Nicaragua has a grand reputation as a nation of poets. Nowadays though the most lyricism you’re likely to hear will come from the taxi touts desperate to sell you a ride across the country, a room in their cousin’s hotel, or a best price tour of the nearest volcano/lake.
Every town in Nicaragua has its own monument to Rubén DarÃo, the greatest of Nica’s near-extinct race of poets. No one actually reads DarÃo any more; they just love him because he put Nica on the map. It probably helps that he died before the more polarising events of the last century. He would be more popular today if he had changed his name to Daddy DarÃo and cut a reggaetÃ³n album though.
In the absence of verse, Nicaraguan men fall back on the equally noble art of the catcall. Machismo is alive and well in Nicaragua; men are for interacting with, women are for hissing at. If you would like to join such a delightfully homosocial clique, you will need to know your Nica baseball, and will need to have a strong opinion as to whether ToÃ±a or Victoria is the better beer (and yes these are the only two options).
One figure enjoying a surge of popularity is God. Catholicism has always been huge in Nicaragua – the revolution was willing to take on the CIA, but not the Pope – but Mormon and Protestant groups from the north are fast infiltrating the country in search of recruits. Every arrival at Managua’s airport disgorges another group of fresh-faced missionaries in matching shirts. Whatever these legions are doing is working because come Saturday night the streets empty and Christian rock fills the air. Don’t be surprised when your smiley new Nica friends ask you if you know Jesus.
Nicas that are not bursting with the good news or best price taxi services tend to be a little timid. Even the most swaggering machista will need a group of buddies around him before he’ll have the confidence to shout broken English at a passing foreigner. In some cases the shyness is impenetrable – don’t expect more than the odd syllable from the macheteros at work in the countryside – but most of the time Nicas will open up at the first sign of friendliness.
Once they have expect a great deal of curiosity about wherever you are from (yes, even much-maligned USA) Mericans will be met with interest!), as well as a strong desire to show Nicaragua in its best light, whether this be the calibre of its women or its natural beauty (expect a little hyperbole; Lake Nicaragua is very nice but is not one of the 7 wonders of the world).
Older Nicas will mostly be happy to talk about their country’s torrid past. The Contra war left a huge number of Nica mothers without children, and remembering is a serious business; there are monuments, murals and museums to these fallen children everywhere. By contrast, the younger generation of Nicas would prefer to talk about 1) their shoes 2) famous people’s shoes or 3) their pal Jesus.
They may not want to talk politics or care who Rubén DarÃo was, but many young Nicas will have taken the time to learn to speak English, and maybe also French or German. Nicaragua is pretty low on opportunities for such outward-looking kids, so the influx of tourists often presents their best chance to practice their third language, discuss international shoe trends, or discover truly anonymous sex (i.e. sex with someone they won’t have to share a pew with on Sunday).
In short, don’t mention Reagan to anyone over 35, don’t try to talk poetry with anyone under 35, and don’t mention atheism anywhere ever. And smile; you’ll be fine.