For this week’s culture lesson, we will cover the best ways to get around in Latin America. When you ask people for directions in a Latin American country, if they know where your destination is, you are in luck and they will give you directions much like those found in the “Locations” section of our Complete Spanish Course. However, if they don’t know, they usually will not let you know that they don’t know. They will instead say, “Está por allí” or, in English, “It’s over there.” Then they will usually wave their arm and point to some indefinite place. If this happens to you, it should be a quick red flag that the person is not quite sure where the place is. If this happens and especially if you’re on foot, be sure to ask at least 3 to 4 people where the place is as you get closer to your destination; eventually you’ll get there. I cannot tell you how many times this happened to me when I lived in Latin America.
Like the U.S., where many of us men do not want to stop and ask for directions (it’s kind of a pride thing because we’d have to admit that we really didn’t know where we were going), in Latin America many men act similarly and don’t want to admit that they don’t know where a certain destination is. Of course, in both cultures, there are woman that do the same thing, but generally us men are the guiltiest.
Now back to our original scenario. Let’s say that you want show off your newly acquired Spanish, and ask where the “Vásquez Building” is, so you say, “¿Dónde está el edificio Vasquez?” And, let’s say that the person knows precisely where it is and rattles off some long description in Spanish and you have no idea what they said. What should you do?
I just talked to a neighbor last week who had an experience just like that. She was in Latin America with her boss representing an adoption agency last month. They had to get to a certain building and she said, “¿Dónde está . . .” Her boss was so impressed that she knew Spanish, and after a lengthy description, the boss said, “Well, what did he say?” She said, “I have NO idea!”; they both laughed. She ended up calling me last week and now wants to purchase our course which has 13 major conversation sections, including a great locations section, so she can communicate better in Spanish and work through almost any situation.
Side Note: In Latin American miles are not used when speaking about directions or distances. Instead of miles, kilometers are used. For your information, one mile equals approximately 1.6 kilometers. So, if you drive 30 miles, which would be equivalent to 48 kilometers. And, if you drive at 65 miles per hour that is the same as 104 kilometers per hour!
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