So as those of you who know me, or have been reading this blog, may know, I have a pretty damn epic beard (over a year and a half in the making).  It is somewhere between stock Wildling character in Game of Thrones, and full-on wizard status at this point.  In the USA, this level of face foliage tends to make me stand out a bit.  (Well, at least in DC, where I live, it does.  When I visit Philly or Brooklyn I tend to disappear in a crowd).  In Central America this level of beard bushiness makes me stand out more than I already do as a big blue-eyed gringo, and definitely elicits some interesting comments and comparisons.

Flower Beard Some times my beard is festive.

When I was a Peace Corps volunteer serving in rural Honduras, I grew a relatively normal length beard by US standards (think Zak Galifianakis level), and that alone was enough to earn some jokes and comments from my friends.  This is mainly because Central Americans on the whole are not a beard growing people; most grown men can, at best, muster a mustache or maybe if they are especially furry, a Ethan Hawk goatee.  There are obviously exceptions like my Honduran friend Elder (his parents met Mormon missionaries and thought “Elder” was a first name rather than an honorific), who had a full rich beard.  This ability came in handy when he traveled up to Maryland as a migrant worker and saw a lot of Hasidic Jewish men in the area he worked in with big beards, black coats, and fedoras, so he, assuming that this was just how affluent Americans dressed, bought himself the hat and coat and let his beard grow.  I also heard from one Panamanian tour operator that there was one guy in her town who could grow a sweet beard, and who would only cut it once a year on new years day.  I was really disappointed that I wasn’t able to track him down, because I assume that by August it is usually pretty awesome.

 

The rare impressively whiskered gentlemen aside, beards are overall extremely rare in Central America.  Thus when a gringo with a massive face forest shows up, there is bound to be some staring, and yelling “celebrity” comparisons.  The two most common ones that I got were Santa Claus, yelled mostly by school children, and Osama Bin Laden, yelled mostly by dudes in the city when I was out on the town at night.  I have to say that neither of these is a great thing to have yelled at you.  One implies that I am a portly older gentlemen and the other that I am a mass murdering militant extremist (who additionally was not known as much of a sex symbol, at least in the west).

 

I did take the Santa comparison and run with it however, by making plenty of dad caliber jokes to local tour operators and others.  Usually it would go something like: “I bet all of the school children we just passed (they tend to move in groups and love to stop and stare at gringos) were all just surprised to see Santa Claus at the wrong time of year” (while touching my beard).  This was a pretty big crowd pleaser, as it translates easy culturally, and it just the right amount of self deprecating and cheesy.

 

While most of the other comments I got on the beard were either of confusion (presumably at the fact that a human being could have an animal of that size and furriness living on their face), or disapproval, not all beard comments were disparaging. Probably the most confusing comment I got was from a guy, in the elevator of my friend’s building where I was staying, shortly after I arrived in country.  I got on to the elevator with my friend and we had to squeeze to fit in with a family that was already inside.  Just as we were getting to the lobby, the father looks at me smiling and says, in English, “You look like a redneck.”  Weird thing is, I have never gotten that for my beard in the States, so between that and him speaking English, I was pretty taken aback and didn’t have a good retort.

 

Easily my favorite comment was one that was yelled at me by a taxi driver out of his window as he passed.  I was walking with some friends and as he turned the corner we were standing he just shouted “Oy Vikingo!” (Hey Viking!) and when I turned he started laughing.  Now I don’t know if he meant this as a compliment or a jab, but I don’t really care.  I honestly have to say it was pretty awesome being called a Viking on a city street (I would have also accepted Lumberjack or Metal Guitarist). Feel free to call me Viking if you see me on the streets of DC.