Thursday, February 9, 2012

Potpourri #9

One of my favorite things about learning Chilean Spanish is every so often you come across crazy phrases or expressions that give me a good laugh.  For example, here "Devil's advocate" is "abogado del diablo", or "Devil's lawyer".  Another one is for a stingy/"tightfisted" person, you say they have "la mano de guagua", or "a baby's hand".

But I've found a new favorite phrase that takes the cake for me.  I was walking along the street with some friends the other day, and the person who was talking wasn't paying attention to where they were going, and they stepped in dog crap.  Upon noticing this, my buddy starts laughing heartily, points at him, and says "casaste con la reina, weon!"

I have no idea how you get "you married the queen!" from stepping in dog crap.  Only in Chile.


The grandmother of my buddy Marco passed away this past week, and so I went to my first (and hopefully only) Chilean funeral last Tuesday.  It was a Catholic ceremony, and for the most part quite similar to the few ceremonies I've attended in the US.  Also, the priest spoke very clearly and slowly, so I was happily able to understand the majority of what he said to the congregation.

Afterwards, we went to the general cemetery in Chile to lay her to rest.  It was interesting compared to the US cemeteries, as this one was much more of a concrete jungle.  There was practically no grass inside the entire compound.  I didn't take any pictures personally (poor taste in any country), but here are a few shots pulled from the internet:

Of course, just because I was respectful doesn't mean everybody else was.  There were street vendors selling flowers, cigarettes, and cookies and water throughout the cemetary, which seemed a bit out of place.  Also, one of the uncles made a joke as we were leaving - we walked by a plastic trash dumpster, and he told me that was a "Peruvian mausoleum".  (Peru is the Mexico to Chile's USA)

It was a pretty interesting cemetery though, all the erect structures inside were unique.  Also, there is one Mausoleum inside that was about 10 stories taller than all the rest (for firefighters only).  I wanted to take a different path out of the cemetery, but Felipe told me it was bad luck to leave a cemetery by a different route.  Best not to anger any karma gods.


At this point, teaching has lost just about all of its novelty.  Sure, I still have to figure things out as I go along, and there are occasionally those "OH!" moments where students make breakthroughs, but for the most part it's 90 minutes of guided struggle through workbook exercises, and I hammer a paycheck at the end of the month.  But every so often, I find little moments of great joy that help to get me through weeks of teaching with a little smile on my face.

Last week, I sat in on a board exam with a fellow teacher, evaluating a higher-level group of students.  (Side note:  after 8 semesters of classes, it's blatantly obvious which students have been doing their homework, studying on their own, and practicing when they can, and which students have been copying, cheating, and coasting their way through classes.  So we can always look forward to a large range of students in these exams.)  The teacher who I was giving the board with was one of the many Chileans who I suspect is gay, but my lack of cultural calibration throws me off. 

Before we started the exam, we made small talk about Chilean authors we liked, and other things of the sort.  I said my favorite author was Pablo Neruda (total poser answer, it's like saying your favorite music group is the Beatles).  He smiled, and then gushed for a good 5 minutes about a Chilean author named "Isabel Allende", and how she was the new pride of Chile, and her work was so cutting edge, and popular, and was really advancing the culture of the Chilean people.  It was one of those conversations where he clearly felt that he was on the vanguard of culture, and it was people like him spreading the word of worthy artists to simpletons like me that advanced the human race.  Normally I am very open to checking out new musicians/authors/artists, but our chat reeked of self-importance and condescension.  I applied a stock smile to my face and said "She sounds very good, I'll have to look into her." He smiled, and then we began the exams.

The first two students were pretty forgettable - decent vocabulary, but Spanish grammar structures still lingered in their dialect.  The 3rd student who came in was a very bubbly, energetic girl who clearly had been doing her homework for the past 8 semesters.  She used great vocab words like "manifestation" and "imperatives", and save for a few grammatical gaffes, she spoke nearly flawlessly.  My partner, clearly impressed, started probing her about her thoughts on the future of Chile, especially with respect to culture.  She answered very clearly, and always with a smile on her face.  Then he asked her what she thought about popular literature.  And this is how she replied:

"I believe there are many good authors from Chile today, but there are many bad ones too.  For example, Isabel Allende is a horrible representation of Chile.  Her books are simple and uninteresting, and it is very clear to me that she is influenced by many corporate interests in her stories.  She appeals to the lowest group, and that is how she sells books."

I snuck a sideways look at my fellow teacher.  His face had turned beet red, the faint remains of an old smile forcibly retained on his face.  He had puffed his chest out just a little bit, like a pigeon about to get into a pecking battle with an adversary.  His hands were clenched under the table, out of the pupil's view.  But there was nothing he could do - her English was immaculate, and we were not grading her on opinions.  I restrained my mouth from forming a smile, but every other part of my body exuded pure satisfaction, I was a little child who just got everything he wanted for Christmas.

After she stepped out of the room, we gave her the quickest and quietest "95" of any student by far, and equally quickly moved on to student #4.

No comments:

Post a Comment