Alcohol and Sensitivity in Latin America

A FB friend shared this:

Movie “Hangover” is titled / advertised in Argentina: “Que Paso Ayer?” which literally means, “What happened yesterday?” Subtle difference.

I commented:

The word for ‘hangover’ is different in almost every Spanish-speaking country.

Mexico: estar crudo
Peru: tener resaca / estar resaquiado
Colombia: tener guayabo / estar enguayabado

Those are just the regional variations I’ve learned. Spanish is like that. Pain in the ass if you ask me.

Another guy commented:

Or it simply could be that they found the word “hangover” offensive as a title and changed it so that it still reflected the theme of the movie.

I’m not going to argue on a friend’s Facebook update. But how many ways is he wrong? Answer: two. First, alcohol is not a controversial subject in Latin America. Second, Latin Americans’ brand of sensitivity is not oriented toward subjects like that.

Latin America is different from the States in this respect, and probably extreme. Alcohol doesn’t have a negative stigma at all. There was never a prohibition. People drink at a younger age – by law and social norms.

People get real drunk. People get fucked up. Yes, people in the States also get fucked up. But since moving down here, I’ve seen things I’ve never seen back home.

My first month in Arequipa I was riding in a taxi down a busy sidestreet. Traffic was slowed almost to a stop. Some drunk walked in front of our car and the driver hit the brakes. The drunk fell on the hood. Pushing up and balancing himself with his hands, he continued on. Nobody in the taxi mentioned it.

Another night my basketball coach gave me a ride home. Heading up Goyeneche we saw somebody trying to pick up his drunk friend and carry him to the sidewalk. The drunk had passed out in the middle of a 3-lane, one-way thoroughfare where cars haul ass at 40 mph. The guy was laid out in the middle of Lanes 1 & 2. Coach easily swerved clear. He continued his point on my consistent foul trouble, not even mentioning the drunk he just avoided.

One day I was passing through Plaza las Americas in Arequipa. An indigenous-looking drunk came up to me with an ear-to-ear grin. We shook hands. He had like three teeth. He held a clear, un-labelled bottle of clear liquid. I don’t remember the name, but I’ve heard it’s cheap, harsh, bathtub gin they drink in Peru. We parted ways and he stumbled off.

Aside from street drunks, educated young people get drunk in ways I don’t see in the States. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen dudes drink themselves to vomiting within an hour. They take down an entire glass of hard liquor, then do it again!

Here’s a popular drinking song from Peru, sung by a 10 year-old girl!

“Cerveza, Cerveza” by Wendy Sulca

In Colombia degenerating into a professional drunk is common. They’re all over, usually leaning against a wall with their hand out. I’ve seen big piles of puke on buses several times. Normal people don’t get mad about it. They dismiss it: “Es un borracho.” He’s a drunk – in the same tone as if saying it were raining outside.

Second point, Latin sensitivity. Here’s a case of a Latin novel mis-translated to be less offensive in the gringo market. Gabriel Garcia Marquez chose Memoria de mis putas tristes for the title of his last novella. The English edition was called Memories of My Melancholy Whores, which is a little less harsh than the literal translation: Memories of My Sad Whores.

In Latin culture, ideas or content of messages aren’t as offensive as the way the messages are delivered. I offended Peruvians a couple times in the way I’d give them a pen or pencil, dropping it on the desk in front of them. Or people being too blunt or direct can come off rude.

Another example regards fat people. In Gringolandia you’re not supposed to make fat people feel bad about their fatness. In Latin America fat guys are reminded of their fatness all their lives. If you’re fat in Latin America, your nickname is ‘Gordo‘. I’ve met so many Gordos that when I meet a group of guys, I already know the fat one’s name. You’ll not only be called Gordo (Fat Boy) as your nickname, you’ll also be referred to in the third-person as ‘el gordo’ (the fat boy).

One day I was talking to a Peruvian ex about hooking her friend up with a fat Peruvian friend of mine. She replied “Creo que a ella no le gustan los gorditos.” I don’t think she likes FATTIES, without a trace of malice in her voice.

I went to Girardot with my buddy Oscar, who’s really fat. If you’re really fat, you might get it worse than Gordo. We went swimming and all his cousins called him ‘Free Willy’ or just ‘Willy’.

Recently there was a verbal spat between Peruvian president Alan Garcia and Bolivian president Evo Morales. Responding to a question about some Peruvian policy, Morales replied that obesity is a mental illness. He thinks obese people are mentally ill. He explained that Alan Garcia is quite fat, and that his ideas are warped by this mental illness. These are heads of state!

Brazilian president Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva is famous for making statements with sexual innuendos. He once said to George W. Bush they need to find the ‘g-spot in their negotiations’.

