Reguleque and Twitter-whining: How to Commit “Twittercide” in just 35 Characters

A lot can be said in the standard 140 Twitter characters, but Chile saw a political career crash and burn this week in just 35 characters. One now-famous word—reguleque—was all it took to finally put Ximena Ossandon on the bench for good.

Ximena Ossandon, Reguleque, JUNI, JUNI-Gate,

Chilensis vocabulary lesson for the day:

Reguleque (reh-goo-LEH-kay): (adj/adv) From “regular,” which in Spanish does not mean “average” as it does in English, but rather “poor” (See Beware the Fake False Cognates). Adding the “eque” suffix adds further emphasis, so something that is reguleque is REALLY not very good. Example: Es un profe reguleque. (He’s a pretty so-so teacher)…

Here’s an example that’s ringing a bell in Chile this week:

“Mi pega la he hecho bastante bien, ahora la paga es bastante reguleque!! Sniff”
(I’ve done my job quite well, although the pay is not very good!! Sniff.
(Tweet sent by @ximenaossandon on Tuesday, December 28, 2010).

If you’ve seen the Chilean news in the last day or two, you know where this is going. If not, settle in… you’re going to love this one. If you’re a Spanish-speaking Twitterer, go ahead and do a search on reguleque—you’ll find plenty going on.

Ximena Ossandón, Vice President—no wait—that’s now former Vice President of the JUNJI (Junta Nacional de Jardines Infantiles / National Board of Day Care Centers),  has been a controversial figure in the Piñera government pretty much since day 1. She made her debut in the media circles by provoking a debate on separation of church and state the day she showed up toting a big statue of the Virgin Mary to put in the garden in front of this governmental agency. That might be overlooked in a highly Catholic country, but the real problem seems to begin whenever she opens her mouth.

When the issue of extending the hours of state-run day care centers came up in June, she responded that JUNJI would first investigate whether that was truly necessary, because:

“… day care should never replace the mother or the family. When the mother can be with her child, she should, but when a mother decides to leave her child in one of our day care centers so she can go out drinking, or to the beach, or to have coffee with a friend—that’s what we need to prevent, because there is no study in the world that says that a child is better off in an institution than with his or her family.”

I’m serious. She really said that. It did not go over well. How many working mothers are “sacando la mugre” (working their asses off, to be blunt) to make ends meet, and she’s accusing them of being irresponsible drunken beach bunnies?

She found her way back into the news over and over again this year with one controversial statement or accusation after another, but her rip-roaring race to disaster took a leap toward the finish line recently when she opened a Twitter account.

On Tuesday she sent out a tweet complaining that her salary of $3,729,923 pesos per month (approximately US$100,000 per year) was “reguleque”…

In a country where minimum wage for a 44-hour work week is $172,000 pesos per month (just US$4,300 per year) where the children who attend the JUNJI day care centers come from families that often bring in less than that, and where the university-trained day-care workers who look after those kids earn somewhere in the range of $200,000–$500,000 per month (US$5000–12,500 per year), Ms. Ossandon’s idea of “reguleque” is an insult to the vast majority of the people who live in this country.

You know what hit the fan…

It went viral. It was all over Twitter, Facebook, and the news within the hour. “Reguleque” became the word of the day.

It was the last straw, and not even her powerful friends in the party (Renovación Nacional) could–or would–save her now. And by 6PM, this ultra-conservative-polemical-from-day-one-right-wing-Opus-Dei-mother-of-nine was housebound once again.

And by then end of the evening, her Twitter account had been shut down. I bet she lost her TV privileges too.

What’s to be taken from this:

Much about Chilean society can be drawn from Ximena Ossandon’s short-lived career and its self-sabotaged full-on 2.0 social media Twittercide. In fact, the material is so rich it not only lends itself to multiple posts, but really deserves and entire book. Not a tell-all gossipy book (although that would be rich), but an in-depth cultural analysis of the Ximena Ossandon phenomenon. She’s not alone, of course, but rather the current most visible representation of her social class and religion.

I’ll just throw out a few aspects that come immediately to mind to get the ball rolling. Please–and I really mean PLEASE–feel free to comment on these or raise additional issues…

* First and foremost, this entire experience hammers home the vast social differences between those in positions of privilege and power and those who are, well, basically, everyone else.

