Chileans Say the Darndest Things


A Mexican pal of mine who lives here in Chile told me that he couldn’t understand anything his first few months living in the southern cone. He wanted to cry daily because he couldn’t understand these people speaking his native language! As a non-native speaker that made me feel a lot better. I would leave an academic class taught in Spanish feeling as if I understood everything, but outside of that room everything would change. Colloquial language is nothing like the formal business. Additionally the Spanish-speaking world has so many shades and variations between regions, countries and even cities. Think Mobile, Alabama meets NYC or Wales. These differences are very marked in Chile; for example, between the super-arid, driest desert in the world northern part and Patagonia at the bottom of the country/world. Even inside Santiago, the capital, there are a lot of differences between the classes. Someone from the barrio alto has a particular type of pronunciation and lilting intonation that indicates I am cuico! Cuico is sort of like snob and describes those who look down their noses at anyone who doesn’t have the same kind of cash or last name as they do. On the other side of the spectrum is a totally different type of speech or coa that includes a lot of idioms that not everyone can understand outside of that group, sometimes called flaite. Brand name clothing tends to make the flaite stand out. In fact, it is believed that the word flaite comes from Nike’s swoosh logo as it sounds like the word flight. I was robbed once by a pair of flaites. I couldn’t understand a thing they were shouting at me. I understood they wanted my stuff, which included exactly two dollars, my ID card, a used pair of earplugs and a Winnie the Pooh notebook. Ha! All my valuables were safely ensconced within secret interior pockets. Double ha!

Do you speak Spanish? Give this one a whirl. A possible conversation between friends passing through a local fresh produce fair in Chile:

“Oye, hue’on. Teni plata que me prestai pa’ comprar unas paltitas?”

“Sí, poh, obvio. No se’ ahue’ona’o. Cuanto querí, y cuando me pagai?”

“De’pue’ de la pega. Me llamai como a la’ cuashro. Si no me pesquai, me busquai en la casa de mi polola.”

“Ya, bacán.” “Chaíto!”

And you dear language learner, cachai? Translation from “Chilean” into Spanish:

“Oye amigo. Tienes dinero que prestarme para comprar unas aguacates?”

“Sí claro. No seas ridículo. Cuanto quieres, y cuando me pagarás?”

“Despues del trabajo. Llámame como a las cuatro. Si no contesto, búscame en la casa de mi novia.”

“Ok, excelente. Adiós!”

Just a little different, huh?

After learning Spanish I learned Chilean, although it does change all the time. Chileans tend to be very creative and funny with language. It seems that its geographic location would affect its difference as well. This country is as long from top to bottom, as the US is wide, snaking it’s way from the South Pole up to Peru along the spine of South American. The Andes Mountains separates it from Argentina to the east. The western border is the Pacific Ocean. With the dessert, sea, mountain range and the frigid pole, Chile is a little bit isolated. There was also a fair amount of political and cultural isolation going on during the dictatorship from 1973 to approximately 1991 when the country began to open up more. Chilean music, movies and slang are flowing out of the country at a faster rate every year, and increasing numbers of foreigners come to Chile to live, work, study or vacation as well. I have a blast trying to figure out what everyone is trying to say, sometimes laughing my ass off all by my lonesome, looking like an insane foreigner. Come on down!


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