There are two situations I encountered upon moving to Chile, two uniquely annoying what-do-I-say-here situations that left me frustrated, exposed, and sometimes, seemingly hijacked.
It may be that you’ve studied Spanish or any of a host of other languages. You may know how to say “the enemy is advancing on the hill” (this from a friend of my sister’s who studied Chinese from sort of military handbook in the 80s), or even “where is the bathroom” and other fun expressions like “It hurts when I do this” or my particular favorite (Puerto Escondido, Mexico, April, 1992) “Have you seen my friend’s bag? It’s brown, and woven, like a hammock” (answer: no, get thee to Mexico City to plead her case for a new passport).
But what I didn’t know how to do was enfrentar (deal with) two common situations. The first one has to do with being in a bathroom stall, doing what you do, when someone tries to yank the door open. Or starts knocking. In my experience in English we usually say “There’s someone in here” or something similar. But what to say when you’re in the baño and someone tries forcing the puerta in Chile?
Ocupado! (Occupied) (which I just realized is certainly related to the word cupo which means a place or an entry, as in cupos limitados (limited number of seats/tickets).
Mystery solved. Which leads us to how to handle what is, essentially, the opposite problem. You are on a bus, and you have dutifully dinged the dinger, or buzzed the buzzer or pulled on the little cord that runs from here to there to signal your desire for a) the bus to stop and b) the doors to open. And the driver slams on his brakes, sending most of the passengers forcefully forward, but not you, because you’re an expert straphanger and bus surfer. And the bus stops, and a few people get on and off at the front, but you’re standing facing a closed bus door at the middle or back of the bus, your destination looming blurrily on the other side of dirty plexiglass. What to do?
Well, if you’re in Chile, and a man, you can whistle. Actually women can whistle as well, and though I’m not clear on the whys of this, it is considered horribly low class. A thing that only women who can open beer bottles with their teeth and/or make rude sounds with their armpit would do. So no whistling for women. You could knock on the door. You could also meekly wait for the bus to start moving again, ding/buzz/pull as necessary and then go up to where the bus driver is so he can see that you want to get off the bus.
Or you can shout.
For various grammatical reasons that have to do with the presence or absence of the article in Spanish being roughly equivalent to the opposite of what it is in English, and no, I do not really have an explanation for this other than that, it is not enough to just shout puerta. Of course, but bus driver might still stop, but everyone will probably start imitating your perceived accent (which may or may not be anything like your actual accent), though in fact, if you are already off the bus and headed to your destination, do you really care?
Door mysteries, two of them: solucionados (solved). You may now move freely about the universe.
I have a feeling this will be very useful to know… hehe. Thanks!! 🙂
Amanda, there is so much I wish I could tell you, but you’ll just have to see it for yourself. Let us (you must be following other Chile bloggers, right?) know when you’re touching down. Sounds like a great adventure! And you know I love NZ, right? I tell everyone all the time. And then I publish photo essays about it: http://matadornetwork.com/trips/photo-essay-new-zealand-by-pedal
Hi Eileen! I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now and it always has great writing. But today you have provided me with some key information! Thank you. I’m right now preparing to move to Chile (Concon) in August and I’ve been there three times before. Your first door situation has happened to me before and I didn’t know what to do! And the second situation is a tiny fear of mine. Now I’ll know exactly what to say 🙂
oooh, cozy, Chile in the winter! But at least it’s warmer on the coast. I guess you’ve got lots of time to work on your preparations. Glad to have you aboard, and hope the transition goes well! Thanks for your comment, and let us know when you’re settled. There could be a (bus) roadtrip at some point!
Great post. Re: women whistling being considered low class. Ask a chilean woman you know who grew up in the countryside to whistle. She will blow the hair off your head with a goat whistle the volume of a Lear jet taking off. That’s why whistling well is low class in Peru, anyway. 🙂
Fun as always!
Here’s another door thing that used to stump me a lot. Why is “tirar” written on the door for “pull” when I KNOW I learned “tirar” was to throw. Yes, I know that these are both correct (at least in Chilean Spanish), but isn’t it odd that tirar can mean “latch on to something and then move your arm toward your body” and that it can also mean the opposite: “move your arm away from your body and then let go of something”
I guess it’s like how we can “throw” the door open? In other countries it’s jalar, so I guess you’re not alone in thinking tirar might not be the right word!
Maybe not so Chilean. I think “tirar” to mean “pull” comes from “tiro”, as in “bestias de tiro” (beasts of burden), like oxes, cows, and horses, used to pull (or haul) sleds, wheeled vehicles or plough.
That “tirar” that comes from that “tiro” is the one that appears on today´s micros, and comes from old spanish.
Note that “tiro” and “tirar” have other meanings that have nothing to do with this subject also, like the “throw/tirar”, or “tirar… ehm tú cachay, tirar”
Meaningless digressions from a groundhog…
are you kidding, those are linguistic digressions. The tastiest kind! Also, you can’t come through Santiago again without stopping for a coffee at least! Verboten!
In French, when someone rattles the bathroom door, one also says, “C’est occupee.” When the twins were about 6 they would answer in both French and English, as if not sure who was rattling the bathroom door in the small apt where they lived with their brother and parents. “Occupied! C’est occupee!” they’d yell. It was very funny. Also, please pretend there’s an accent on the first e.
I suppose a random stranger could have popped in to try to use the facilities… But you were in Mauritania then, right? So certainly the person was likely to speak Franch. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter what you say, so long as you say something. You’re unlikelly to be saying, “come on in!”
Awesome! This brought back memories (not of bathroom stalls). Riding on a micro can be suuuuch a pain in the ass. When I lived in Viña del Mar, I used to have to walk down to the Recreo metro stop by the “highway” and hail the micro from there. I also had to get dropped off around there, so it always felt precarious when I would have to get the micro to stop while cars whizzed by. One time, the driver didn’t close the back door, and some nice Chilean boys tried in vain to convince him to close it so I (standing by it) wouldn’t fall out into traffic. Jeez. Now I live in New Jersey, and I always ride the little mini buses into the city because I know the drivers are Latino and they’re willing to put the pedal to the metal!
how do you say bathroom stall in spanish?