June 17, 2007


Hondurans in storeYou won't see any smiles here

I read a lot about Honduras and it was interesting to me, having spent most of my time in La Ceiba, that many people speak of the friendliness of the Honduran people. In my personal life, meeting neighbors or friends of friends, I have found that to be mostly true, but in the commercial world of La Ceiba (banks, stores, restaurants, etc.), I have found mostly the opposite.

You might assume that my experience was because I'm a gringa, except that El Jefe is a Honduran from this area, and I often see him being treated even more rudely for no apparent reason. El Jefe is one of the most courteous, friendly, and considerate people I've ever known and obviously he knows the culture better than I do.

I'm not referring to situations where you have a problem or are asking for something special or some special treatment. I'm just referring to going into a store to try to give them some money for something they have on hand for sale, going into a restaurant to order something off the menu, or going to a bank to make a simple withdrawal. For absolutely no apparent reason, many clerks and waiters seem to be very unhappy that you are there.

La Ceiba street sceneAt least this part of Honduras (north coast, La Ceiba in particular) is known for its rudeness, which is interesting since one goal of the country, and especially La Ceiba, is to become a tourist destination. When I first visited La Ceiba as a tourist, I found it amusing. Living here and dealing with it on a weekly basis while shopping or going to the bank or restaurants, it becomes less amusing.

Interestingly, I have shopped and gone to restaurants in the big cities of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro and for the most part, found the service to be good or at least average. Store employees seem to appreciate your business a little bit more. Maybe they work on commissions.

I would think that backpackers would be likely to be the least demanding of tourists, wouldn't you? At least less demanding than those who are used to luxury travel. The PassPlanet backpackers guide shows these country-wide ratings:

The Shopkeepers' attitude (24 Backpackers rated it 12.33 out of 20)

There are two worlds here : the north coast with its pushy salesperson and rather unsmiling shopkeepers and the rest of the country, more relaxed and welcoming. As a whole, shopping remains a pleasant enough experience.

The local people's attitude (24 Backpackers rated it 15.00 out of 20)

The way you will appreciate the local people will depend of two factors :where you are and what gender you belong to. Female travelers report frequent sexual harassment and weird looks from the local, especially on the north coast. I also noticed a difference of behavior there : less friendly, less relaxed, less eager to talk. It remained ok but I for sure enjoyed the countryside's hospitality more.

And let's not say it is a cultural difference, because it is just the opposite. Central American people are more known for taking the time to exchange pleasantries than North Americans. I said in "The good, the bad, and the ugly" article that some of the words that you won't hear in La Ceiba are "thank you," I should have included "you're welcome". I still get flack for writing that. Not long ago I did a little experiment to test that theory again.

We went to several small shops that have been around forever. In each store, we were super polite and smiling. After looking at the item we wanted to see, we handed it back, smiled, and said "Gracias!" In the cases of the old stores, the clerks took the product and completely ignored us. No smile, no "de nada," no "do you want to see something else," no nothing.

In one store, the clerk didn't even look at me so I said again, brightly, "Gracias!" She looked up and stared at me for a few seconds, obviously uncomfortable, but when I didn't stop smiling or look away, she shrugged her shoulders and
finally said something like "Unh..." At that point, I couldn't help laughing. You can't drag a "de nada" (it's nothing/you're welcome) out of some of these people to save your life!

Later we went to some of the new stores and franchises. The attitudes couldn't have been more different. We heard buenos dias, thank yous, de nadas, and come back again.

I've even asked a few Hondurans about use of "de nada." Having learned that is the polite way to say "you're welcome" when learning Spanish, I was confused because I almost never heard it here. They told me that it is just that so many people are "mal educado" (ill mannered).

Some tourism-related businesses are beginning to see that this is a problem and are trying to do some employee training. Employees of some of the newer stores whose owners are from San Pedro or the Cayman Islands have a much friendlier attitude toward customers and I'm hoping that this might put some pressure on some of the other stores to demand a better attitude from their employees. Just a smile and an occasional "de nada" would go a long way toward changing this reputation.

After all, for rudeness, tourists can go to France and get better food, too. ;-)

Newer posts Older posts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...