21st Century
The Future
World Travel
Books & Film
New Original Fiction
Opinion & Lifestyle
News Analysis
Film Space
Movies in depth
Kid's Books
Dreamscapes Two
More Original Fiction
Lifestyles Archive
Politics & Living

The International Writers Magazine

Dermot Sullivan

Spring is in the air here in Chile. The trees are starting to blossom and the days are becomming warmer. The nights are still a bit cold but that's to be expected as it's still only August. Next month this country will come back to life again.

Winter in Santiago

Chileans are really depressed during the winter. They can't hack it, even though it's nothing as bad as a northern European winter. The pollution, of course, puts another complexion on the situation, but what really gets the Chileans is the (imaginary) cold. It only gets cold here at night or when it rains.
I like the rain though. It cleans the air. There is one thing I have seen here that I find odd: Chileans dress their dogs for the winter! It is the norm here to see a dog wearing a dogcoat. One would imagine that they would really care for their animals, but with the amount of strays about that can't be true. When there is a full moon all one can hear is the sound of dogs howling!

Next week I shall be going to the Atacama Desert. I am due holiday-time and I am looking forward to the break. It is the driest place on earth. If all goes to plan I will be popping over the border to Bolivia to check out the salt lakes as well, but that is not confirmed. I'll let you know all about it when I return.

One of the reasons I am excited about my trip up north is that I will be finally breaking out of the English-speaking bubble that I live in. I speak English all day as I teach it and live with gringos. What little Spanish I speak is not improving. Until recently I was getting nowhere, but finally now I am absorbing some of what is being said around me. It is going to be a long time though before I can communicate to any decent degree. Chilean Spanish is really odd. It is not like the Spanish spoken in other countries. They speak muy rapido and mumble ... this is a problem that especially acute in the city of Santiago. Chileans also swallow the 's' so that 'muchas gracias' becomes 'mucho gracia'. Apparently the camposenos (country people) make an 'ay' sound all the time. The question '¿cómo estas?' becomes something like '¿com estay?'. In Spanish a common response 'más o menos. no más', which means 'more or less, no more' - a sort of English 'so-so'. Here they say it 'maomeno, noma'. Needless to say that I am bedeviled, defuddled and bewildered by all of this. My transactions with bus drivers and plumbers and other working people of Chile have proved torturous. I am at a complete loss.

Another thing is that Chileans have lots of words that simply don't feature in other forms of Spanish. Chileans often say '¿cachai?' at the end of their sentences, which comes from the English verb 'to catch'. It means 'dd you catch it?' or 'do you understand?' or a British "y'know" or "D'you what I mean'? ... 'Fome' is boring ... and there is the ubiquitous 'huevón', which can mean anything to 'buddy' or 'mate' (like the Argentinian 'che') to 'idiot' or something stronger depending on the tone that it is used in.
There are simply thousands of words that are used here that aren't used elsewhere.

Outside of Spain, nobody uses 'Vosotros' ('You' plural). They use 'Ustedes' which takes the same form as the third person singular. In Argentina they still use 'Vos' which is an older form of the singular 'You'.
Whereas 'you are' would be 'tú eres', in Argentina it would be 'vos sos'. It has its own way of conjugating it ... but good old Chile decides to do it differently! To say 'I am' would be 'Yo soy', but in Chile they sometimes say 'Yo sos', for reasons that are best known to themselves. That's if you can actually understand the rapid mumbling that comes out of the average Chileans' mouth!

As well as an aversion to any perfect tense (They seem never to say 'I have gone' or 'I had gone', only 'I went') they also say some things that just simply do not make sense. If they want to say 'you are boring' they will say 'yo fome' which means 'I boring'! Aaarrrgh! Sometimes they'll even say 'yo sos fome', at which point I am well and truly exasperated! It is going to be a long time before I get to grips with the language, to be truthful. It's really awful when you ask someone a question and you can understand nothing that comes out of their mouth. The only plus is that it builds student-teacher rapport as they see that I suffer just as they do - but everyday and not just in hour-long sessions.

One positive is that I have finally begun to roll the letter 'r'.
This is essential in Spanish for anything that has a double 'r'. The word 'pero' means 'but', yet the word 'perro' means 'dog'! The latter one has to roll the 'r'. Even words with single 'r's are pronounced differently than in English, as we make the sound at the back of our tongues whilst the Spanish pronounce it at the front. Slowly I am getting better (note the word 'slowly'). Pronunciation is tied up with snobbery and class here. Chile is the most classist society that I've ever come accross. Race plays a big part of it too: the more white you look the better. German, English, Arabic, Basque or Croatian (these nationalities had colonies here) surnames are deemed better than Spanish names (or native Indian names, which are considered beyond the pale). The ruling class really do turn their noses up at Peruvians and Bolivians who have a greater mix of indigenous blood in their genes.

The funny thing is that these people speak better Spanish than Chileans, so the Peruvian maid speaks better than her employer! Ha ha! Peruvians pronounce all the words in the sentence and use the perfect tenses ('Yo he ido' versus 'yo fui'). Anyhow, I have bored you enough with my Spanish lesson.
I hope that all of you are well and enjoying the summer. I've been keeping an eye on what's going on back home and your weather seems a bit odd, actually ... floods and that sort of thing. I hope it improves.
I'll be in touch when I return from the desert. In the meantime I'm going to take some headache pills as talking to Chileans does my head in!
© Dermot Sullivan

More from Dermot in Hacktreks World Journeys


© Hackwriters 2000-2004 all rights reserved