December 18, 2008

You're Not in Kansas Anymore, Toto

We're learning that Paraguay is a little quirky. It's kinda like when someone from England moves to the deep south, and even though everyone's speaking English, it's a whole new world of English in Macedonia, SC than in London, England. Here are some differences unique to Paraguay that we've noticed: (DISCLAIMER: I'm new here, so don't take me to task if this isn't completely accurate, and these learnings reflect life out in the country, 2 hours from "big city" life...)

GREETINGS: In the states, you shake hands. In some South American countries, you give a quick kiss on the left cheek. In Paraguay, you kiss both cheeks, leaning to your left first, then your right. I haven't seen men do this to other men, but all women do, whether with another woman or a man. Children always kiss both cheeks, also. Kinda nice. :) The joke here is that this tradition started because when a man needs to relieve himself (go pee-pee), he just does that wherever... side of the road, in the field, around the corner of the store. So the no one wants to shake hands with men who don't wash them after taking care of their business.

BEANS: You may think that just because your Spanish dictionary says "frijoles" that you should try that word, too, but don't be fooled! The word here is "porotos," and if you try frijoles on them, they give you the "Are you speaking English now?" look.

UMBRELLA: Despite the fact that there is rain here, more often the umbrella is used to block the sun. Therefore, the name parasol (literally "for sun") is used more often than paragua (for rain). They do at least know what a paragua is, but it's a clear indicator that "you're not from 'round here" if you use that term.

BANANA: Just say banana. Not platano. Just plain old banana.

GUARANI: Since most everyone in the country speaks Guarani, you'll hear all sorts of mixed conversations, where words from both languages are used. They tell me that when the Guarani word is particularly long or difficult to say, they just use the Spanish word instead. Sometimes there's no rhyme or reason to it. I guess since the typical Paraguayan can speak both languages, they just throw it all in a blender and see what comes out. (Actually, away from the city in the "interior" region, you find many who don't speak any Spanish and ONLY know Guarani.)

SPANISH: You hardly ever hear the word "espaƱol" here. When someone comments on their surprise that we speak Spanish, or that the girls understand and respond appropriately, they always say, "Oh, you know CASTELLANO." It seems Spanish belongs to Spain and Castellano belongs to Latin America. Anyway, it's a compliment. :)

YOU: I've never seen this until here, but they hardly use the Spanish word for "you" singular. So when I'm in everyday conversation with someone, I'd normally say, "Tu tocas la guitarra bien." (You play the guitar well.) In Paraguay, I'd say, "VOS tocas la guitarra bien." It took me forever to figure this out, and I still don't use it as comfortably as I'd like to. The funny thing is that this whole vos thing is a real live proper word, but it's not conjugated correctly here. Instead of the verb that should go with it, just use the form of the verb you'd normally use with "tu," except when you're saying, "You are..." Like, if I want to say "You are pretty," I'd not say "Tu eres linda," or even "Vos eres linda," but "Vos sos linda." AAA! Confused yet? Me, too. Thankfully, they don't laugh when I still use TU, it's just one more way of proving I'm "not from 'round here."

FORMALITIES: I drilled it into my head to use the "usted" form of you in Peru, because it's a term of respect, used when you are speaking to someone you don't really know, an elder, or someone in a high position such as your boss. Here, I tried that at what seemed like appropriate moments and was told I was being offensive for being TOO polite. Snobby was the connotation, I believe. So we're back to tu and vos and I'm relearning how to speak to older people in what seems like a disrespectful way to me.

There are a trillion more little idiosyncrasies we're learning each day, but it makes for a country with its own distint, at times strange, personality and a strong sense of uniqueness. We fit right in.


  1. Ahhh! So many things to learn!

  2. Oh wow, thanks for sharing! You'll get the hang of it. =) Gonna shoot ya an email in alittle bit in case you get this first.

  3. The whole vos things is confusing! And they say their 'r's really hard here too.

  4. You are sooo right. The "vos" thing was so confusing at first. But in the long run it makes life easier. I don't know why they never teach the vos conjugation in any school here in the US or any spanish book because come to find out, all of my Guatemalan and Nicaraguan friends say vos too. :)

  5. Yeah, vos. They never ever used tu in Guatemala either. I used vos some, but am still not comfortable with it. How would they tell a child to sit? In Guate, the say SentAte vos instead of the sientate I had known before living there. How are the commands in Paraguay? I am glad that I have some exposure to the vos, but I still have a lot of work to be comfortable with it. Thanks for these posts! They are giving me such insight already.


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