As I have lived in Xela for all of my years here in Guatemala, I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but I can say that Xela (for the most part) is a very conservative city. As a foreigner here, you may be asked what your religion is, and if you are of “age”, if you have a spouse and WHERE is he/she. While the locals are used to many foreigners coming and studying Spanish here, of course their perspective and their questions come from their own understanding and culture. They may not understand that you as a traveler who is 30 years of age don’t have a spouse…what could be wrong with you? Or if you were to answer that your religion is Buddhism (or anything else that is not Catholic or Protestant), you may receive a funny look, perhaps even a public prayer.
I feel that visiting and living a foreign country demands an understanding of the culture…or at the very least a RESPECT for the “possible” culture. Some things may seem obvious…don’t take close-up pictures of the locals without permission. But other things may be more subtle. For example, I have seen too many University age female students come to Xela for projects/to study and stroll through the park wearing (very short) athletic shorts and tiny tank tops. Although this may be appropriate day wear in other cultures, it isn’t here. In my time working at the Black Cat, I even had the chance to hear a hostel guest say, “I can’t believe what that man said to me in the street this afternoon!!”…all while wearing a sundress the size of a hand towel.
Of course, it may be difficult to know what you should or shouldn’t do/wear/say in a new culture. But the best bet (for any country you visit)…err on the side of conservative behavior and you can’t go wrong.
Photo by guest contributor Sergio Dominguez, text by Luna McCarthy.