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Latin American Cultural Tidbits

By Don Moore

This article was originally published in the August, 1990 issue of The Journal of the North American Shortwave Association as part of the Latin Destinations column.


Cultural Tidbits

Although North American and Latin American culture share some similar European roots, there are lots of tiny ways in which the two cultures differ. (Often, in fact, it's the U.S. that's different from the rest of the world!) These little differences may easily go unnoticed until they cause big problems.

Numbers are a good example. North Americans would say that 4.875 is smaller than 3,345. Latin Americans, however would say the opposite! Why? Because in numbers Latin Americans use the period and the comma opposite of what we do. The first number is four thousand, eight hundred, and seventy-five. The second is three and 345/100ths. This is why you will sometimes see numbers like 5,78 in Latin documents. There is no need for three places after a comma, since it represents a decimal place. Likewise, 4.35 would appear to be missing a digit in Latin America.

When written out, numbers are usually easy to translate until we get to really big numbers. An English million is a Spanish mill�n, but a billion is mil millones, or a thousand millions. A Spanish bill�n, also called a millon millones, is what we would call a trillion.

Another difference is how certain numerals are written. A Spanish 7 is distinctive in that it has a short horizontal bar across the base about half way up. This is to distinguish a 7 from a 1. A one is always written with a short diagonal lead line at the top, and never as just a straight vertical line.

Telling Time and More

Times are also written differently in Spanish, and this can have some bearing on reception reporting. Rather than using a colon between the hours and minutes, Spanish speakers usually use either a period or a comma, e.g. 4,20 or 5.10. Commas are more common than periods. The American colon is starting to be seen on occasion from my experience. There's no problem if you use the colon in your reception reports, but you may want to use a comma if you want to appear a little more culturally knowledgable.

While AM and PM are commonly used in telling time in Latin America, Latin Americans are used to using the 24 hour system for things like schedules (be they train schedules or radio ones). Again, AM/PM is fine in reception reports, but if you use the 24 hour system for PM times you will appear a little more aware of Latin culture. Of course, reception report times to small Latin American broadcasters should always be written in their local time, and never in UTC.

There are, of course, many other differences, some important to DXers, and some interesting but not so important. An example of the latter is that in Hispanic culture, Tuesday the 13th is considered a bad luck day, not Friday the 13th.

An important example is use of the word americano. People in Latin America feel they have as much right to be called Americans as do people in the U.S. The way many U.S. citizens feel we have exclusive rights to the word "American" is a strong cultural sore point. In fact, I bet most Latins would have been infuriated at one TV spot I saw in early October that said Columbus didn't really discover America because he never once landed or saw the U.S.! To Latin Americans, we are norteamericanos, or North Americans. Fortunately, that is not considered to be a slight on our canadiense or mejicano neighbors in North America! An equally used alternative is estadounidense, or, literally, United Statesian. (I have been told, however, that in Spain the term americano is always used for U.S. citizens.)

Well, amigos, it looks like we've arrived at the end of another column. Your input, as always, is appreciated. Please include a SASE if requiring a response. Take care & 73s,


This article is copyright 1990 by Don Moore. It may not be printed in any publication without written permission. Permission is granted for all interested readers to share and pass on the ASCII text file of this article or to print it out for personal use. In such case, your comments on the article would be appreciated.

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