Friday, April 24, 2009

I see you, and I feel compelled to shout non sequiturs!

As a woman in Latin America, or truthfully in many parts of the world, you get used to people shouting stuff out at you on the street. Everything from cute little "Heaven must be missing an angel" comments to things that would make your 18-year-old nephew (don't have one, this is poetic license) blush. I have a variety of reactions to these comments, based on how I feel, how lascivious they are, how much I was enjoying my day prior to being interrupted, etc. But today's jibbertyjab is not actually about men calling things out to women on the street. That will happen at another time, in another place when my mother and I are not packing our bags for a quick jaunt to Montevideo, Uruguay.

Instead, today I will talk about how sometimes people in Santiago, upon discerning that I am a gringa, which they have done with their incredible bloodhoundgang-like detective skills, upon seeing that I a) am too tall b)am to pale c) posess the wrong face or d) am speaking English in the company of other gringos, decide to say random things to me.

Not long ago, I foolishly walked along Manuel Rodriguez to Huerfanos in Barrio Brasil late at night after getting off the 503 bus. In truth, I do this with some frequency, believing that this option is safer than getting off on the Alameda and walking into my neighborhood. I do this on the assumption that walking from populated to unpopulated areas is plumb dumb, and that walking from unpopulated area to unpopulated area is merely foolish. And so I set to walking. And out of nowhere, a man appeared, and he said to me, "YES!" (only it sounded like "JESS!"), which is not my name, so I yust (sic) kept going. YES! he shouted. Again, and again. I wondered if he was secretly in flagrante delicto, or perhaps listening to a silent soccer match. Or perhaps I'd unwittingly asked him a question, again, and again.

And then I remembered. I'm a gringa! He knows a word in English! He must demonstrate this! And he did. Yes! he did.

Then, a few days later, it was to a chorus of "I love you"s that I walked down the street. Being single, and relatively alone in this country, I took them for what they were worth, true professions of unrequited love, and scampered along. They love me! Yes! they do. Or maybe it was just what they remembered from English class. I'm so lucky it wasn't "This is the door," because that would really have hurt my feelings.

But the guinda on the torta (the icing on the cake, though literally it's the cherry, because bleck, Chilean deserts tend to have fruit on them), is that the other night I was walking with a couple of gringa galpals down the Alameda near the Univ. de Chile metro stop, when out of nowhere, a woman in tight jeans and a sequinned-tee shirt shouted at me, "Hey, baby!"

Did you catch that? A woman. Which on the one hand, just goes to show you how some people will shout out whatever words they can think of in English whenever a bunch of gringas goes by. And on the other hand it shows you how screwy the world is when the only words a woman can think of are the ones that have probably been shouted out to her on numerous occasions.

And then I thought of how it would be a fun little piece of performance art where you could piece together random things people shout to you on the street into a little conversation.

Hey baby!!!


I love you!


And in case you were wondering, to the "Jess" and the "I love you," I said nothing, and to the "Hey baby I responded, "hola, washita rica" (hey hot stuff (in rural lowerclass Chilean slang)). Because this was one of the days on which I had to respond or die. And then we broke into knee-slapping guffaws and ran away.


margaret said...

ja-ja-ja (which, of course, is the proper way to laugh in Chilean)...
Good one, ¡jess indeed!

barbra r said...

again, i'm laughing with no one to hear me!

Steven Roll said...

The downside to "cat calls" is that it's a low percentage way of meeting people. I'd wager that the number of times throughout human history that the "caller" actually got what they were looking for is very low.

It's a mystery to me why people keep doing it. It seems like something that would disappear through evolution.

Bystander said...

Sequined top and tight jeans do not a woman make. Just a thought. :)

Emily said...

Haha, I started laughing just reading the title of this post. It does seem that some people here have an overwhelming urge to share their few English phrases.

And about those days when you just have to respond? I get it. I don't know what distinguishes them from other days, but they definitely exist.

Abby said...

"Or maybe it was just what they remembered from English class. I'm so lucky it wasn't "This is the door," because that would really have hurt my feelings."

This line cracked me up so much!!!

One time I had these guys asking for "monedas" and when they heard me speaking English they said "Give me a money, plis!" and I felt like explaining to them that money is an uncountable noun and therefore doesn't take the article...but then I thought better of it.

Anonymous said...

You just happen to live in a neighbourhood or "barrio" known for its bars and party joints and for its rather high rate of petty theft. But of course it is also known for its cool buildings, and I guess this is what attracts "gringos" because every thime i've been there it is to go party with no other than: "JESS"! gringos!.
So if you don't want people to yell things at you, you can definitely move somewhere else.
And Bystander I agree with you...that girl was probably a boy.

Emita said...

oh man, hysterical post...i laughed out loud the whole way through, perfect title by the way. especially the JESSS story, you gotta wonder what's going on in his head, right? there's simply no way to respond to just the word yes. i would've paid to see the expression on the woman's face who you called washita rica. priceless.

Eileen said...

@ anonymous, I wouldn't change where I lived over a simple "jess" on the street, and I pretty much know what I'm getting into when I come home late at night. This guy was actually waiting for a micro, so who knows where he was going.

And as for bystander thinking the woman was a travesti, I'm pretty sure she was saying that women are a dignified lot, and that this subject was merely female. But I could be wrong.

everyone else, thanks for the bountiful comments. Like little internet hugs. awwwww. And bystander, I hope we're still on for a May meetup sometime!

Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?