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Guam Fiesta Guidebook: Etiquette & Tips

Guam Fiesta Guidebook: Etiquette & Tips

Every culture has food at the center of major celebrations, and far be it from Guam to break the trend. Enter the fiesta. It's the perfect event to indulge in local food. With a tradition as old and revered as the fiesta, can you just roll in, grab some food and go? Well, there’s no law saying otherwise. The police aren’t going to arrest you for being rude, but if you want to be welcomed at the next fiesta, you might want to observe the following rules. 


But First, What's a Guam Fiesta? 

Being a largely Catholic community, Guam’s fiestas are village celebrations that honor that village’s patron saint. Although the months in which each saint is celebrated more or less stay the same, the exact date varies and is set by the church. 

Traditionally, preparation for the fiesta is a family affair, with jobs typically divided by gender and then by age group. Females mostly prepare food and decorate. Males typically prepare the guest area by setting up tables, chairs, and canopies. They also typically man the grill. The fiesta table is then set in a specific order. Usually napkins and utensils first, then rice and other starches, meat, seafood, kelaguens, salads, and desserts. Once someone blesses the food, the table is opened up and from then on, it’s food heaven. Now to the tips and etiquette to ensure a smooth celebration:


Greet the Elders and Host First

Go to the elders’ table to pay your respects and see the host when you first arrive. Make sure to say goodbye to them before you leave. Saying hello and goodbye to the host is just common courtesy pretty much wherever you are. On Guam, it’s always important to show courtesy and respect to elders as well. Don’t forget to nginge’ (smell an elder’s hand in greeting) so no one tileks your ear (ask your Guam friend if you don’t know what that means). 


Elders and Kids eat First

If you're perfectly able-bodied and spry, don't be first in line. Come on, man. You’re not gonna cut in front of a bunch of old folks and little kids, are you? 


No Early Packing!

NO pre-balutaning please! Balutan is basically taking leftovers. It’s a way to help your host get rid of excess food in a manner that it doesn’t go to waste. It’s also great because you get to eat fiesta food for like, a week. But it’s done AFTER everyone has eaten. There are some sneaky types who try to balutan the best food BEFORE the table has even been opened up to eat. It’s not illegal or anything, but it SHOULD be.


Bring a "Chenchule"

Bring food or drink as chenchule’ when you can. Hey, we know. The economy’s rough. Sometimes you can’t get together quite enough cash or resources to bring something to contribute. But you know, do what you can when you can, right? Even a simple home-made salad to share with everyone would be a very nice gesture.

The bottom line is to always show respect. This isn’t a fast food joint, after all. This is a family opening up their home to help celebrate a sacred day. If you show the same courtesy you’d like others to show you, you should be welcome to eat, make merry and pack many balutan plates for years to come. And if you just can't get enough of local Guam food, see our section on Eating Local for more, including these mouth-watering Chamorro food recipes. Happy Fiesta-ing!

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