Communicating In “Latin American”
By June Summers
Hurdle the language barrier by learning Latin American hand and voice signals. These vary from one culture to another. The following are distinctly Latino:
The Wagging Finger–is the way to say no, definitely and finally. No one questions this dignified and simple way of saying “No.” Just move the index finger of either hand from right to left.
The wig-wag of the finger is an important part of Latino everyday life. The Latino women have developed it into a fine art as they move their index finger independently from the rest of the hand.
Everywhere you go, on the street, in stores and markets, you see the wig-wag. Stopped for a red traffic light, the lady behind the car window wig-wags at an approaching salesman. Through street windows at home, on the plaza, anywhere those super-salesmen abound, you will find wigwagging. Have you wig-wagged today? If you haven’t tried it yet, do so! You’ll like it.
PSSST! In bygone days, on the American stage and in class B movies, the villain identified himself when he surreptitiously summoned the heroine thusly.
But in Latin America, the “Pssst” is a polite way of saying, “Come here, please.” You can use it at football games to summon the torta (sandwich) man, at restaurants to get the waiter’s attention, or, from your window to bring the scissor grinder to your door, “Pssst!” always gets the attention of the person wanted and no one else pays attention. Arm Signals—to hail a bus or taxi to a stop, raise your arm out at a 45 degree angle from your body. You can stand on your head, or do the funky chicken until you’re blue in the face but that is the only signal they respond to.
Thumping Signals—One thump means “Go!”, two thumps means “Whoa!” Thumping is used in many ways to help drivers of trucks and buses as they maneuver in, out, back, and through traffic and tight places. The thumping may be done by driver’s helper from a runway on the back of the truck, to guide him in backing up. Or, in a crowded passenger bus, passengers in the rear may guide the driver in the same way.
Ahorita—means right now! It is the smallest length of time in which anything can be done and is usually accompanied by a hand signal. This is done by holding the thumb and forefinger with a space of about one inch between them. The space may vary as the shortest length of time expands and contracts.
This hand signal is widely used by drivers in situations on narrow streets. The driver in front of you will stop and give the sign to the car behind him. The space between the thumb and forefinger depends on how long he intends to hold up traffic while he goes about his business of unloading passengers or cargo.
The driver’s ahorita may last from one to five minutes and sometimes, he turns a deaf ear to the wild horn-blowing behind him. While the policia understands his signal, other drivers toot and toot, and the tooting has a meaning all of its own. Depending on the consecutive number of toots, a whole dictionary of swear words can be recited. A five-toot is the worst of all Spanish oaths-and where else in the world can you find cursing more colorful!
Mañana – a courteous way of never saying “no” without committing oneself to say “yes.” An example:
“When will you be back to clean the tinaco (water tank), Hilarioso?”
Hilarioso shows up a week later. He works a couple of hours and promises to return mañana or en la mañana (tomorrow in the morning), or, if that proves impossible, pasado mañana (the day after tomorrow).
The reasons for dalliance are many. Half of the Latino calendar is marked with fiestas. And fiestas come first. There are birthdays, Saints’ days, national holidays, pueblo holidays. Lots of fiestas and they always come first!
Mi casa es su casa— “My house is your house” is the ultimate Latin courtesy. It should not be taken literally, however. Don’t pack your suitcase and expect to move in.
This expression is used so automatically it is practically devoid of meaning, except to convey a feeling that you are welcome. Latin courtesy is a highly refined art, of which exaggeration is a part.
For example, shaking hands involves a few nice exchanges: buenos dias in the morning, buenas tardes until dark, buenas noches after dark. Como esta usted? (How are you?) Other concerns about your health start off even business conversations. There is no hurry in Latin America.
The Latin abrazo (embrace) is performed every time you meet. The ladies touch cheeks while giving a small abrazo. Men, however, will give a very hearty abrazo and thump each other with great gusto each time they meet. This act between men is not considered effeminate; it shows real feeling.
Smiles—the face of Latin America is a happy one. The best way to show your goodwill is to smile. You’ll always get a big one back. Gracias—this Spanish word for “Thank you” comes from the heart. Muchas gracias, or many thanks comes first. Muchisimas gracias, “Thanks a great deal” is next. Finally, mil gracias or a thousand thanks. When it is spoken, notice the warm light in the Mexican’s eyes. You have a friendship that will last forever.
Adios—means more than good-bye. This customary Spanish word for “good-bye” means “Go with God.” Don’t journey on by yourself. Walk with God. The original Spanish phrase for “Go with God” was shortened to “Adios.” You will hear it in passing, instead of hola, hello. It is a sincere wish that all goes well with you until you meet again.
And so I’ll close this piece by saying ADIOS!
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