Before you begin working your way to foreign language fluency, it helps to understand the culture behind the language you’re learning. After all, language exists to help a group of people express their ideas and beliefs. Spain is an old country with a rich history and culture. As you begin your Spanish language program, gaining a strong grasp on this history, the values, and the etiquette will help you rapidly achieve success. In particular, forming Spanish speaking friendships can be a daunting task, but once created, they last a lifetime.
Foreigners have sometimes raised concerns that it is difficult to meet people in Latin America, and that they have only a handful of acquaintances in their places of residence. However, foreigners can easily avoid such scenarios by taking the initiative of reaching out to those around them. Simple greetings of “Buenos días” or “Buenas tardes” to a neighbor, shopkeeper, or a newspaper vendor would suffice. The next step is to introduce oneself by name and at the same time ask for the locals’ names, then remember them for the next meeting. This approach goes a long way in familiarizing one with the local culture and activities and may even grant one a local nickname. Giving nicknames is popular in most Latin American countries.
In social engagements, typical European punctuality does not apply in Latin America. Turning up on time would be too early and even be embarrassing in some cases. Finding preparations in place is an awkward and any foreigner would want to avoid that as it might even ruin the element of surprise that some occasions have to offer. In most occasions, Latin Americans usually turn up at least half an hour late, whether it is a funeral, a wedding, or a christening ceremony. If one wants people to turn up at seven o’clock, inviting them for half past six would be a good idea. In a date situation, the thirty-minute rule still applies. Relaxing and not being too strict on time is one of the secrets to having a wonderful time in Latin America.
Spaniards play with words in a humorous way. Latin Americans and Spaniards have a way of tweaking people’s names to give them shorter and differently sounding names. Some of the nicknames for common Latin American names include “Memo for Guillermo,” “Pancho” or “Paso” for “Francisco,” “Lalo” for “Eduardo,” “Chuy” or “Chucho” for Jesus, “Lupe” or “Lupita” for “Guadalupe,” “Chepe” for “Jose,” “Conchita” for “Conception,” and “Cuca” for “Maria del Refugio.” The short form for some names are confusing.
Surprisingly, all Latin Americans and Spaniards have nicknames. They are given these names mostly while in school as a way of making fun of them. In some cases, the nicknames are ironic and utterly funny. A skinny guy, for instance, will be nicknamed “El Gordo,” which means “fatty.” The most handsome guy, on the other hand, might be nicknamed “El Feo,” which means an “ugly guy.”
Most times, the nicknames are literal depicting the features of the person being described. This might not augur well with US and UK citizens. For instance, the fairest girl is referred to as “La Guerita” meaning “little blondie;” girl with Amerindian characteristics is nicknamed “La Chinita,” meaning “little Chinese girl;” darkest girl called “La Negra” for black, and the slimmest girl nicknamed “La Calaca” for skeleton. The Spaniards and Latin Americans have named even the drug lords and other figures. The short Joaquin Guzman is nicknamed “El Chapo” meaning “Shorty.” Oscar Guerrero was called “El Winnie Pooh” thanks to his fearsome nature, while Amado Carrillo Fuentes was given the moniker of “El Senor de los Cielos” meaning Lord of the Skies.
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