* What is “reguleque” for a privileged few is beyond the wildest dreams of the majority.

* The fact that a highly unqualified person was appointed to a position of authority makes clear that Chile is still far from being a meritocracy.

* I can’t help but wonder how, after making her famous comment about mothers being with their children, who is home with HER nine children?

* And while we’re at it, how is it that someone who berated women for supposedly abusing the system by drinking coffee with friends is spending her work day on TWITTER?

30 responses to “Reguleque and Twitter-whining: How to Commit “Twittercide” in just 35 Characters

  1. I always love it when an arrogant, know it all, out of touch and seemingly useless politician ties their shoelaces together and start to run.

    After all the bunkum fed to us by governments in general, we punters deserve a laugh sometimes!

  2. P.S Buy I do feel for the jardins that had to suffer this idiot.

  3. Your second bullet point is what first came to my mind. I’m sure that compared to her peers, her salary is peanuts. I know the higher-ups in my company, for example – and I’m sure in most large companies – make far more than she did. But most people aren’t so stupid as to think that those salaries are normal anymore than they would say in the US that unless you’re making what an NFL player makes your salary is too low.

    The fact that she said this highlights not only her own stupidity but also as you said in your first point the bubble in which a segment of the Chilean population lives that she could possibly think that what her top 1% of society friends are making is normal while her salary is objectively low.

  4. Hi Jack & Emily-
    Yes, what she did was just stupid, and Emily, I agree–her salary is not exorbitant by some standards, but by general Chilean standards it is tremendous (have you seen how many people have sent out tweets & Facebook messages asking for a reguleque salary?). And the fact that she is in the public sector–and therefore not involved in MAKING money (as the execs in your company are) makes it stand out even more.
    One of the things that amazes me is that Chile’s old-money upper class tends to be quite conservative with respect to showing off what they have. She’s FROM that class–and I have to agree with Jack- she tied her own shoelaces together with this one (love the expression Jack!).

  5. Hello Margaret,

    Great post! I am now back in the US after having lived in Chile last year, and I love keeping up on all things Chilean through your blog. This one is particularly entertaining, and of course the humor and ridiculousness would be lost if the story were told by someone in the US press. I love the dissection of the language and the word and the detail around how a word can mean so much, especially in a country like Chile where colloquialisms dominate. I am so glad that she has shot herself in the foot — one point for Twitter!

  6. Hi Kate- Thanks! I don’t write a lot about news events, but this was just too delicious to pass up! I could really go on and on about this case, but had to stop somewhere… although I AM thinking about a “Part II.” There is really much more to say!
    About language… just think, if she had said “regular” instead of “reguleque” it might never have caught anyone’s attention. It’s really that “eque” that pulled the trigger!

  7. When X.O. said that about Chilean mothers leaving their children at the guardería and going out to drink, I know that people like her think that, but please, “piénselo, pero no lo diga”. She has dug her own grave.
    Now, complaining about her salary was an insult to many of us.

  8. Hi Raúl. It’s true. People in political positions–in which they supposedly represent a group of people–should be particularly sensitive to the needs of those people and very, very careful about what they say. People are paying close attention! And then to rub it in by complaining that she was “only” making 23 times the minimum wage was really going over the limit.
    As you said, she dug her own grave with her words and then used Twitter to fill it in… I wonder how many other Twitter-funerals have taken place?

  9. Great post Margaret. Most striking to me during my three years in Chile was the gap between rich and poor-and that inequality is increasing here in the US and has caused its own problems. The ‘vast social differences”-how true. As someone from the US, I was immediately put in the upper class and found I didn’t like it. I was accustomed to mixing with a more mixed social group-middle to upper, middle to lower with less thought of where I was (in the middle). In Chile there are expectations of how one should behave (from the upper; having a gardener and housekeeper etc.). Other gringos seem to like being in that upper class and even come to believe the upper class view is the view of all Chileans. I was fortunate enough to be good friends with some regular folks that told me what they really thought.

    And who is home with her children? I had two thoughts-one of Sarah Palin here in the US who believes in stay at home mothers yet she doesn’t….the other is that she has a nana of course which is more than acceptable for the upper class. (sarcasm intended)

    And what does Mr. Pinera make? I was surprised at her salary. It seems very high in such a small country.

