Friday, June 12, 2009

Hold your tongue, or you could "meter la pata" (put your foot in your mouth)

Living in a fishbowl, like we do, where we are people who stand out in any visually discernible way, for being tall, for being gringas, for being the guy with the three greyhounds in their tiny vests that look like saddles (I love this guy), we get used to people looking at us.

And then people talk to us sometimes, purposely letting us know that we've walked into a place where we are not the same. Oye, gringa! (like that). And Sara just tweeted (@sarainchile) that she was spoken about as though she was not there, her commenters saying, "Look! a gringa! what the heck is she doing here?" (in Spanish) As Sara points out, she understood the comment. I thought a nice response would have been the very polite third person question "Why the heck don't you ask her?" Frustrating, to be sure.

So this is the class of commentary we usually talk about. Someone said this to me (knowing it might offend), someone said that near me (not knowing I would understand). This particular horse, already dead and buried, is not coming home to roost today (pardon the crossed barnyard analogies, it's been almost a week since I was in the country, though I'm likely to pop in on the awesome city/country bazaar at Huerto Hada Verde tomorrow, maybe you should, too). Chickens, yes. Horses, no. Oh, and by the way, stalkmenot. Thanks.

Ayway, today I'll talk about that class of comments that someone makes, upon which they "meter la pata" literally, stick in their paw, or as we'd say in English, put their foot in their mouth. These are the "when's the baby due?" questions to a woman who is not pregnant, the "how old is your grandson" when it's the person's son, or "Where's your dad going?" when it turns out the "dad" in question is the person's romantic partner.

Whoops. Metiste la pata (you put your foot in your mouth). We have another, more colorful term here in Chile, which roughly translates to "you screwed up" but it involves the excretory system. And since I've already recently (as mamaj likes to point out) used the word crap on the blog (which! I had never! done before!), I will say that the word is a very harsh approximation of you having done that. "Cagaste!"

I think that's enough background for me to tell the story at hand.

The other day, I was on my way back from a meeting/lunch at a production company that does really beautiful work (and where they had a place to lock up my bike), and pedalling home. I was warm, happy, full, cycling freely down Eliodoro Yañez, a street that flows to the west (downtown), and then turns towards the city's main artery (the Alameda/Providencia/Las Condes, streets change names here, pesky but true). I noticed a guy on a moto (motorcycle) in the lane to the right of me (I ride the left lane here to make the turn without crossing lanes), and we came to the back of the stopped traffic at the same time.

He got off the moto for a second, to fix his shoelaces or pants or something, and when he was bending down, his cellphone fell out of his pocket. I said to him "Yo te lo recojo" (fig: got it). And he said to me, still bent over "Gracias compadre."

Compadre. You're reading that right. Spanish is not a very overinclusive language, if I want to say someone was my male teacher, he's a profesor, the female, my profesora. The motoboy (though not actually a motoboy, as this is a messenger company of some sort, and even less was he a taxiboy, which I could explain but it's too early in the day to talk about prostitution, but this has something to do with the Gus Von Sant movie "My Own Private Idaho") called me compadre. There is no mistaking that this is a word of and for men.

screeeeech. What? I handed him the phone and said, "Weón, si soy mujer." (fig: dude, I'm female.) He looked up at me and said, "ah, de veras" (hey, that's true). And he smiled, and shrugged his shoulders and held the cell phone in his hand for another second. He looked like he was about to say something else to me, and le di filo (I cut him off, another great Chilean expression).

The next word was the complete and utter end to the conversation. I said to him...


And I pedalled off, looking down at my right calf, which was exposed, as I'd rolled up my pant leg to the knee to keep my pants out of the chain. I looked down at my pink-trimmed sock and my pink swooshed Brooks Addiction sneakers (love these for overpronation). And I looked at my somewhat overmuscled calf again, and I said to myself: Compadre. Maybe I've been hitting the gym a little too hard lately.

And then I thought the most Chilean of disbelief/I don't agree expressions, and this I thought outloud.

Sssaaaah. (Naaaaah) And then I pedalled home, with manspeed.


pat1755 said...


Is Weon a linguistic abbreviation of Huevon?

Eileen said...

@pat1755, indeedly it is. Good eye/ear!

Sharon said...

You ride the left lane in Inodoro?
You are crazy!
As a respectful driver, I need to tell you that you're being an extra cause of stress. I hope you do know how annoying is to create room for a bike while riding very fast. Yup, I'm the annoying old lady who yells at them to go to the slow lane or get out :P

Bystander said...

Don't worry. He didn't actually look at you before he said it. Probably just saw someone on a bike out of the corner of his eye (or helmet) and missed the pink socks.
(Book sale tomorrow at the church on Holanda. Maybe even hand knitted leg warmers. Spread the word.)

Anonymous said...

Regarding Sharon's comment: Please don't ride on the sidewalk. It is an extra cause of stress to dodge riders. I have almost been run over by many bicycles. ;-)

Margaret said...

what are dodge riders?

Ya pu- ese weón ciego y tonton se metió la pata y filo, si no cacha la diferencia entre tu pata rosada y una pierna pelua del compadre, no le dái bola ni lo pescai nomás! filo, ¿cahcái?
ja-ja-ja!!! (that's laughing in Chilean)

Eileen said...

Margaret, it's an extra source of stress to (have to) dodge writers.

and everyone else, Margaret's approximation of a perfect reaction to my situation means (where slang words are in parantheses)

Yeah (well), that blind and (stupid) (dude) (put his foot in his mouth) and (forget it) if he doesn't (get) the difference between your (pink) (foot) and the (hairy) leg of a dude, don't ( worry about it) and don't (pay him any attention) that's it. (forget about it!, you know).

And if that isn't enough to give speakers of non-Chilean Spanish a heart attack, I don't know what is!

Well done!

Eileen said...

oh, and I do ride the left lane on Eliodoro (here Sharon changes the name to make it mean toilet, haven't heard that one before!), because there are buses in the right lane, and I can't ride in one of the two middle lanes without people trying to run me off the road from both sides and when I have to make that turn to the left on Providencia, no one will let me into the lane to make the turn if I'm not already there.

I promise I go very pretty fast though. And cyclists, do as I say, not as I do. I also ride on the Alameda, on Balmaceda, occasionally under the Alameda on San Diego or Santa Lucía. I go pretty much whereever I want, and hope for the best. And I try really hard not to be a jerk, though it doesn't always work.

Sharon said...

Yes! Don't ride on the sidewalk as well!! It's really anoying and I've almost been hurt several times due to careless cyclists

And I would let you on the lane. I always wait for cyclists and give them room to pass or turn, even if they are being jerks. I just don't want the bad karma of hitting one :P

gnappi said...

hey eileen! this is gina, one of the peace corps girls that met you on cerro san cristobal in chile in may! i was reading this post and it cracked me up cause i have dealt with so many similar situations in paraguay that leave me to pick my battles as they say, and mostly ive given up!!!

my first summer in paraguay my skin went crazy and was really hatin' on life. but i mean, what do you expect with all the dirt and heat in this country? i couldn't win! i just really had enough when most of my community would point out the obvious, often saying to me, "why is your skin like that?" or trying to get me to try any and every remedial plant in their garden. but probably my favorite comment made was, "gina! you used to be SO pretty, what happened to your face?" needless to say I wanted to die. got to love latin america some times.

anyway, hope you are well, keep up the great work, i really enjoy the blog!