Tag Archives: Language

On the Road…Home?

Feel like a stranger in the country you grew up in? A tourist in the motherland? Suffering the expat syndrome? The longer I live outside the US, the more things there are that take me by surprise when I return.

I try to get back to the US at least once or twice a year, and every time I land, I arrive disoriented. It takes a while to switch from my gringa-in-Chile self to the oddball self-appointed quasi-Latina member of the family in the US.

Drinking fountains at Atlanta Airport. June 2010. photo by M Snook

Delta Terminal at Atlanta Airport, June 2010

My first reaction is always the same: people speak English here! I always have at least one layover—usually in Atlanta—which means not only do people speak English, but they do it with a twang. As buenos días, and por favor, and gracias automatically roll off my tongue without thinking, I am always a little startled Continue reading

Motels, Saunas and other “Traveler Bewares”

And you thought you knew your native language!

Western Motel in Pink

Image by Jeep Novak! via Flickr

There are plenty of surprises to be discovered on the road, and one that can have funny (or downright weird) consequences is when we discover that the language we grew up with doesn’t quite work the same way in another region or culture.

Take a motel, for example—a “motor hotel” along the highway…A no-frills and inexpensive place to sleep and get back on the road to your real destination the next day—right?
Well, could be… unless you’re in Chile… Continue reading

Me duele la cabeza: Whose head hurts you?

IbuprofenWhose hair is that on your head? Whose throbbing molar is making you suffer? Whose aching back has put you out of commission for the weekend? Mastering a new language involves far more than memorizing vocabulary and verb conjugations. It also means adapting to unexpected combinations of words and ideas that can put some very basic notions of how the world works to the test. For example, what is uniquely yours and what is not.

In contrast to my last post (Ya mi niña, Who do YOU belong to? ), which pondered certain possessive idiosyncrasies of spoken Spanish (mi niña, mi reina, mi mamá), today I flip to the polar extreme and wonder why it is that Spanish speakers seem to disown body parts, which could not possibly be more uniquely personal.

For example, want to get your hair cut? Go ahead and tell someone “Necesito cortar mi pelo” (I need to cut my hair)… chuckle, chortle, ha-ha-ha… no you don’t… what you need to say is: Continue reading

Ya mi niña: who do YOU belong to?

Mi, mi, mi… A few thoughts on linguistic ownership today.

Ya mi niña, nos vemos…

¿Mi niña? I thought, there it is again… Mi niña—my girl—an oddly common expression in Chilean vernacular. I had really tried not be drawn into the cell phone conversation going on next to me in the crowded waiting room yesterday and was pretty successful until the blah-blah-blah, ha-ha-ha, turned to “ya mi niña.” It’s one of those expressions that often seems to signal the end of a conversation and always grabs my attention. I knew she was not talking to her daughter.

Mi niña, mi hija, mi reina, mi general, mi mamá…. who do YOU belong to? Continue reading

Santiago Cabbie Stories: Blessed by a Taxi Driver

I got blessed by a taxi driver yesterday. First time that’s ever happened to me.
I’ve been cursed (ok, cursed at) by a cabbie—although in truth, I was actually just a convenient proxy for a certain former US president he seemed to have issues with. I’ve also been lectured to, lied to, sweet-talked, and ripped off; I’ve heard sob stories, tall tales, bad jokes, and tirades, but blessings? This was a first. And I think this particular cabbie is concerned for my eternal soul. Continue reading

Speaking Chilensis: beware the Fake False Cognates

It’s time for another lesson in Chilensis, in Chilean Spanish, and in those sneaky little false cognates that can trick you into saying things you really had no intention of saying at all.  And as every language learner discovers, just when you least expect it, you’re bound to stumble—or even dive headlong—into the quirky linguistic pitfalls of new language acquisition. And since I’ve probably fallen into and crawled red-faced out of most of them, I thought I’d pass along a little more advice on staying out of linguistic trouble.

Once again from the “boy was my face red” school of learning Spanish by experience, I bring you yet another chapter of dumb stuff the gringa said: Continue reading

Cachando Chile: a Year in Review

Writing the landmark 100th post is a bit of a daunting task. I had intended to post this on December 1, which I had declared Cachando Chile’s 1-year blogiversary, but with all the hoopla over the Alienating Chileans post (which hit and passed the 100 comments mark that day), followed by an enormous amount of real-life events—you know the kind—all those things that get in the way of blogging, but that end up becoming “blog fodder*’ anyway. (*Eileen gets credit for coining this extremely apropos term).

In honor of this landmark, I wanted to look back over my first year of blogging. Continue reading