“Chilenismos” and other opportunities for errorSantiago, Spring 2009

My Spanish definitely could use some work and, for better or for worse, it’s getting that now. On my first day in Chile, I sat down to breakfast (toast with peanut butter/a guacamole spread/or something that’s a bit like nutella and is made from milk and sugar, I think). Unfortunately, after buttering my bread and pouring some juice, I immediately proceeded to put my foot into my mouth. My host mother wasn’t awake yet, but I was eating with a woman whom I hadn’t met before. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to make small talk with an older Chilean woman who was likely to be patient with my stumbling grammar and vocabulary. A logical (and safe) first question seemed to be “Donde está vive?” (Where do you live?). Unfortunately, the reply “Aqui” (here) wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. I’d managed to ask this question of someone who lived in the same house as I, someone who lived two rooms over from where we were eating. How had I missed the fact that another woman lived in the apartment? Chalk it up to tiredness from the plane ride or, more likely, to a failure to ask the right questions when my host mother mentioned something the day before. Either way, it was just one of many communication errors, both large and small, that have occurred in the 3.5 days since I’ve arrived. In general though, everyone, like the woman in the metro who explained to me twice how to charge (add money to) my card or the man at the gelado shop who simply took our trash when we couldn’t find the trash can, has seemed willing to help. I can only hope that in two or three weeks (or maybe I’m being optimistic with that time frame—hopefully not two or three months), my requests for help and my major foot-in-my-mouth moments will become a little less frequent.

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  1. Hannah,
    Keep on keeping on! I’m going to share your blog with Olivia and she can practice her Spanish along with you and live vicariously too.
    Traveling mercies,
    Sue Haidle

  2. Oh wow. I can barely manage to talk to my Spanish teacher in Spanish without feeling nervous let alone with strangers! Good luck to you!

  3. Hope things are going well. I spoke with Kristy, the girl I told you about, and she said the Spanish spoken in Chile is quite different from what she had learned. I enjoyed reading your piece and look forward to more! Aunt Nancy

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