  10. Hi Laura- Good comments!
    Yes, just having a passport from a certain country automatically puts us into a position of status–deserved or not. One of the things that most struck my husband on his first trip to the US was signs of poverty–homeless people sleeping on doorsteps in NYC, for example.
    When I first came to Chile I really didn’t have contact with any other gringos for a very long time because the only ones I knew of were diplomats or people here on the company account–which was very different from my experience as a single mom & grad student. People kept telling me to put my daughter in Nido de Aguila and just could not understand that the tuition alone was more than I my entire annual income!
    Who’s taking care of Ximena Ossandon’s kids… I’d really like to know. I spent a bit of time googling around to see what I could find out about her family (husband and kids) and not much came up (although there is plenty about her own family–brothers, etc.). I would be surprised if she only had 1 maid. My guess is that there is a whole staff of housekeepers, nannies, handymen, and gardeners in her household.
    How much does the president of Chile earn… good question! Anyone know? If I find out you can be sure I’ll pass it along! And yes, I feel that her salary, in a low-to-mid-level political position in a country where minimum wage is just over US$2/hour is extraordinary!

  11. Thanks Esteban! Excellent reference on who makes what in the government. President Sebastián Piñera earns: $7,387,188.
    This means that the JUNJI whiner was making more than half of what the Prez makes. Does something look out of whack here?

  12. Love your post Margaret. Here is a sideline little business idea for you. Teach some of those “Chili beans” (I am one of them) down there how to be not so much politically correct, but more sensitive to others. It is baffling to me to see how any living-breathing human cannot be aware of the power of the internet and all social media tools, etc.
    One must surely live in a cage with no internet access in order to come up with such brainless comment about working women or anybody else for that matter.

    I have no clue whether Ms. Ossandon will ever have a chance to read any of the comments here, but just in case I have a few suggestions for her:
    1 – Read “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. She can get a used copy for about a dollar, so she doesn’t have to dip into her “reguleque” earnings.
    2 – Next time she decides to make a public statement remember that Chilean expression “Por la boca muere el pez” which losely translated means ‘the fish dies by its mouth’. Be careful when opening one’s mouth in public.
    3 – Go and spend some time with those ‘frivolous living mothers’ so she can get a first hand view of what their lives are like on a tenth of her reguleque salary.

  13. Hi John- Thanks for your comments, as always!
    And your reference to Por la boca muere el pez is perfect!
    I was just reading an interview with her that appeared in Paula magazine earlier this month:
    Very interesting and explains a lot. And the odd thing is that according to the article, she has spent a LOT of time in poblaciones (poor neighborhoods)… you’d think she’d have learned to be more sensitive!
    I recognize now that I have made some unfair assumptions about her, but that in absolutely no way serves to justify her comments! (Nor does it undo mine.)

  14. One more comment. It seems that many of the lower class/poor are reticent to tell their bosses and/or the upper class the truth. Of course that is somewhat true anywhere. It is only in a friendship or position of trust that you find that the poor don’t agree with the wealthy. If a gringo boss asks the housekeeper “are you happy making $2 a day?’ of course she will say yes. Or the gringo that asks “was Pinochet good for the country”, they will say “yes” even if the vehemently disagree.

  15. That’s true- if you’re not on even footing with someone of authority you may not want to make waves–and even $2/hour is better than 0.
    BTW- it seems that many poor people actually did like Pinochet–but that’s a whole different story!

  16. Esta galla ignorante de a donde salio? La tipa que educaccion tiene para un puestaso de ese tipo con un salario impresionanate. Aqui en los EEUU $100,000 esta bueno! Que le pasa a esta weona?

  17. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry after reading Bocona’s comment, :-).
    Speaking of education (Educacion), in Spanish there is no double “c” in it. How ironic for her to question some else’s “Educacion”!

  18. John Carr que pesado eres…me caes mal gallito. La doble “c” se llama “typo is your language”. Osea tu eres perfecto nunca es tu vida haz hecho un error. Puede ser tu edad que te molesta errores de este tipo. LOL
    **See Wikipedia definition of “Typographical Error”:

  19. Whoa! John & Bocona!
    Whew- I’m not into playing mediator here.
    Yes, typos happen and so do spelling errors. Point taken John but the important thing was the idea/opinion being expressed!
    @Bocona- hope you don’t mind, but I took out the long text and just put the link to Wikipedia (1) because it’s not really legal for me to have wiki text here without citing it properly, and (2) because it’s off-topic… but anyone who’s interested can still access the info… ok?

