¿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: Bajando Into Insanity

December 2009: Bajando Into Insanity

Up and down, up and down, I will lead them up and down. -Act III scene ii, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

In Xela, you will notice that nobody knows where anything actually is.  Folks are quick to tell you what something is near: “la casa está por el centro” (the house is near the center)—but nobody knows with certainty how to find it.  This is somewhat analogous to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle which states that you can never be certain exactly where an electron is in relation to an atom.  Much in the same vein, you can never be sure where a building is in Xela.

Xela is the easiest town to navigate ever; to wit: 98% of everything is either a calle or an avenida; in numerological order, and counts up or down to well-known streets.  Theoretically, given an address you should be able to find it: 7 Calle 11-14, Zona 1 means that the house is on 7th street, between 11th and 12th avenues, on the even side of the street in Zone 1.  If you can count to 20 without taking off your socks and shoes you should be able to find your way around.

And yet…roughly half of my friends only know their address when they are looking at the electric bill that they have stuck on their refrigerator and use the following terms to give directions.  A decoding follows for the uninformed traveler:

A la vuelta: This means “around the corner” – from somewhere.   Unfortunately, intersections generally have four corners, making this distinction quite useless.  In general when someone says “a la vuelta” they have no clue where you are going.  Strategy: Go to the main landmark and ask from there.

Subiendo/bajando: “Walking uphill” and “walking downhill”, respectively.  Unfortunately, this is not helpful because Xela is not built on the edge of a cliff.  Were it to be built on the edge of a cliff there would only be one bajando.  However, there are multiple ways to “bajar” from a high point.  Strategy: Figure out where the point of origin to subir/bajar is.  Start in that point.

Por/A la par: “Nearby”.  “A la par” means closer than “por”.  Most quetzaltecos only know where 4 types of things are: parks, statues, shopping centers and McDonald’s (which are called Mac or “Mac-doh-naz”).  Expect to be guided to one of those.  Strategy: Familiarize yourself with all McDonald’s in town.

Ultimately, you will need a map or someone who knows where they are going or else you will get lost and nobody will be able to help you.  Good luck.

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