Category Archives: Social Class

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. Continue reading


Isabel Sandoval Modas: a play that stands the test of time

"Isabel Sandoval Modas" at Teatro del Puente

"Isabel Sandoval Modas" at Teatro del Puente

Geografía Teatral does a stunning job of presenting their latest play at the Teatro del Puente in Santiago. Isabel Sandoval Modas reflects critically on Chilean culture, social class, family, group loyalty, and social immobility. Although this play by Chilean author Armando Moock first opened to rave reviews nearly 100 years ago (1915), it remains relevant today with only minor wardrobe and linguistic adaptations.

Social class is one of those overarching cultural issues that makes its mark on nearly every aspect of daily life in Latin America. This has been true since the original settlers brought their Spanish caste-like hierarchical system to the New World, and today, nearly 500 years later, little has changed. Kyle Hepp wrote a recent post on her blog on tensions between social classes, and I couldn’t help but think about it throughout the play.

The Story:

Señora Isabel Sandoval is a worker. Widowed with three adult children, she sews and rents rooms and manages to make ends meet. She doesn’t complain. It is her lot in life; she has faith that she’ll get her reward in the great beyond. But just to be on the safe side, she and her extended family pin their hopes on her son Juan, the law student, who will one day pull them all out of poverty.

All of the action of this 1-set play takes place in the combined living-dining-sewing room of the Sandoval family. While the story explores universal themes of young love, sibling rivalry, coming of age, future dreams, losing one’s way, and the prodigal son, it does so in a way that must be interpreted within the cultural constructs and constraints of Latin American culture. It reflects broadly on the three great cultural pillars of social class, family, and religion and provides insight into how they work together to define society and weave the inalterable destiny of those who live within it.

Each character is carefully defined to stereotypical precision: the doting, self-sacrificing mother Isabel, the down-to-earth yet envious sister Inés, the blue-collar brother Lalo, the future hope of the family Juan, the senior male Don Alejo whose authority is based on gender and age, his intelligent yet heartsick daughter Adriana who laments the impossibility of further study, and the upper-class (cuica) customer Doña Enriqueta. The interaction between them reveals cultural values of family ties and responsibility, group loyalty, faith-based resignation and fatalism, the importance of knowing one’s place, and the dangers of social climbing (arribismo).

The Production

The cast does an excellent job, although there are two aspects of the production that I found disconcerting. As it happens, both pertain to the character Lalo, the underappreciated brother, although I would attribute them more to script and direction than to the admirable performance of actor Rafael Contreras.

Lalo is the steady-Eddy of the family, a young mechanic, who, it turns out, is quite talented and on the rise, although his grease-stained blue-collar success earns him little respect from the others, who dream of having a professional in the family. Lalo is simple, decent, and kind, but lacks the good looks, commanding personality, and professional future of his brother Juan, who is the family darling despite being self-centered, inconsiderate, and completely charmless. Lalo also stutters and has problems expressing himself, further emphasizing the contrast with his brother who fancies himself a poet.

The problem with the Lalo character is two-fold, and without having read the original script, it is difficult to define precisely where the problem lies. Lalo is certainly socially inept and an odd duck, but he also comes across as intellectually limited, although the words that he does manage to stammer out and his success in his own work indicate that he does indeed have his wits about him and realistic dreams for the future. I suspect this is more a matter of the director’s interpretation than the author’s intent or actor’s presentation. The same words delivered with less hand-flailing and a slightly different intonation would lend the character more credibility. For example, when Lalo overhears Juan tell a third person to lie and say he wasn’t there, a simple alteration in inflection would change the emotion portrayed from bewilderment to a more believable hurt or anger.

The other problem results in two minutes of audience confusion toward the end of the play when Lalo attempts to reveal his innermost feelings and comes across as a potential mass murderer as he delivers a couple of lines that are completely out of sync with the rest of the character. Is he bungling and inept? Yes. Dangerous? Doubtful.

