And you thought you knew your native language!
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…
Back when I was teaching in an exchange program, one of my students blushed crimson as she told us that a friend had come to visit and that they had gone out looking for a place for him to stay. They hopped in a cab and asked the driver to recommend a motel and then asked him to wait while they went in. “We won’t be long,” they told him. He agreed, but “he gave us a very strange look,” she said. I’m sure the guy waited more out of amusement than for the additional fare.
They scurried back out 3 minutes later muttering about what a weird place it was. “They rent by the HOUR!” they exclaimed. (They were young, and gringos, and still had so much to learn). The driver laughed and explained that here in Chile, a motel is a place for couples to “get away” for a few hours… like at lunch time… or after a few drinks…if you catch my drift. Apparently they didn’t… and in case you didn’t either, I’ll save you a potential bit of red-faced embarrassment. In Chile, you go to a motel to have sex. If you want to sleep, look for a hotel; you want to sleep cheap, look for a hostel or residencial!
Traveler’s Tip: Some seasoned travelers suggest taking advantage of this room by the hour deal to grab a quick nap and shower while on the road because “they’re clean, discreet, and much cheaper than paying full fare in a hotel.”
But that’s an old story. I just heard a new one… At dinner the other night a German friend was telling about going to a sauna when she first arrived in Santiago. Everyone else at the table snickered as she began. She explained with relish how she had found a listing in the paper for a sauna near her office and decided to go at lunchtime one day.
“It seemed strange that it was on the 4th floor, but I went up. It also seemed strange that you had to ring the bell to enter, but hey, it’s a new country, they do things differently here, right?” She goes on, “So a woman opens the door and asked if I was there to apply…”
The others at the table are about to split their sides, and I still have no clue what’s coming.
“I said no, I just wanted to use the sauna. The woman looked at me very strangely and said ‘But the sauna is only for men!’ she tells me, so I asked if she knew where I could find a sauna for women around there, and she slammed the door in my face!”
By this point the entire table was cracking up, and I was still bewildered… (Jeeze, you’d think I’d know these things by now!) What was so funny about a sauna? So she explained…
Here in Chile a sauna is a burdel, a brothel, a house of prostitution….OOOOOOhhhhh!
If you want a real sauna, you look for “baños turcos” (Turkish bath).
I’m going to add these two words—motel and sauna—to the glossary because even though they aren’t Chilenismos, and this usage may not even be unique to Chile, they still make for a good heads-up and word to the wise for all English-speaking newcomers!