Sunday, March 30, 2014

Speaking Spanish in Chile

It is Fall now, and noticeably cooler. It rained hard all day yesterday, so instead of taking our usual Saturday walk, we put the heating pad on our bed, under the sheets. It works perfectly. I am now wearing a shirt, sweater, leggings, a long knit skirt, Elder K.'s heavy work socks, and some slippers I knitted. My feet are still cold. The sun is shining on the balcony now, so I hope it shines through the window.

Today we visited Barrio Collao, the LDS ward in Collao. It is a small ward, in a small chapel on the second floor. But they are serious about their lives. We caught a #70 bus on San Martin, and within ten minutes we were dropped a block away from the chapel, which is near the bus terminal and the stadium. The first time we took a bus, we accidentally ended up in Collao, so we knew we could get there again. We did not meet anyone we knew in the ward. Several people were interested in the Perpetual Education Fund which is now expanding to students age 18 to 65, and several others, older, regretted the fact that they missed the chance when they were under 30. On the bus trip back,  two obviously drunken men were harassing (molestando) the other passengers, including us. Someone who got off where carabineros were hanging about on the sidewalk, sent one of them onto the bus. The carabinero told the drunken men politely to leave, which they did.

I will have to say something about music in church in Chile. There may be few hymn books available, or else people bring their own. The chorister sings a few measures in a pitch the congregation can comfortably sing, after which they sing the melody with enthusiasm. I am usually the only one singing harmony, unless Elder Balden is singing baritone. The problems come when a missionary or a member of the ward can sort of play a keyboard, so they struggle and drag and set the pitch too high. When this happens, members of the congregation take things into their own hands, and after a few measures begin singing their own tempo and pitch, leaving both the pianist and the chorister on their own. These are people after my own heart.

Not only that, apart from the actual musicality of the words, would you rather sing the hymn in English: "Should you feel inclined to censure/Faults you may in others view/Ask your own heart, ere you venture,/If you have not failings too?" or Castellan: "Brillan rayos de clemencia del gran faro del Senor, y Sus atalayas somos, alumbrando con amor."  Shining rays of mercy, from the great lighthouse of the Lord, and we are His watchmen, radiating light and love.

Excuse me, I have to go put the towel under our apartment door, one of our neighbors is burning toast again. They must really love burnt toast. At least it is not cigarette smoke.

Speaking Spanish - or I should say Castellan - in Chile

If you have traveled to a foreign language-speaking country for the first time, you will know that even if you have studied the language, nothing prepares you for actually speaking coherently upon first arrival. If you are able to speak a few words that are not too heavily accented, the natives assume you are fluent, and begin speaking very fast, using idiomatic expressions and emphasizing local vocabulary, which may not be part of the lessons you learned. You will discover that you can comprehensively listen for a limited time, after which you become so exhausted and have such a headache, that your head feels like it will explode, and you can't understand a word anyone says until you have recovered. You hesitate to tell anyone this, so they continue talking, talking, talking. Since you never say anything, they think you are taking in every word, and they keep on talking and talking, a bad habit to get into, since Chileans love to give lectures at any given moment. This continued with me for about three months, after which something seemed to click inside my head. As I learn more vocabulary, I become aware of people actually using it--I had been deaf to it before. Now I am able to segue from one language to another without much trouble, and although I still can comprehend a great deal better than I can speak, my speaking has improved immeasurably. More importantly, I am able to signal that I, being an inscrutable Gringa, am going to go do something else al tiro (right now) instead of listening to more lecturing.

Fortunately the people we have been working with daily are very patient, and/or have attempted to learn to speak English. Such people speak more slowly and clearly, since they know what it is like. Many who intend to learn to speak English here abandon it, although a surprising  number have made a good effort. It is hard to truly speak a foreign language without the surrounding culture to sustain it. English is a daunting language, with a vocabulary twice as large as the next one (German,) and lacking in rhythm and musicality like the Romance languages.  I'm glad I don't have to learn it. I do miss being able to express myself in my usual erudite manner. I find that when I'm finally in the company of English speakers, I uncharacteristically start to babble, to the point that Elder Kennington touches me on the arm to make me stop.

The desire to not look like an idiot is a real limiting factor in speaking as a foreigner, but during our time here, our need to communicate has been so intense that I have had to overcome my self-consciousness and simply blurt things out. If I can, I try to figure out the best way to say it beforehand, or else I stammer and look at Elder K. for help, expecting him to read my mind. People are usually forgiving, although they sometimes laugh uproariously at what we come up with. One can't take it personally. They love us anyway, and appreciate our effort to speak their language. My very worst problem has been saying prayers, possibly because the Latinos say such effortlessly beautiful ones.

