How to Travel Gringo Lite

I learned a lot about myself when I studied in Spain. Perhaps more importantly on the world scale, I learned how to do business in Spanish and Latin cultures. My friend Don José was one of the best teachers on the subject. He was the life’s blood of the Toledo Spanish program; head server, concierge, and doorman. If in the morning I went to ask him if I had letters without greeting him first, he’d make me start over. “Buenos días, señorita,” he’d say, prompting me like a parent of a toddler. If I didn’t take the hint, he’d repeat himself until I followed suit, “Buenos días, don José.” He’d nod and smile, giving me the okay to proceed with my request. Greeting before request or demand, check.

Later, I found that friendly salutations improved communication with store clerks, bartenders, waiters, and park rangers in Latin America too. After noon, I’d use Buenas tardes, and in the evening Buenas noches. In Spain and Latin America, people use titles more than we do in the northern United States; señor (Sir), señorita (Miss), señora (Madam). If you’re a southerner, your sir/ma’am instincts will be right on. When I was at a restaurant, a good afternoon greeting to a male server would be Buenas tardes, señor. Or, for example, if I entered a store at 11 am to look for souvenirs and the clerk was a woman, I’d say, “Buenos días, señorita.” That way I’d show courtesy, and good judgment of her apparent age. If she had her kids helping her in the shop, I’d call her “señora.”

The third set of vocabulary to complete the portrait of graciousness for a Spanish speaking country is please (por favor) and thank you (gracias). Using these platinum words gets better service every time.

Writing this post is a friendly reminder to myself as I prepare to travel. Next week I go to Cozumel, Mexico with my family for spring break. In 30 years of travel in Latin America, I’ve found it’s okay to be a gringo (gringa in my case), as long as I don’t act like one. I aim to be friendly, appreciative, patient and polite. After all, I am a guest in Mexico, not an invader. ; )

Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco! Olé!  –Rebecca


Fourth of July papel picado flags   Photo credit: Rebecca Cuningham
Rebecca Cuningham

9 thoughts on “How to Travel Gringo Lite

  1. Great advice and timely for me as well, a week before my husband and I depart for Peru and Chile. Greeting people is also paramount in the Arab world where I spent many years.

    Liked by 2 people

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