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has a weekly, hours-long television show. He often lambasts his cabinet, seated in the front row on national television. Watch this Frontline documentary, “The Hugo Chavez Show” (features some of his public hazing). There’s also this video of Chavez insulting Bush for no less than 3 1/2 minutes:

Sexual harassment is, in the States, very sensitive, very taboo. In Peru I saw guys grab female coworkers. With the female fighting and turning her head away, he’d force her head toward his and kiss her on the lips. No big deal.

I worked as a server and bartender in college. Our kitchen was all Mexicans born and raised in Mexico (not Americanized). The restaurant hired a little retarded guy to bus tables part-time. A social organization wanted him to learn to do things, earn money, and have somewhere to go every day. Management agreed and we had a slightly handicapped busboy from the ghetto for a while.

The Mexicans started fucking with him the first day. They threw fries at him. The dishwasher would spray him with the hose. If he tried to confront them, they would square up to fight, picking up cutting knives and whatnot, all the while laughing their asses off. These were grown men – most of whom have a handful of kids.

In Latin culture, alcohol isn’t a sensitive subject. There aren’t many sensitive subjects at all.

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  1. I would think you’d not have much trouble adjusting… jaja “I love retards!” “isn’t that un-pc?” “sure, but they’re so cute!” name the movie.


  2. I’m sorry, hhhhh.

    But I can’t name it because that movie’s not worth naming. In fact, I hated almost every flick those guys did. Only two didn’t suck.

    (however, that part was the one funny part)


  3. yet i find it funny how latinos especially peruvians describe themselves as being so “conservative”. most the girls aren’t in my opinion… they all like sex just like a gringa and the men are far worse. Peruvians are conservative? Maybe they’re great-grandparents are. but times have changed long ago. I know people who were pregnant at 14, 15 and some of this occured 10 years ago… times have really changed and peru would rather keep their heads in their a**. lol anyways…


  4. I have a girlfriend who is Peruvian. I think that people in Peru can be conservative with the traditions they follow, especially religious ones. I would argue that sex is a natural thing that will happen anywhere regardless. As for people keeping heads in their ass, it is rather the institutions like the Catholic Church that help keep people ignorant about sexual education and can help explain why a lot of young women end up pregnant. It seems that Matthew’s argument would encompass all Peruvian women, which is untrue. There is a subsection I’ve encountered, the bricheras, who are on the lookout for gringos and stuff like that would apply. Otherwise people have sex, we’ve got hormones and sexual organs for a reason. It’s just that education and machismo have been geared against women learning about the diverse options that contraceptives offer and that’s why many end up pregnant. My girlfriend’s family is “conservative” but they have no problem with the fact we live together with all of its corollaries. Next time such a criticism is made, it would be nice if it were more specific and not all-encompassing.


  5. By the way, I used to be a sympathizer of Chavez. Now I think he’s an idiot personally with his suppression of the freedom of the press, but he sure can entertain and make jokes.


  6. This post reminds me of two things pertaining to cultures’ sensitivities:

    First, preceding the 2008 Olympics I was watching the Today show for some reason. They were making a big deal of a photo of Argentinian olympians grinning ear to ear while pulling the corners of their eyes back to immitate the oriental eye shape. I think maybe five minutes of air time was spent proclaiming how “horribly wrong” this was. I am guessing nobody in China or Argentina really cared.

    Second involves a group of female mainland Chinese classmates of mine. One is a little overweight and is openly called “Hippo”. Somehow I don’t think that nickname would fly between American women.

    I suspect that- besides Muslims who riot because of cartoons- Americans are more sensitive than most. Approval of the author’s thesis.


  7. Wow. I’m the one who made that comment. I agree need to be a little more aware of cultures, especially before making statements like that. But anyway, thanks for sharing this; it was definitely insightful.


  8. Thanks for writing out this post. I’ve been in Asia for a while now and have seen some really mind-boggling cultural differences, but once you get accustomed to them, it seems perfectly normal. Its going to be rather difficult returning to the States briefly without offending everyone about everything


  9. almost all peruvians I have met say that americans are more liberal, and in our conversations they refer to the fact that we are more liberal in our sexual relations in how young we start, with how many women, if we are in love or not, etc etc. they generally make it all encompassing and generally say that they are catholic and because of that they are not like us gringos. Then when they are with they’re family they pretend to be angels. Sometimes the family will know the boyfriend but not often. They cannot usually bring boyfriends home. They end up in a hotel, a car or where ever they can get it on. They generally make it all encompassing from the conversations I’ve had.


  10. Yeh… that pretty much sounds like my country (Peru). BTW, resaca is not just the way we say hangover in Peru. It is the standard word in Spanish. The film could well have been called “La Resaca” (note how it was called in Spain).


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