  20. @Bocona – You are absolutely right. I have only made one mistake in my whole entire life and that was when I was boy about 132 years ago.

  21. Hi Margaret, just want to say I really enjoyed your blog. Very insightful. I learnt the word “reguleque” tonight from my Chilean relatives, and I stumbled upon your blog which explains everything. It seems like the word reguleque has taken a new meaning now: we were exchanging (belated) Christmas presents and everyone were joking how “reguleque” their presents were!

  22. Hi Geaorge- thanks! Yes, I believe that “reguleque” will become a regular part of Chilean Spanish from now on! People who were away when this story broke will come back and wonder why everyone has suddenly incorporated this new word. Interesting how language takes shape within a culture, isn’t it? So here you see that you have been part of linguistic history in the making!

  23. Dear Margaret,
    Thank you for your insightful analysis! I found your blog a pleasure to read. I agree with Laura’s comment regarding the difficulty of collecting open & honest responses from those who feel in a position of disadvantage i.e. the lowly paid. However, in the right hands, this issue can be overcome – researchers commonly battle with this – but as you say, it takes someone with a bit of thought & sensitivity to actually recognise there is a huge power difference that needs to be addressed in the first place. Clearly not Ossandón’s strong point. More generally, why should we believe that politicians (of whatever background) have/wish to have any real understanding of how the general population struggle on a daily basis? Ossandón’s visits to the poblaciones is a case in point – she must have seen/heard clear evidence of grinding poverty but has clearly learned nothing from it! Instead she chooses to attribute blame to individuals and their presumed flawed decision-making, while failing to recognise that political/social/organizational systems trap & limit these individuals. The result: a damning reflection of Ossandón’s inadequacies as a politician,
    but perhaps also a telling revelation of how ignorance persists in upper class Chilean society..?

  24. Hello Nhi- And thank YOU for such well-rounded comments. You bring up good points indeed! Chile’s social circles tend to be very tight-knit groups with little intermingling, so I think in general it is quite difficult for a member of one group to have much true understanding of what goes on in another. What is a simple matter of “just do it” in one group is a major upward hurdle (or just plain impossible) in another. Each group learns their life skills in a particular context, and those skills are not necessarily transferable to another… and I think recognizing that is the first step toward understanding what the other group really needs.

  25. Great points Nhi. Unfortunately ignorance persists in many upper classes throughout the world and not just in Chilean society, including good old USA and Canada. Millions of dollars were donated to help Haiti’s earthquake. Those working there now report that no one knows where all that money is. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that many of those in power have been able to profit from the tragedy of their own citizens.

    It took a revolution and civil war for the upper class in South Africa to allow change and have the majority of the population begin to participate in their society. Africa has been called the “Lost continent” but if one looks at how the upper classes live in any of those countries, they all seem to be doing quite well.

  26. Thank you John. Sadly, great personal wealth appears to be both an insulator & a prime motivator for many! Cynics may argue that it is precisely this type of pernicious opportunism across elitist & usually secretive societies that encourages those in power to take full advantage of opportunities for ‘self enrichment’, however unethical. An example closer to home would be that of British Members of Parliament being prosecuted for making false expense claims. Perhaps a better measure of social progress would be some sort of ‘freedom to participate’ index (as opposed to GDP or even Happiness index)?

  27. Again, I fully agree with your assessment. Looking at this whole ‘self enrichment’ issue from a totally different perspective, I feel less optimistic and believe that, even though we have made great progress, little will change until we finally become a more evolved species.

  28. Pingback: Santiago in NY Times – My Uncensored View — The South America Blog

  29. I will say what I was telling my fellow Chilean compatriots…we have to place things in perspective…while $100,000 USD is a good salary, in Chile, the US, and most places, I am sure Ximena Ossandon was making double or triple this amount in the private sector. She missed a main point…if she accepted a government position of trust, this was not for self enrichment or for the money, but rather for self-less public service, the chance to make a difference, the chance to serve the public. That is why she dug her own grave by such childish comments. But anyways, all politicians act stupid or make blunders that could be avoidable, this being an example.

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