It’s bound to happen. Spend any amount of time in a culture that’s not your own and your foot will certainly end up in your mouth at some point. Sports, politics, and religion aside, there are plenty of other ways to meter la pata in Chile. Over the years I’ve stumbled on a few (hard not to take a nose dive once in a while with that foot in mouth thing going on). Being from the “learn from my mistakes” camp, I thought I’d share.
A few faux pas a la chilena:
Tell them you don’t like sandwiches
Chileans love sandwiches, or “sánguches” in the local vernacular. They eat them for breakfast, onces (tea), snacks, and late night noshing. As the only gringa on a 2-week road trip with Chilean friends, I rebelled after about a week of so much ham and cheese on bread (and not much else) and they all looked at me like I was from Mars. To be fair, Chile has a pretty impressive line-up of granddaddy sánguches that will out-whop the whopper any day (check out “Sánguches”). (Too bad I wasn’t seeing any on that particular trip!)
Tell them you don’t get the concept of onces
Onces—or té (tea) in more uppity circles—is a Chilean gastronomic institution. Inspired by the British tea, people gather in the early evening (mostly on weekends these days) to “ruin their dinner” (yikes, I’m channeling my mother!) for a carb fest of sandwiches (ham, cheese, and avocado are customary) and/or toast and jam, cookies, cake, and even ice cream (surprisingly often in reverse order). Oh, and the cup of tea is placed in front of you with the plate of food behind it, so that all the crumbs fall into the cup. Don’t try and change it around. It’s no use.
(Onces merits an entire post of its own… duly acknowledged and forthcoming).
Tell them you don’t like Joan Manuel Serrat
I’m sure this is generational and probably occurs throughout the entire Spanish-speaking world, but stating that this 60-something Barcelona-born singer’s pronounced and seemingly affected warble just doesn’t do it for you will not win friends and influence people. It seems to generate the kind of reaction I could imagine if someone uttered something as unthinkable as “the Beatles suck.” Rolling my eyes and turning an indifferent ear to this 1970s “ídolo total” has earned me gasps and sneers on more than one occasion… you’d think I’d learn to keep my mouth shut, ¿no?
Tell them that they, or someone they care about, is “cynical”
This is one of those false cognates that can get you into really hot water. In English, it means “scornful of the motives or virtues of others.” In Spanish it is someone who “muestra cinicismo, desverguenza, en el mentir.” A despicable and remorseless liar. Ouch! You’re sure to wind up doing a lot of explaining and eggshell treading if you fall into that trap! Get the full story at: Cyncial or Cínico)
Tell them that their national anthem is not the best in the world
I’ve never fallen into this trap myself, because frankly, just about anything is better than the US national anthem (which requires a nearly inhuman vocal range and 10 years of serious operatic study before attempting it). And on the other hand, I do think that the Chilean version is rather nice. But Chileans go beyond “rather nice.” They really do know the words, sing loud and clear, and will swear to you that it won a competition for the “Best National Anthem in the World.” And damned if I can find anyone who doesn’t believe it lock, stock, and barrel! Here, take a look and decide for yourself:
I’m sure there are plenty of other ways to rile up Chilean pride and turn yourself into the bad guy… I bet you even have a few tales of your own to tell! Leave a comment here—or, if you like—write your own blog post and we’ll link up!
Dr. Annje tells her side of the story at Annje Unabashed.
And Sara has a few things to add at the Chilenguita Diaries.
Emily gets her 2 pesos in too, check her story out at Don’t Call Me Gringa.
Abby goes straight to where the heart is (the sandwich, of course) at Abby’s Line.
We can’t leave Lucie out, so here’s her list at Gringa Gone South.
Maeskizzle goes a step further by also adding ways to win over Chileans at Transcultural Vogueing.
Eileen comes through with her own bearshapedspherical advice on how to alienate–and then not–by making a “no” sound like a “yes” at Bearshapedsphere.
La Abejita is joining a bit late, but we don’t mind… especially since she took a twist of her own, turned it around, and wrote about the things that Chileans do to alienate foreigners here in Chile… check it out the Buzz de La Abeja.
And now for Phase 2: Let’s move on to the counterpart to this post: Finding your way in to Chile (or how to unalienate yourself!)