The point of the story that T, a gringa, was telling her husband was how preposterous it was that a confused man approached the two of us, obvious foreigners, speaking English, and T with cascading blonde hair, for directions to an address he had on a furled up piece of paper. We helped him as best we could, pointing out that he had to go under an underpass and look on the other side, behind the supermarket to find the building in question. He thanked us profusely, and lurched on, a bum hip hindering his progress.
Why ask a foreigner for directions? This has happened to me many times in cities far and wide, places where I’m not from and places where I don’t look much like the locals. In Santiago, I have a pretty good chance of being able to give directions, as I’ve lived here for four years, and have a pretty good grasp of the city’s layout. But as soon as the person asking the question hears my accent, you know they’re thinking, uh-oh, waste of time, she’s clueless. But then they listen a little, and realize I do, in fact, know my stuff. And I’m always left wondering why they picked me to ask.
So why us, we wondered? Of all the people milling about on Nueva Amunategui in downtown Santiago, why would he pick us? We (especially T) are obviously not Chilean. Was it part of a scam, a dare, a joke? Was he just terribly piti (Chilean slang for nearsighted)?
So T was positing the question to her husband, Chileno de tomo y lomo (100% Chilean), why someone would ask us for directions. But the question started out with T explaining that we were sitting on a ledge, eating empanadas for lunch. And her husband couldn’t even hear the question.
Eating? Outside? Sitting on a ledge? ARE YOU CRAZY? Crazy? No, why? T was then subjected to a minilecture about how only gente torrante would be sitting on a ledge eating food. Torrante people? she asked? Torrante?
People who don’t have anyplace else to go so they have to eat in the street, he explained. I looked it up in the Real Academia Española dictionary online and discovered that torrante is a Chilean variation of atorrante, which means, alternatively, vagabond, vagrant, without a fixed home or shameless. The good news is that he didn’t call us mujeres torrantes (torrante women), which has a second connotation that would make us prostitutes.
But we never did find out why the guy asked us for directions.