After a week of exploration and general tom-foolery in Santiago, I arrived in the chiquitin town of Los Andes. I had spoken briefly to my host family via email, but I had little information besides the name of the mother and adress. I assumed the best, because even if they turned out to be uncoorperative and difficult, I could still always find an apartment on my own. As soon as I arrived, the family greet me with the traditional Chilean kisses (only one side, not both like in Spain). The family is of a 45 mother who has transformed a room of the house into a hair studio, a 56 year old father who works in the Chilean mines, a 17 year old daughter who is a señor in highschool, a crazy 3 year old daughter, and a sexy 25 year old daughter who comes home on the weekends. Overall the family is friendly and open-minded. Each member of the family has something different to offer, and it’s been fun to find common interests.
The 3 year old daughter has turned out to be a handful, but she is absolutely adorable. This girl is wacky, intelligent, and even deceptive like the gypsy who smoothly stole 5,000 pesos from me in Santiago (Country Crashers Rule #76: don’t let gypsies read your fortune). The family has made a number of jokes about me being a vampire from Transylvania since Pennsylvania sounds like Transylvania. When the parents playfully told the daughter to watch out for me during the nighttime, she simply looked at me curiously and said, “El no puedo ser vampiro, porque los vampiros no llevan lentes.” (He can’t be a vampire, because vampires don’t wear glasses). I sat there stupified and tried to think of a time I’d seen a vampire wear glasses— nothing came to mind! Another time I found her in my room searching through my clothes. I asked her why she was there, to which she responded, “Si soy tu hermana, porque no puedo ver las cosas?” (If I’m your new sister, why I can’t I look at your stuff?). It was an adorabely innocent excuse for something she knew that she shouldn’t have been doing…this girl is quick!! Another example, yesterday I brought home a curious green fruit from the market called “tuna.”
I was about to cut it open when the mother stopped me and told me I needed to peel off the outer layer, or else I would eat cactus prickles. The 3 year old daughter who was sitting nearby, apparently took this to heart, and began telling me to peel whatever fruit I was eating. During dinner she interrupted the conversation to tell me to peel my apple. She remembered her mother’s explanation remarkably well, and told me point for point how to prepare my fruit in adorable fashion (hay espinas, y tienes que pelearla asi, porque te pican mucho mucho mucho!). She then repeated her explanation a few hours later when I was eating grapes. I didn’t know what to do with the girls incessant demands, so I followed along to the family’s delight. After 3 occasions of her coaching me on how to eat my fruit, I finally asked her why she kept repeating her explanations since these fruits obviously don’t have needles. She responded, “No sé, era broma!” (I don’t know, it was a joke). The damn girl was just toying with me the whole time!
The 17 year old has been wonderful in helping me get a better grasp of Chilean humor. She told me that Chileans love to sit down and tell jokes (almost as much as they love wildly curvy women). More or less I’ve learned that if I hear or see any joke that is suspiciously simple, it has a double meaning, and that double meaning is more than likely to be sexual. She showed me a video of a Michael Jackson impersonator doing a ridiculous parody of the idol’s mannerisms and dancing (filmed before this death). During the sketch the impersonator’s umbrella flipped inside out at which point the audience had a frenzied applause break.
The daughter explained to me that Chileans often say, “se le da vuelta la umbrella” (he/she turned the umbrella inside out) as a way of describing a gay person. She then went through a list of random and strange phrases to describe a homosexual in Chile: “se le quemo el arroz,” (he/she burned the rice), “se le queda la patita atrás,” (his/her foot is stuck in the other direction) “se le derrite el helado,” (he/she melted the ice cream). Depending on the context these sayings can be taken in good fun, or considered to be offensive. I’ve also learned that describing something as being , “muy nigger” means that it’s really cool, and is not considered offensive. Can’t make this stuff up, folks!!
I already know that this third stay with a host family is going to be my best yet! I think a lot of it has to do with the ground rules that I’ve learned from my first two stays in Spain. They are as follows:
1. Keep your room/ living area clean. They may tell you that they do not care if you room is clean or messy. but it reflects really well if your space is at least relatively orderly! Also, always be conscious of anything you may leave throughout the house.
2. It’s important to compliment cooking! Know the difference between a well prepared meal, and one that is a TV dinner. Save the best compliments for meals that were specially prepared and took time to make! This is subtle, but definitely important.
3. Speak in a formal tone with the parents unless told otherwise.
4. The family will undoubtedly ask you how your relationship is with your own parents. Since these are going to be your adopted guardians for awhile, it’s important for them to know that you’ve maintained a positive relationship with your actual parents (I hope it’s true, but regardless it’s important to say it’s good!).
5. Be yourself and keep a good sense of humor, but be mindful that this is their house, and that it takes a leap of faith to invite a random person over to live. Don’t expect everything to be perfect, but with these steps you’re at least off to a damn good start!