is how the normal police officers look like here. Pretty impressive, huh?
8. Thanking God for everything
Now this is actually a good thing, because we owe it all to God. But sometimes the “Gracias a Dios” comes out of nowhere. Thank God that we’re doing well, thank God that my printer is working, thank God that they didn’t forget to change the toilet paper, thank God that my car is working again. Guatemalans automatically thank God for everything, it’s completely woven into the language. God is overall a lot more present in this country. That doesn’t mean the people really believe in God, but it’s such a part of the culture that everyone will probably say they’re Christian. The fun thing is that small everyday things also have something Christian. Don’t be surprised if you get out of the house one morning, go to the Dios es mi Esperanza-hairdresser, take your car to the Cristo mi Fortaleza-garage and end up in a little restaurant called Jesús, el ancla de mi vida. I think it’s cool, but given the extremely high crime rate here, I am not very convinced of the Christian lifestyle of a lot of Guatemalan people.
7. Unfinished buildings
Especially in the rural areas you can see a lot of unfinished buildings. There are steal bars sticking out of roofs everywhere. This actually has a logical reason, but it looks a little weird. The owners of these houses are most likely waiting for a good harvest or until their children send money from the States so they can add up another story. And luckily for them, the government doesn’t give a damn about how someone’s house looks like.
The building on the right looks like a lot of houses here in the city. The bars on the roof indicate that the family is waiting for money to add a second story.
6. Eating bread with every dish, but not as a lunch
Seriously, the people here think it’s weird that I love eating peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, but they eat bread with almost every meal. If they eat any dish that has a bit of sauce, there’s bread. If they eat eggs, there’s bread. If they eat soup, there’s bread. If they eat spaghetti, there’s bread. Even if they eat broccoli, there’s bread! But taking bread with peanutbutter to the office to eat as lunch? Nah, that’s weird.
5. Drinking soda from a bag
Everything is cheaper when you buy it in a bag here. When I went on the exhausting trip to Las Conchas, I wanted to buy a coke in the local store. Eduardo asked me if I wanted it in a bag or a bottle. A bottle of course, duh. “Are you sure, because then you have to pay for the bottle too ánd you have to drink it here because you have to return the bottle.” Wait, what? Turns out you have to pay taxes for bottles and return them. And sometimes they don’t even give you the bottle, they just poor it in a bag right away. The system is the same in the Netherlands, but we don’t get to chose between a bottle or a bag. So there we were, drinking coke from a little plastic bag with a straw. They don’t only sell soda in bags, no, everything. Yoghurt, water, guacamole, milk, beans, juice, everything.
4. Greeting everyone with a kiss
I am kind of used to this strange little habit, but at first I ended up in a lot of akward situations. Guatemalans greet each other with one kiss on the cheek, even strangers like me. For Dutch people this can be way too intimate, especially when you have no clue who this person is. I still don’t like to do it, but it’s a good thing that I now know this can happen when I meet new people. I always try to take an obvious distance from someone so they think I am a clueless foreigner, but I just don’t want to kiss them. It’s just too intimate. But I try to slowly adjust myself to this habit because it’s a part of the culture. Though I am really relieved that we don’t do this in the Netherlands! Can you imagine, kopkluiven with your best friends or even your boss? Akward!
3. Doing dishes Guatemalan style
First of all: no hot water. I have never done my dishes with hot water here, ever. The dish washing soap is also a funny thing, because nobody uses liquid soap. They all use some sort of soap paste from a little plastic bucket from the brand Axion. Another challenging thing here in Guatemala is the sink, because the mayority of the houses here don’t have the normal sinks as we know them, but something they call a pila. This a big, cement sink that has three different parts: the middle part contains clean water, on the left side you store the dirty dishes and wash them and on the right side you rinse the soapy plates with clean water. It’s always a challenge to remember which part is used for which stage of the dish washing proces.
One of the pilas at the school where I work. Left is where you wash things, the center is for clean water and the right side is to rinse your plates or clothes.
2. “Muchas gracias.” “Buen provecho.”
After every meal, Guatemalans thank the people that are still at the table by saying muchas gracias. The people at the table respond with buen provecho, which is translated to enjoy your meal. Which always sounds crazy to me, because why would you wish someone a good meal when that person has already finished eating? I still don’t get it, but at least I know now that I have to thank my fellow eaters for sharing this wonderful meal with me. But the confusing thing is that when you walk into the comedor, the dining area, you say buen provecho to wish the people that are already eating a good meal. Then they say muchas gracias. Then you eat. Then you leave and now YOU are the one that says muchas gracias and then all the other people say buen provecho back. Confusing, right?
1. Throwing toilet paper in a trash can
In the bathroom at our lovely office there’s a sign that says por favor, no tirar los papeles en el baño. Please don’t throw the toilet paper in the toilet. The first time I went to Guatemala I had a really hard time to adjust to this habit. Here in Guatemala the disposal system is not so advanced, so it is better to not flush the toilet paper through the toilet. That means you always have to throw the paper in a trash can next to it. That might sounds disgusting and well… it is. When the trash can is open you can basically see everyone’s poop just chilling there. It is a little bit embarrassing to admit on this blog, but I’ve had a couple times that I had to pick my paper out of the toilet to put it in the trash can. (Yeah, dude, chill, I washed my hands, okay?) Because if the toilet gets clogged, I don’t want to be the one that’s responsible for that. They know how and where to find you and I don’t want to end up crubbing floors with the gang members in prison. So, always turn your brain on when you poop, otherwise you will end up in some shitty situations (get it?).
There are more things here that are ‘weird’ to me, but since I’ve been here for almost two months, a lot of these are slightly starting to feel normal to me.