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How to Address People in Guatemala

By Diana Pastor

In each Latin American country, there are different ways to address a person. From Mexico to Argentina, words in Spanish have different meanings… and the miscommunications that can ensue can be quite amusing. For example, in Mexico, the use of “tú” is widespread and there is nothing wrong with someone using tú when talking to another person. But, in countries like ours, if you are talking to someone of the same sex who is the social equivalent of you, using tú may be misinterpreted as a sign of homosexuality, especially if you don’t know the person you’re talking to. In Costa Rica, the use of tú is almost nonexistent, and the dominant uses are “usted” and “vos”.

In Guatemala, there are three ways in which you can address someone you are talking to. One way is using the word usted, which is mostly used when talking to strangers, people who you may not know very well or when addressing to someone who you wish to speak to more formally, and it is always used in the drafting of formal documents. Usted is also used to talk to people who are older than you, although this is not always done among Guatemalans, because everything depends on the customs that exists between families.

The tú , on the other hand it can be used with people who you’re close with. However, as mentioned above, it is best to use it from a woman to a man, or a man to a woman. Although extranjeros won’t generally be misinterpreted if they use tú in these cases, if a Guatemalan uses tú in this way it can be misinterpreted. If you’ve been using the tú with men and women, do not worry, people are accustomed to foreigners using the term a bit more loosely than a Guatemalan would.

And finally, the querido “vos” can be used in two ways. The first is to show when a person wants to establish trust and equal treatment with another person. It is very commonly used among children and young people, as well as between friends of different age ranges. However, vos can also have a different meaning behind it, such as when expressing a certain superiority over another person. Some men and women use vos when speaking to child laborers, indigenous people, and people who they assume are of a lower class than themselves. The term vos is never used with people whom they feel are of a higher social class than themselves, such as professionals or government officials.

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