As a woman in Latin America, or truthfully in many parts of the world, you get used to people shouting stuff out at you on the street. Everything from cute little “Heaven must be missing an angel” comments to things that would make your 18-year-old nephew (don’t have one, this is poetic license) blush. I have a variety of reactions to these comments, based on how I feel, how lascivious they are, how much I was enjoying my day prior to being interrupted, etc. But today’s jibbertyjab is not actually about men calling things out to women on the street. That will happen at another time, in another place when my mother and I are not packing our bags for a quick jaunt to Montevideo, Uruguay.
Instead, today I will talk about how sometimes people in Santiago, upon discerning that I am a gringa, which they have done with their incredible bloodhoundgang-like detective skills, upon seeing that I a) am too tall b)am to pale c) posess the wrong face or d) am speaking English in the company of other gringos, decide to say random things to me.
Not long ago, I foolishly walked along Manuel Rodriguez to Huerfanos in Barrio Brasil late at night after getting off the 503 bus. In truth, I do this with some frequency, believing that this option is safer than getting off on the Alameda and walking into my neighborhood. I do this on the assumption that walking from populated to unpopulated areas is plumb dumb, and that walking from unpopulated area to unpopulated area is merely foolish. And so I set to walking. And out of nowhere, a man appeared, and he said to me, “YES!” (only it sounded like “JESS!”), which is not my name, so I yust (sic) kept going. YES! he shouted. Again, and again. I wondered if he was secretly in flagrante delicto, or perhaps listening to a silent soccer match. Or perhaps I’d unwittingly asked him a question, again, and again.
And then I remembered. I’m a gringa! He knows a word in English! He must demonstrate this! And he did. Yes! he did.
Then, a few days later, it was to a chorus of “I love you”s that I walked down the street. Being single, and relatively alone in this country, I took them for what they were worth, true professions of unrequited love, and scampered along. They love me! Yes! they do. Or maybe it was just what they remembered from English class. I’m so lucky it wasn’t “This is the door,” because that would really have hurt my feelings.
But the guinda on the torta (the icing on the cake, though literally it’s the cherry, because bleck, Chilean deserts tend to have fruit on them), is that the other night I was walking with a couple of gringa galpals down the Alameda near the Univ. de Chile metro stop, when out of nowhere, a woman in tight jeans and a sequinned-tee shirt shouted at me, “Hey, baby!”
Did you catch that? A woman. Which on the one hand, just goes to show you how some people will shout out whatever words they can think of in English whenever a bunch of gringas goes by. And on the other hand it shows you how screwy the world is when the only words a woman can think of are the ones that have probably been shouted out to her on numerous occasions.
And then I thought of how it would be a fun little piece of performance art where you could piece together random things people shout to you on the street into a little conversation.
I love you!
And in case you were wondering, to the “Jess” and the “I love you,” I said nothing, and to the “Hey baby I responded, “hola, washita rica” (hey hot stuff (in rural lowerclass Chilean slang)). Because this was one of the days on which I had to respond or die. And then we broke into knee-slapping guffaws and ran away.