Monday, February 14, 2011

Chileans make fun of gringos speaking Spanish! (again!) This time: Lah Peeohhaira

The last post, where I talk about whether or not walking more than kung fu (caminar mas que kung fu) is a potentially offensive expression, brought up issues of language and sensitivity. I am particularly attuned to language, and I like to think that I watch carefully how people treat each other, and try not to be a jerk in general terms, though I have been known to occasionally snap at people and later apologize. I'm not proud of that, it's something I'm working on, etc.

But getting back to the issue of language and sensitivity, consider this video from Canal 13 news, where they interview the creator of Askme, a little mobile kiosk where you can get maps, and a service that has some self-guided walking tours and some paid (downloadable) audio tours. Here's what I said about Ask Me on NileGuide, if you're into that.

And here's the video in question, which we will be discussing. Please pay careful attention to the following:


Ready? Watch:

What we have here is one journalist in the studio, and one in the field, making fun of how gringos talk. "Dohwnde estta lah Peeohhaira?" is supposed to stand in for Dónde está La Piojera links to #NG. (and there's actually one funny portion here, where the news guy is driving his segway, and says, "look, no hands" and someone in the studio says, look out, or your next line could be "look, no teeth").

But back to La Peeohhaira. I suppose this is funny. If you are eight. I know this is something I have railed against before, and it will never cease to bug me. As an adult, you should be beyond making fun of people's accents on national TV. It's the equivalent of tuning into NBC news and seeing someone do a Speedy Gonzalez imitation to repeat something Penelope Cruz said. (Yes, Speedy Gonzalez, a pretend Mexican mouse, himself an offensive caricature, and I choose Penelope Cruz because she is famous and a native Spanish speaker, not because I am concerned about her new baby who I'm sure is beautiful and has awesome eyebrows).

Eso no se hace
(that is just not done). Except in Chile, sí, se hace (yes it is). I'm not necessarily complaining because it affects me personally, I know I have a slight accent in Spanish, and I'm (mostly) okay with that. But that's the point about -isms, they don't offend you because you're part of the group, but because you're part of the society, and as a society, we should just all sign up to join the "let's not be jerks" club.

Except in Chile, making fun of the way gringos talk is not considered to be jerky. See exhibit A, video above. And by the way, the Ask Me people are cool, and you'll notice that the owner didn't participate in this tomjerkery. This is a situation in which my wiring says one thing and the society says something else. It puts me in a grey area of offendedness. Am I still allowed to be offended by something that was not meant to be offensive? I have told all of my friends that pretend gringo accent talking is not funny to me, and for the most part, they respect that.

I guess I just have to go make friends with the people at Canal 13. Won't you join me in my one woman campaign to get people to stop making fun of (and imitating, which is worse) the gringo accent in Spanish? (and looks like we're not alone, the combined search results from "make fun of my accent" and "making fun of my accent" were more than 100,000, and I'm sure bearshapedsphere can't be more than ten of those).

and here's another post where I talked about something quite similar. Call it early onset repetitiveness. A trait I come by honestly. Are you listening oh schvester mia and Mamaj?


Rob W. said...

That's something I can't stand either when they do that, especially when we have just been introduced and they haven't heard me speak (which is then when the classic line "Creí que no cacho weón" comes in handy).

I don't make fun about their bad English! Well, at least, not televised on national tv. Just as well it was the Catholic channel!

Eileen said...

I paso slightly mas piola, so I don't get quite as much of that, but it depends if I'm alone or with people. I find it tremendously irky, though my friend Kate in Argentina tells me she thinks it's snicker-worthy. I guess there are gustos y gustos with this type of thing.

Loved your analysis of the news broadcasting in the latest post!

Kyle said...

I wouldn't say I'm offended too terribly (there are other things that offend me more, like when I try to watch a soccer game and am ridiculed for my two crimes against Chilean soccer watching humanity -- being both Gringa AND a woman -- which means I couldn't possibly know anything about futbol, right?).

But yeah, even though it's not something I care enough about to fight against, I do think it's a no-no. I don't make fun of their accents, they shouldn't make fun of mine.

Sharon said...

To be quite honest, I think making fun of accents is a universal characteristic and you'll find it anywhere, whether evident or secret. In Chile, it is understood to be more playful than offensive and in Latin American countries we tend to make fun of each other as well by imitating our respective accents (with mostly awful results), so it's not just with people that speak other languages.
I'm only complaining because as I have difficulty seeing it as offensive to a gringo, you don't have to deal with the opposite. I think gringos are more polite in general, but sometimes there's a huge load of racism and stupidity under that mask of politeness and I've had to deal with it as well. It's sad, but it's true. I'm more familiar with the mocking attitude, so I'll prefer it over the condescending attitude anytime, though I understand it won't be the same for everyone, because we all come form different cultural backgrounds.

Sharon said...

BTW, if you think that's bad, google "Cómplices" a TVN soap opera. One of the actors plays a gringo and does the worst accent I've ever heard. Though it's a comedy, I do find it offensive, because to me it sounds as mockery (I only saw one episode, but it was one episode too much).

Eileen said...

Kyle, it's not so much that I personally am offended, it was just another example about the line about what's rude or not (and actually, I should include Sharon here, too) is cultural, and may or may not be the same from one culture to another.

Marmo commented on the last post, but hasn't chimed in yet here, and I think the point is that there is, to some people (as he mentioned, in the case of trabajar como chino), the concept of appropriate or positive stereotypes. I think in Chile it doesn't seem rude to make fun of how gringos talk because in general, we're seen in a positive light, so what's it to us if we talk a little funny?

