Strange Habits I’ve Picked Up

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.

13. Iron…everything
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.

30 thoughts on “Strange Habits I’ve Picked Up

  1. Fabulous post! I love examining all the cultural differences around the world. I’ve experienced tha plane clapping but love the lip gestering concept! Hysterically funny!

  2. this is so funny…I do half of the things (all of the things) you do because I am Mexican lol I guess is a Latin thing. In mexico that is how you give directions specially in small towns, I hate to iron one thing I won’t do. I like this post because it seem you are enjoying your time there and it good to embrace the differences. Saludos

  3. “Are you, are you … really in Nicaragua? and not living next door to me in Dominican Republic,” said I wagging my finger and pointing my lips. lolz dead ringer for here!

  4. Enjoyed reading about your observations of cross-cultural communication. When I lived in the Caribbean, people would “stoopse”, sometimes in a very prolonged manner (the women were particularly good at it). Stoopsing is done by sucking air through your teeth in response to something you don’t approve of, something that’s frustrating you or making you a little angry. I actually really like doing it myself, even now 🙂

  5. This was a fun blog. It all makes sense. Ya gotta work on the toilet paper issue,Debbie. No flushy the TP. You forgot to add, Keep your machetes where you keep the flip flops. 🙂

    • How funny! I’ve been in a list kind of writing mood lately. I know, I know…no flushy the TP…gotta work on that one. I forgot about our machetes..we always keep them by the flip-flops and my red work boots. I had to put the machetes on the porch floor because we lost 2 machetes by keeping them outside the house. Actually, they weren’t lost, they were stolen. Nicaraguans love a sharp machete.

  6. Well this was fun! As for the flip-flops, oh yeah.. just beware of fire ants! ugh. And applauding the plane landing… after flying in through Panama last trip.. I understand why they’d applaud! thought the plane would shake apart! And #2… oooooooooh yeah… 🙂

      • ahhh, fire boots for fire ants.. 🙂 I only got bit once or twice, but oh my gosh, hopefully never again. My daughter though, 13 on our first trip, got bit by many when she stopped to catch her breath during a ‘water battle we had with the young people at the orphanage. Oh boy.. she didn’t feel so good for a bit after that. 😦 And you’re welcome. This was a fun post!

  7. “If someone asks for your address, use vivid directions including something that isn’t there anymore.”

    We had the same experience when cave hunting in the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks.

    Don Cuevas

  8. When I was on Ometepe, my landlord told me I was supposed to ask how much things cost by pointing at the thing in question with my index finger, and brushing my other index finger across it from bottom to tip. I was never quite comfortable with that though, so I only did it when he was in the store!

  9. How true, it’s amazing how fast we adapt. Here’s the comparison to Ecuador: No lip pout, yes on the finger shake and instead of the nose scrunch we get the vacant stare. No on numbers 2, 3, 11 and 13. But then again I really don’t know how people handle their own TP and you can tell by our clothes I don’t iron. 🙂 Everyone drinks aqua de coco here it seem except me, I really don’t like it. To be truthful it makes me gag. My hardest adaptation was the personal space, but you learn, move closer or else get moved out of the way. Here’s a couple more: everyone has a machete or two ( as I can see by your picture) and boots for the rainy season.
    Great blog . Mary

    • I hate agua de coco. Tastes like soapy water. The exception was in Zihuatanejo when we had it chilled, with a goodly slug of Tequila in it.

      Don Cuevas

    • Thanks for the comparisons. I’ve had the vacant stare before, too. Have you ever had a local try to talk to you in Spanish, but they think you’ll understand better if they talk louder? It was so funny. Once we went to the immigration department to renew our visas and a man behind me in line thought he would be helpful, and translate everything the immigration officer said to me. Except he didn’t translate it into English. He just repeated what the officer said in Spanish..only he shouted it.

      • That reminds me of an incident that happened to me. I was meeting with an electrician to get a quote and there was another guy helping at the dog shelter. When I couldn’t understand everything that the electrician was saying in Spanish the other guy translated everything to me in Spanish but slower.

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