¿Qué Onda Vos? A Series on Speaking Guatemalan Spanish

“¿Qué onda vos?” is XelaWho’s a monthly guide to speaking Spanish Guatemalan style. This month’s topic: Guatemalan cell-phone etiquette by James Gray.

Congratulations! You’ve invested in a new Claro, Movistar or Tigo cell phone, done your recarga electronica on a día triple and you are now so ready to platicar like a local. Feeling settled and confidently quetzalteco, you’ve got a bucket of saldo to burn. Patience, grasshopper…before drag racing on the cellular superhighway, take heed of some rules to keep you from crashing and burning out there in chapinlandia.

When Guatemalans want to talk with you, they want to talk with you NOW! Don’t be surprised if your Guatemalan friends call you 6-7 times in the course of 10 minutes because you are expected to drop everything and answer the phone – y ahorita! Puchica! Which leads us to a related rule…

Guatemalans don’t leave voice mails (nor will they listen to yours). If a caller is in your phone directory, naturally you’ll know who it is. But if not, the burden is now on you to call back (again, immediately) and do a Dr. Clouseau to determine who is this absolute stranger is. Even the most distant of desconocidos won’t give leave you a message with the tiniest clue of who they are, what they want or how urgent is the matter. Someone leaves a trace on your caller ID and the ball is in your court, baby!

On the flip side, don’t bother leaving a voice mail, because the recipient will likely ignore it.

Call-back guilt. The longer you wait to return a call, the more likely you are to experience call-back guilt. The most common first words you’ll hear, in a tone of hurt feelings, are: “I’ve been calling you!” Then you have to explain what kept you away from your phone and how important this person is to you. “Mi amiga linda, I’m so sorry, but I had to hacer pipi sooooo bad que yo iba a explotar” might work. Sleeping or talking with someone else are lame-ass excuses and will assuage zero guilt. Have your list of acceptable excuses ready. (Along the lines of half of head lopped off in multiple chicken bus collision…)

Most calls are collect calls. 7 times out of 10, the caller will run out of saldo within a few minutes of calling you. This is because most Guatemalans are compulsive, daily Q10 rechargers, leaving them just enough saldo to call you but not have a full conversation. Therefore, most calls are in practice collect calls since you’ll end up paying for most of it.

And finally, for you guys. If you get a Guatemalan girlfriend, your cell phone will be your love barometer. Don’t be surprised to hear “Can I see your phone?” As such, it is wise to erase all traces of amigas in your contact list and call log. Otherwise, she will do it for you. You’ll wonder how the heck she pulled it off. Good luck out there!

Editor’s note: This month we’re bending categories a bit, with “Qué onda vos” focusing on a cultural aspect rather than a linguistic one. Back next month with more of the latter.

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