Expat and author David Anicetti expatriated in Guatemala 24 years ago from the US to set up his business. But the country of the epic Mayan civilisation and scenic nature made an impact on David, and he has called it home ever since. He talks to Expat.com about the country, its people and the lifestyle, and how he conceived the idea for his book 'Living in Guatemala', a practical guide to the country. Join us in a journey to Central America to find out more about the everyday life of a long-term expat in Guatemala.
Where are you from, what are you doing in Guatemala, and what were you doing before you arrived in Guatemala?
My name is David Anicetti. I am originally from the United States. I worked for a magazine publishing company prior to moving to Guatemala.
What brought you to Guatemala?
I decided to open a magazine publishing company in Guatemala with a partner, and I have been in Guatemala for 24 years.
What is your favourite thing about Guatemala, and what is your least favourite thing?
My favourite thing about Guatemala is the warm, friendly people. My least favourite thing is the extreme poverty and the socio-economic differences.
How would you describe Guatemala in one sentence?
Guatemala is a country of centuries-old traditions, magical customs, colonial treasures, high-mountain lakes and excellent weather.
What has surprised you the most about Guatemala?
The perseverance of its people.
How did the idea for your book Living in Guatemala came up?
I am a member of an expats Facebook page, and I saw the number of questions increase over the past few years. I thought a book would be a good way of answering many of those questions, so those thinking about living here or are already living here could go to one place to find the answers they are looking for. This how my book Living in Guatemala came up.
How long have you been working for on this book?
I worked on the book for over six months, but not on a full time basis. I have already started another book.
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome when writing your book?
Certain things change often here in Guatemala, such as requirements for tourist visas, importing vehicles and residency conditions. Writing under such conditions made it difficult to find the most up to date information.
What are the year’s biggest holidays in Guatemala?
The biggest holiday is Semana Santa or Holy Week. This is the week leading up to Easter Sunday. Hundreds of thousands of people come to Guatemala to see the famed processions of platforms carried through the streets with the depiction of Jesus dragging the cross.
What is some essential etiquette?
Guatemala is a conservative country and dressing correctly is important. Women should no wear shorts that are too short, or blouses that expose their midriff. Traditions and customs are deeply rooted and may not be commonplace for visitors or expats but need to be respected.
How is the transportation system in Guatemala?
Public transportation is fair. The bus system is extensive, but can be dangerous in Guatemala City. It is much safer in the interior of the country. Taxis are plentiful and outside Guatemala City, in smaller towns there are many tuk-tuks. There are three-wheeled motorized vehicles used as taxis. I have almost never used the public transportation system except once or twice.
Have you been able to adapt to Guatemala and the society?
Yes. My wife is Guatemalan and her family thinks I act more Guatemalan than I do North American. I have become accustomed to a slower pace of life and things taking longer here than in other countries.
How is the everyday life for you in Guatemala?
I write for a living. Most of my clients have Internet sites in Europe, so I start work very early due to the time difference. I write for 8 to 10 hours each day about tourism and business in the region with my articles posted on my clients Internet sites.
In the weekends, my family and I visit Antigua Island or we travel to the Pacific Ocean. My two sons are in school so we also are involved in activities at their respective schools.
What new habits have you developed in Guatemala? And what old habits have you quit in Guatemala?
I have learned to take everything at a slower pace and what does not get accomplish one day will be accomplished the next. I learned not to worry about time. For business, appointments can be 10 to 15 or even 30 minutes (rare) later than the agreed upon time so I have let go of 2:00 p.m. being 2:00 p.m. on the dot. It can mean 2:10 or 2:15 or even a few minutes later.
What is your opinion on the cost of living in Guatemala?
You can live in Guatemala much cheaper than in the U.S. However, to live much, much cheaper you need to live in an area that is not popular with expats, shop at the markets, shop at local businesses without looking for foodstuffs from back home. A bus ticket costs about $15 cents in the city. Longer distances can cost as much as $4 or $5 depending upon the length of the trip. The least expensive beer (Bravha) costs about $0.40 for a 12 ounce can. I pay $2.39 for a loaf of bread. However, the daily bread eaten by Guatemalans called pan frances or French bread, which is nothing similar to French bread, is much less expensive and eaten at least once or twice per day.
I can definitely enjoy a better lifestyle here with far less money than in the U.S. due to the cost of living.
What is something that you would like to do in Guatemala, but haven’t had the opportunity to do yet?
I have yet to visit El Mirador, the most recent Maya city found near the border with Mexico in the department of Peten. The trip to reach there takes up to three days hiking in the jungle or a few minutes by helicopter.
Share your most memorable experience in Guatemala.
The most memorable experience for me was climbing Pacaya Volcano and seeing it erupt after having climbed it just earlier the same day.
If you could do the move to Guatemala over, what would you do differently?
Studying about the customs, culture and traditions since many come into play on a regular basis. However, the most important would be learning Spanish before moving because I had to learn it while also running an office without my employees knowing how to speak English.
What do you think of the local cuisine?
I enjoy the local cuisine. My wife is Guatemalan and I have become accustomed to many dishes from here due to my mother-in-law, my wife and their family cooking them often. I love pepian, jocon, chiles rellenos and hilachas.
What do you miss the most about your home country?
Professional sports, some of the foods, such as Italian food in the North End of Boston. However, after so many years, I have grown accustomed to what is here and what is not, what I can buy and what I cannot. It is all about adapting to your surroundings.
Have you had a moment that you almost felt like leaving from Guatemala? How did you overcome that?
I have wanted to leave a few times and did for a very short while, but we had a longing to return, and came back. Other times I have been frustrated and wanted to leave, but because of family, friends and business I remained. At this point, we plan to remain here for the long term.
Give us some useful tips that soon-to-expatriates in Guatemala will benefit from.
1. Learn to speak Spanish. 2. Learn the customs and traditions and what they mean to Guatemalans. 3. Be prepared that things do not always turn out the way they should, or the way you think they will. 4. Respect Guatemala and Guatemalans. 5. Be prepared for extreme poverty, especially in the interior part of the country. 6. Always remember you are a visitor in someone else’s country.
If you had to advise an expat on five items to bring with them in Guatemala, which would that be?
1. Smartphone 2. Small household appliances 3. Good bed linens 4. Good towels 5. Vitamins and supplements
What are your plans for the future?
I plan to continue writing. Hope to write a few more books about Guatemala and one or two about the area of Central America. I plan to retire here and continue living here.
What is one thing that you will take with you from Guatemala?
Hard to say, as I never plan to leave. The biggest impression I have taken thus far from Guatemala is family. Families are very close, families spend most holidays together and celebrate life and honor the dead together.