In Summary

Go see it. As simple as that. For anyone interested in a closer understanding of Chilean culture, not to mention a very rewarding way to spend a couple of hours, this is a must. It doesn’t say it all, but it will give you plenty to reflect upon for quite some time.

Your Turn! Got something to say?

Seen the play? Tell us what you think! Haven’t seen it but got something on your mind? here’s the place! We’d love to know what you think!

Teatro del Puente: Parque Forestal s/n ( just west of the Pio Nono bridge)
Access from Costanera and Santa María, with limited parking on each side.

Dates: May 14 – June 28, 2009  (Fri, Sat, Sun, 8 PM)

Tickets: $3000 CLP  (2 x 1 with Club de Lectores!)

Reservations: (56-2) 732-4883

The Ant and the Grasshopper, a la Chilena

Many outsiders find the issue of social class to be highly visible–perhaps even palpable–in Chilean culture. Today’s post touches on the often sore subject of class differences.

Para español usa la herramienta de traducción arriba a la derecha. La versión chilena de la historia está reproducido en español en el primer comentario.

Ok, let’s get down to business. Today’s post is more polemical than past entries, and I not only suspect–but I hope–it will generate discussion. A Chilean coworker sent me one of those e-mail “jokes” that was a parody of Aesop’s old fable on the Ant and the Grasshopper . You know the one: the hardworking ant spends the summer preparing for the rough winter ahead while the fun-loving grasshopper lives for the moment and suffers the consequences later on.

Reflected in this version are a host of underlying ideas about the state of Chilean culture. It makes very clear certain perspectives on class division, notions of capitalism vs. socialism, who deserves and who doesn’t, what is fair and what isn’t. Of course the story is pointed and exaggerated, but the raw edges that are very much present in Chilean culture are all there.

Some people find this story hilarious; others find it very sad, and yet others just nod in painful agreement. Where do you stand? Do you prefer Aesop’s version that emphasizes the moral virtues inherent in the work ethic? Or do you side with this version of the battle between the haves and the have nots? Or maybe you have a completely different take on the story? Please let us know!

Aesop Revisited:

The ant works hard all summer under the blazing sun. He builds his house and stocks it with sufficient supplies to last through the winter. The grasshopper, meanwhile, thinks the ant is stupid and spends the summer laughing, playing, and dancing.

Come winter, the ant snuggles in to his cozy house to wait for spring. The grasshopper, on the other hand, organizes a press conference and, shivering with cold, demands to know why the ant has the right to such a nice home and well-stocked pantry when others less fortunate go cold and hungry.

The local TV station broadcasts a live program that shifts cameras back and forth between the cold and miserable grasshopper and the cozy ant sitting at his bountiful table.

The church says that the grasshopper is an example of social inequality. The Chilean people are amazed that in a country as prosperous as theirs that the poor grasshopper is left to suffer while others live with abundance. Human rights and anti-poverty organizations protest in front of the ant’s house. Journalists publish a series of articles that ask how the ant became so rich on the back of the grasshopper and urge the government to increase the ant’s taxes to finance a better life for the grasshopper.

In response to opinion polls, the government drafts a law on economic equality and another retroactive anti-discrimination law. The ant’s taxes keep rising and he receives a fine for not hiring the grasshopper as his assistant over the summer.

The authorities seize the ant’s home because he no longer has enough money to pay the fine and taxes. The ant leaves Chile and moves to Switzerland, where he has a long and prosperous life.

The local TV does a report on the grasshopper, who has since become fat from gorging on all the food left in the house before the spring arrived. The ant’s old house is turned into a refuge for grasshoppers, and it deteriorates because they don’t do anything to keep it up. The government is criticized for not providing the necessary funding. An investigation is commissioned at the tune of $100,000, and in the meantime the grasshopper dies of an overdose .

The media comments on the government’s failure to correct the problem of social inequality. The house is now occupied by a band of immigrant spiders from Perú, and the government congratulates itself on cultural diversity in Chile.