We often get "Good Mornings!" or "Thank yous!" from Chileans, who recognize us for being Gringos and try to make us welcome. ("We know you call us Gringos," we tell them, and they smile sheepishly. "It's okay. We ARE Gringos. We live in Gringolandia." (Uproarious laughter.)) They are at pains to explain their idiomatic Chilenismo sayings to us, for example, when Galvarino describes the light rain falling outside as "gotitas de lluvia bastante para despertar un flojo," droplets of rain just enough to wake up a bum. Some of the sayings are the same as in English, for example, something with little value is referred to as "maní," peanuts. There are also words spelled the same as English words, which Bishop Anriquez refers to as "false friends" (amigos falsos):

éxito is not exit - it means success
sopa is not soap - it is soup
compromiso is not compromise - it means commitment
mascota is not a mascot - it is a pet
red is not the color red - it means network
destreza is not distress - it is skill or ability
delito (not to be confused with deleito, which means delight) is not delight - it is a crime

Related to these are a list of delightful words used in a completely different way:

frivolité  = tatting
confección = preparation, especially tailoring or dressmaking
etiqueta = label
jubilación = retirement
confabulación = conspiracy
gratificación = gratuity, reward
calipso = the color aquamarine
plaza = the size of your bed (un plaza is a twin bed, dos plazas is a queen)
taco = a traffic jam

Chileans tend to use certain words a lot, for example:
harto as in fed up, lots of, or a great deal of. They use it constantly.
Ja, ("ya") with a nod -- are you with me? -- do you understand?
al tiro = right now
logro = accomplishment
Tata = Dad or Pop
guagua (wahwah) is a baby
tipo = a guy
pololo and polola are for boyfriend or girlfriend, but not quite sweetheart (novio y novia)
lindo = pretty or cute, continually in use - ¡qué lindo!
más o menos = more or less, usually pronounced (mah-o-meno) very fast.
luca = un mil pesos, about $2, like saying "a buck" for one dollar
genial = something good
fome refers to anything boring, dull, and undesirable
"Si po" litters Chilean speech in the same way that "yeah" and "y'know" do American English. It is said in the particularly Chilean plosive articulation, barely expressed and not lingered over. It can mean OK, come on, hurry up, but, or . . . well . . . ?
Interestingly, the Chileans themselves regard surrounding Latin American countries, for example Colombians, as having superior Castellan-speaking abilities, since they speak more slowly, with better enunciation and command of the language. Something to emulate, ¿tal vez?

The Registro Civil, where we went to register our new address. Galvarino says Chileans never do it.

Inside the Registro Civil, early in the morning (before 9:00 a.m.) and amazingly empty. Usually it is harto and overflowing. There is apparently a wedding going on in the second floor, from the flower sellers and bouquets of lilies waiting out in the front.

We finally reached Graduation Day for the weavers of the Centro de Autosuficiencia. Andrea, the teacher, told her students that since she had no daughters, she had taught them all so they could teach others. Thirty women received certificates as being weavers competent to set up their own businesses. Usually weaving teachers can make a lot of money to do what Andrea has done for free.

In return, Andrea's thirty students chipped in to get her a beautiful set of silver Mapuche jewelry, with a dangling pendant and earrings with five-petal flower cutouts.

 The tender shrub, maple-leaf Abutilon, from the mallow family, in glorious bloom. We toured three small used car lots on the calle nearby, and stopped at the Institute Building on Colo Colo (not far from our apartment) to ask Hno. Verdugo, the Institute Director, if we could park a car in the Institute parking garage. He said he would certainly check into it. 
We had a good day on Friday: A returned missionary who was sent home a week early from Venezuela with all other non-native missionaries came in for Self Reliance workshop training; a couple from San Pedro, where we visited last week, came in for help with employment; Veruska, a tall beautiful Brazilian student, also needed help with employment; Hilda Gutierrez gave us a visit, as well as single High Priest Hno. Verdugo (not related to the Institute Director) who is a member of our Universitario Ward, and who resembles in many ways the English actor Rowan Atkinson. I am never quite sure what he is saying. 
I discovered that the Bishop's Storehouse, on the first floor of our building, has a sealer for plastic bags. Hna. Balden, the mission nurse, has been looking for one, since the missionaries keep eating the rations out of the emergency kits she has issued them, and she wants to deter them from opening the bags if she can.

Teatro de Liceo de los Hombres de Concepcion, Theater Club of the Men of Concepcion, built in the early 1930s, was nearly destroyed in the 9.5 1960 earthquake.You can see the brick construction, which is typical of many ruined buildings in Concepcion. Construction now is usually steel reinforced concrete, and buildings are going up all over town, mostly high-rises. Our own high rise on Orompello survived the 2010 earthquake, so we are hopeful it remains standing throughout our visit here. The theater is now a historical site, facing the Parque Ecuador on Calle Victor Lamas.


  1. You have articulated well what I have now experienced three times. The hardest is not wanting to sound incompetent, especially when you have to stand up in front of a large group and say important things and answer questions.

  2. Love your blog, Patty. It makes me laugh. I laugh because I know that I will be facing much of what you speak of here.


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