Living in Nicaragua, I’ve picked up some strange habits…at least to me they are strange, but to all Nicaraguans, they are quite normal.
1. Strange gestures
a. The Lip Point In the states, we use our fingers to point. Nicaraguans use their lips. Lip pointing requires puckering up like you are going to kiss someone, and redirecting the pucker toward a person or an object you want to point out. Examples: That woman over there (lip point) is a monkey lady; I just saw a duende (lip point) climb that tree; That man (lip point) is loco.
b. The Finger Shake I love this gesture and it really works. If you are eating at a restaurant and someone comes to your table for the hundredth time and tries to sell you a whistle, or pottery, or Flintstone vitamins, put your finger out in front of you and shake it back and forth. You can add an annoying facial gesture, too. It’s the Nicaraguan gesture for “No!” Examples: Give me un dollar.(Me: finger shake); Obnoxious drunk: Buy me a drink. (Me: finger shake + annoying facial gesture)
c. The Nose Scrunch This gesture means “I don’t know what the hell you are talking about.” I’ve gotten the nose scrunch repeatedly when I try to explain something in my Spanglish. To do this gesture effectively, scrunch your upper lip to your nose, like you smell a dead mouse. Examples: Me: Where can I buy polyurethane? Nica: (nose scrunch); Me: What’s the Spanish name for hemorrhoidal cream? Nica: (nose scrunch)
2. Feel guilty about flushing toilet paper down the toilet
Nicaraguan sewer systems leave a lot to be desired. The lines to the septic tanks are tiny and most places have a sign asking you to put your toilet paper in a garbage can instead of flushing it down the toilet. I think that is gross! Sometimes, the garbage cans overflow. Sometimes there are no garbage cans and worse yet, no toilet paper. I confess! I usually forget to throw the toilet paper in a garbage can. Instead, I flush it and always feel guilty.
3. Call people and hang up, so they can call you back.
This used to annoy me, until I discovered the purpose. It’s called cheap. When I check my minutes on my phone and I only have a few minutes left, but need to have a longer conversation, I’ll call someone, hang up, and hope that they call me back. That way, they can use their minutes to return my call. Everybody does it.
4. Move closer…personal space
My personal space in the states was much wider than in Nicaragua. Nicaraguans like to get up close and personal. I mean so close that you can feel their breath on your face or your back depending on which direction you are facing. I’ve learned to get up close and personal, especially when standing in a line. Any extra space between you and another person is a personal invite for someone to squeeze in front of you.
5. Haggle all the time
Who knew that you can haggle for anything and everything in Nicaragua. It’s expected behavior. If you don’t haggle, you’re a sucker for a gringo price.
6. Wear Flip-flops for all occasions
I never wore flip-flops in the states. But, in Nicaragua, I have flip-flops for every occasion. I have my going out to feed the chickens flip-flops, my inside the house flip-flops, my shower flip-flops, and my dress-up flip-flops.
7. Sleep in the middle of the day
This is my favorite strange habit. Siestas are a necessity in the tropics. The stores close at noon, the houses are eerily quiet, and everyone snoozes for an hour or more.
8. Be politically incorrect
I have friends whose nicknames are “Gordo” (fatty), Loca (crazy), and Gordita (chubby). No one takes offense to these nicknames. It is an accepted way to identify someone. When I returned from the states last week, my neighbor called me Gordita because I usually pack on several extra pounds of good eats. I just laugh and say, “Es verdad.”
( That’s the truth.)
9. Ask, How much did it cost?
When I was in the states, I forgot about this strange habit I have and caught myself asking everyone, “How much did that cost?” Everyone asks that question in Nicaragua. Examples: My neighbor: “How much did those shoes cost? Me: Oh, they were cheap. I got them on sale. Another Nica friend: “How much did your TV cost? Me: Oh, it was cheap. I got it on sale.
10. Use AY to express anger and Ya to say you’re ready
AY. Who left the door open? YA, I’m ready to go. When Marvin erected our tall water tower, he would ask, “Listo?” Six strong men pulling on ropes would reply in unison, “YA!”
Dustin, our two-year old neighbor ate a magnet off my refrigerator. “AY!”, I responded. Poor baby. I scared him and he started to cry. But, at least he spit out my refrigerator magnet.
11. Applaud when the plane lands
I caught myself clapping when our plane landed in Nicaragua. I remember the first time I heard a plane full of Nicaraguans applaud a landing. It was so funny! But, now it’s second nature for me to join in the applause.
12. Drink coconut water for every ailment.
Have diarrhea? Drink coconut water. Coming down with a cold? Drink coconut water. Tired? Yep! Coconut water does the trick. Nicaraguans say they have coconut water running through their veins. I believe them.
When Ben Linder built a small hydroelectric plant for a rural village in Northern Nicaragua, he had to remind them constantly not to use their irons all at the same time or it would overload the system. Nicaraguans love their planchas. They can go without running water, a flush toilet, and a refrigerator, but they must have their irons. Now, I’ve picked up their strange habit of ironing everything. Maybe it is because the clothes never dry in the rainy season, and an iron helps to keep damp clothes from molding.
14. Shake shoes, towels, hammocks to kick out scorpions and spiders
I have become a constant shaker. I don’t think an explanation is necessary, especially after I describe the huge, hairy tarantula that I shook out of the hammock recently.
15. Always have the correct change and make sure the dollar bills are clean without any marks.
Before I left the states, I exchanged old, ink-stained, and slightly ripped dollar bills for new ones. No one in Nicaragua accepts dollar bills that have even a tiny mark or miniscule rip. I also made sure that I had small bills of córdobas for my trip back to Ometepe Island. Just try giving a Nicaraguan a 500 cordoba bill and asking for change. It ain’t gonna happen.
16. If someone asks for your address, use vivid directions including something that isn’t there anymore
There are no street names or house numbers in Nicaragua. Recently, I had to order a new remote control for my Sky TV. They are going to deliver it to my house. When they asked for directions, I responded, Two kilometers south of Moyogalpa, on the beach near where the giant tree fell down 3 years ago, in the community of La Paloma, past Puesta Del Sol.