I think it's not quite the same as imitating a native but different accent in Spanish, because the assumption is that that person speaks well, just not like us.

Clearly I am worrying too much about all of this, so let's wait another couple of years and watch me blog it again and see what else I have to say. Or, better yet, I'll sit here and be quiet while you all weigh in.

Abby said...

I have mixed feelings about this. I find the video offensive, maybe because it's these random periodistas making fun of the gringo accent. When my friends imitate me (which rarely happens anymore) I never felt they were making fun of me, but rather pointing out my endearing quality of being different.

In October I was in the south with my students, in a really tiny town that wasn't very touristy. We were walking down the street, speaking Spanish (we were all gringos). We came upon some people walking slower than us, so as we went by (the sidewalks were narrow) I said "Permiso." As we passed, the woman started imitating me, saying "Perrrmisso, Perrrmisso." THAT really bothered me, and if I hadn't been working I would have given her a piece of my mind.

What bothers me most is when people think I don't speak Spanish and address the person I'm with instead of me, or switch to HORRIBLE English when they think I don't understand them.

Ricardo Esteban said...

Well, here I am, with a little bell on my neck xD.
Last post and this one are real eye openers, in terms of understanding what seems right or wrong from different points of view.
To avoid repeating myself with gringo examples (see last post for some long ramblings on the subject) maybe those of you living in Chile have seen come TV commercials where some other Southamericans appear. Most of the time, they are no real Argentinians, Peruvians or Brazilians, they are Chilean actors, exaggerating their accents. In that context, for us is fun to see and hear how others perceive us; there are few things more appealing to any Chilean than read or hear other people´s perception about our country. That being said, when we see for example, a Colombian TV add where a supposed Chilean appears, and speaks trying to talk like us, we see no insult in that; it´s something like when you hear your own voice in a recording and you say "What? That´s how my voice sounds? No way!".
Maybe we´re wrong on the assumption that others outside Southamerica will feel the same.
Also, incredible as it sounds, it is almost the same as imitating a native but different accent in Spanish, it´s just some irrelevant sillyness, not really a mockery.
By the way, I see often the term "gringo" used here and there, on your blogs, it seems that you have somehow get used to see the word as a non derogatory term here in Chile, meanwhile, the same term, "gringo" seems to have a negative charge in Mexico, for example.
As a Chilean, I can say that 90% of the time that someone here speaks imitating some accent (not only gringo accent) is trying (and failing in gringo ears xD)to be funny or friendly.
Lucky me, I have never thought of doing something like that to a gringo who I am talking to.

Marmo said...

Errh, por motivos que desconozco mi comentario salió con otra cuenta que ná que ver! Eso que dice "Ricardo Esteban",debería decir "Marmo". =/

Anonymous said...

I am not so offended that people on TV are making fun of gringo accents, I get more offended when people make fun of me personally.

It doesn´t happen very much anymore (thank goodness) but when I first started my job I used to get made fun of by everyone for my accent when I asked for "jelea" at lunch in the casino. It was so annoying, everyday and it just reminded me on a regular basis that I´m not like the rest of them.

Good post!

Lana said...

I don't know how to feel really.. I kind of just want to feel offended because I've had lots of Chileans feel offended by some of the stuff on my blog that, to me, are totally appropriate observations I made about living in Chile. In the U.S. their actions would be totally inappropriate, however here in Chile its okay? But did they ever think about the cultural background of the gringos they are making fun of? Perhaps I have little cultural sensitivity, but so do they.. even if they are still in their own country.
I'm going to link this on my blog and post the video too!

Anonymous said...

How about Spanglish and Chingrish? Americans make fun of accents too. Not a big deal, IMO.

Alice said...

Things like this is a common thing to every race, not to be pissed off to, since where probably doing the same.

Amy said...

Hmm, interesting. My natural instinct is to be offended, and not just if it's a gringo accent that's being ridiculed - here in Buenos Aires they do it a lot for the Chinese accent, and I think it riles me up because it suggests to me that perhaps the person making fun is not open-minded or culturally sensitive, and that makes me uncomfortable. But having been around it a lot I think they think they are just being funny, and they don't mean any harm. Just like they call people "gordo" and "flaca," they call it like they see it - and let's face it, there are gringos that actually talk like that (just don't tell me I'm one of them, haha!).

Anonymous said...

Como hacen tanta alaraca por esto, incluso hay humoristas gringos que se rien de los acentos como Russell Peters o Chris Rock, pero esperen a ellos se les permite insultar porque son de la misma raza, quién los entiende? ellos pueden usar la palabra que empieza con n..., creo que antes de criticar primero hay que ver lo malo en uno.


Margaret said...

Uf! Another good topic!
I think Chileans generally mean no offense when they imitate foreign accents. Nor when they (cringe) make "Chinese eyes" or stare at black people, but rather it is a reflection of living in a generally homogeneous culture. The US and Europe are extremely multi-cultured and people have to make the attempt to accept & understand each other to maintain some semblance of peace.
Most of the time I try to laugh it off when someone imitates my Spanish, and, in fact, turn it around. I have often learned much by realizing that they are pointing out the errors I need to correct to fit in better.
On the other hand, the same Chilean friends that are so quick to tease me for my errors become sensitive and hurt if I suggest that their English is less than perfect.
I used to teach English to professional adults and the biggest obstacle to their English proficiency was fear of ridicule... which this post and all the comments point out is a very common way of separating "them" from "us" and keeping people in line.