About South America – I – Arriving in Chile Chileee

South America –

I took a four months trip to South America about two years ago (whuuuut already…!?).
So in between my Travelista Club articles, where I give you actual tips and addresses about places I know well, I shall write about my general experiences and trips in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, and Peru, before telling you more about my life in Mexico and my work there.

Arriving in a place where you don’t speak the local language –

Let’s began where it all started… Santiago de Chile.
First of all, let me tell you that when I left France I barely spoke a word of spanish. I studied Italian in high school, so my first days in South America were quite interesting.
« Por favors» there and « gracias » here, smile politely and shake your head, those were my main tools.
I realized how easily humans can mimic the attitudes of those to whom they are talking. If she laughed I laughed. If they were talking with wide open eyes, I would too, open wisely my eyes and say « oooohhhh ». If he said something in a sad and serious tone I would too, bend my head and answer with a sad voice « que maaal ». And that’s how little by little I caught a word there, and another one here. I always tried to ask during let’s say a ten minutes conversation (or monologue depending on who was my interlocutor) « oh and what does that mean ? ». Pretending that I was, of course, understanding the entire discussion, but you know, just not that one little word. This allowed me to learn a few words as well, here and there.

The people you meet –

I also have to say that I was extremely lucky with the people I met. My first host, Pauli, a friend of a friend, whom I had never met until that day, when I was waiting for her in front of her apartment, was profoundly patient with me, helping me, correcting me, in a nice way, not the kind of person who corrects every single word you say and keep you from trying more because it gets too frustrating and tiring (yeah you know what I am talking about). Anyway, Pauli was so nice to me and in just a few days I could already talk about a few things with her, basic conversations, yes, but still, it was something. I want to precise that I do speak Italian (it’s not just high school, nah nah nah… I lived in Italy).
And spanish and italian are two very similar languages. So yes I could already make myself understood but also because I was using italian words that people were (luckily for me) understanding.
And I can proudly say that by the end of my first week I could ask for a glass of water, ask for directions, explain what I was doing in South America (I guess I should explain that as well… but more on that letter), and I could express a few very important things such as « I am hungry, I am tired, I want to go there or there » etc.

Little by little –

Although I remember one of my very first days, I was in a park, extremely thirsty and a bit lost, well not really at the same time because I wasn’t looking for any particular place. I was just wondering, so yes I didn’t know where I was, not really, but I didn’t really care either. Anyway back on the story, I was thirsty indeed. And I saw a little street shop, I thought ah perfect! And then I realized that I didn’t know how to say drink or water and had absolutely no clue on how much it would cost.. Knowing that 1 euro equals 740 pesos chilenos, it can easily be confusing.
I ended up saying it in Italian « aqua » (water) and guess what? It’s « agua » in Spanish! Wonderful right !? But then, of course, he very quickly asked « con gaz o sin gaz? He showed me two different bottles and I said oooh, I looked at the bottles and thought, ok we’re talking bubbles, so I mimed the bubbles and said « no no! No gas, no bubbles ! ».
Everything gets so complicated when you don’t speak the language of the country you’re in. So complicated.
One very frustrating thing when you learn a new language (other than not knowing how to ask for a simple bottle of water) is not being able to debate about a topic you know well and could talk about perfectly in your own language. Or telling stories, like passed stories. Because talking in the present is one thing. Expressing yourself about something that occurred months or years ago is something else. Oh yeah believe me it is. For example « I go » is « voy » when « I went » is « fui », (whaaat right?) it took me such a long time to get that right…

Until then, Paix et Amour, toujours –

But why was I there, on the 16th of January 2017, in Santiago’s airport, talking with a girl on the phone I yet didn’t know, in a country about which I knew almost nothing, surrounded by people who spoke a language I didn’t understand?
I shall tell you in another article (wouh how exciting right ?! I bet you can’t wait!).
Until then, Paix et Amour, toujours.

Julie Charlotte

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