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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.

La puerta!

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.