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Long ago in a hemisphere far, far away, I had two friends who had a special, hyper-diplomatic way of saying they didn’t like something. One was a friend from elementary school, who must have been coached by her parents to say “It’s interesting” about art, or fashion or anything audio-visual that was not to her taste. The other is my dear friend Stacy, who, when presented with offensive culinary items such as olives, cauliflower or ginger, politely says “it’s not my favorite.”

Which brings me to Chile, and the way you say someone is a bit of a PITA, without being mean. There are lots of colorful ways to tell someone off, of course, or to talk about how terrible they are to be around, many of these peppered with Chilean-only garabatos (swearwords, not to be confused with garrapatas, which are ticks).

But when you want to talk about how diffucult someone is, and you want to be a wee bit nice about it, you say “Tiene su carácter.” She/he has her way about her, she’s a tough cookie, she’s strong-willed, maybe defensive. All rolled up into one tidy little phrase which a dictionary would tell you means “She’s got her temperment.”

It has been mentioned to me on various occasions that I have my “carácter.” It’s true. I am quick to defend myself, a verbal sparrer, and in the case of the gym (where the story below recently happened), jealously guard my physical space, including telling a gym employee to kindly get the !”%$·@ off my treadmill siderails while I was running on it. Part of this is cultural, and part of it is my personality.

Yesterday the boyfriend was on his way into the gym and asked if I was around. Conversation went this way and that, and finally the manager said (as they often do) “Tiene su carácter.” And the boyfriend said, well, it depends on the person. And some people agreed and some disagreed, and there was hemming and hawing, and in the end, someone laughed and said, but “tiene su carácter.” And everyone snickered, and looked at the bf. And he agreed, yeah, she’s got her carácter.

So as you can see, I’ve been a victim of diplomacy. At least no one used any garabatos (swear words). Or garrapatas (ticks).