Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Just another Statesian?

Caveat Lector: I must admit this is a bit of a cesspool of sometimes partially articulated ideas, that some day could maybe be formed into a coherent blog entry or essay or conversation. But meanwhile, it is what it is. (This is actually a suitable description of my life in general.)

A while back, I read Tyff's blog entry on what Chileans think of gringos where she describes a painfully ugly scene with a bunch of gringos (and one particularly ugly one) in Ruby Tuesday. She notes that she calls Americans "people from the States" (as do I) and gives a bit of an explanation of why. I started commenting on Tyff's blog about the topic of the usage of the word "American", but realized that my comments had turned into a whole post, which I've just taken the time to publish. She touches on a topic that goes unnoticed by most Americans. What is an American? Lots of Latin Americans think that Americans (from the States) shouldn't call ourselves Americans and the fact that we have appropriated an adjective/noun that in Spanish, describes all of North and South America, is on our part, very chauvinistic. In this entry, I take a multifaceted look at this problem. Hopefully it's somewhat coherent. Stealing the dude's words: There are a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous...

Here in Chile I refer to myself as a gringa in informal and general contexts and as an estadounidense (united statesian) in formal and specific contexts. "América"** for the most part refers to the continents of North and South America. America is not equal to América. American does not equal americano. They are false friends and lead you to histo-linguistic warfare.

To a point, different geography models even weigh in on this discussion. I was taught there are 7 continents. Latin Americans are generally taught there are six. North and South America are fused as one. There is also the six continent Eurasia model where North and South America are separate continents, but Europe and Asia are one continent. And there's the five-continent Eurasia model that excludes Antartica.

Back to the central point, I think the best points for defending our use of the word American are: 1) People living in the States were Americans and the States was referred to as America since the U.S. Constitution was written. 2) People from the United States of Mexico are Mexicans and people from the United States of Brazil are Brazilians thus people from the United States of America should be... 3) Most people in the States probably aren't aware that the Spanish word "americano" means anyone from América. I think it would be almost impossible to convince your average gringo he's no longer an American, as he understands the word. 4) if I'm not American, what am I? a yankee? a United Statian? a United Statesian? It's a possibility but sounds better in Spanish.

That said, I've gotten very used to thinking of an americano as anyone from América, and now when I use the word in English (especially here in Chile), it's just too confusing. Sometimes Chileans ask me if I'm an americana, because they know we call ourselves Americans in the States, but that's just even more confusing, because I know they call themselves americanos as well. However, when speaking in English, I mostly refer to Americans as "people from the States" or "U.S. citizens". When speaking in Spanish, as I said above, I use the much more specific term "estadounidenses". Personally I think we've really gotten the shaft on this whole nationality name thing. What were the writers of the Constitution thinking? There is no good answer to what we should be called. The term American is waay to confusing to use abroad, especially in Latin America. While I don't like the term "United Statesian", I kind of like "Statesian". I could live with being a Statesian. But try convincing the rest of the people from the States that they are Statesians and not Americans. Good luck! (So I'll refer to U.S. Citizens as Statesians for the rest of this entry.)

Part of the thing with language and culture is that it pays to understand the perspectives of the people around you. If a Chilean talks about América, (s)he is probably talking about the unified continent of North and South America. If your average yanqui in yanquilandia talks about America, (s)he's probably talking about the United States. And, by the way, yanqui is not a good term to use either because it, too, means different things in different places.

Now while Chileans have often told me that Statesians are chauvinistic because we consider only ourselves to be Americans, I don't necessarily agree. Chileans think that Statesians realize that everyone from North and South America are Americans. This has never crossed your average Statesian's mind. EVER. While I do believe many "Statesians" are culturally egocentrical, and probably even think of Latin America (and perhaps the rest of the world) as the State's backyard, either to be enjoyed, dominated or ignored, they have no idea that Latin Americans consider themselves to be Americans too. There are Statesians who simply don't think about the rest of the world. They are content where they are, so why go elsewhere? So we Statesians call ourselves Americans more because of cultural ignorance than a chauvinistic attitude. Although cultural ignorance and chauvinism are related and somewhat similar. For the record, many Statesians also look down on Europeans as well (it's not just Latin Americans they look down on).

It's interesting to note, while some Latin Americans look at Statesians' use of the word "American" with indignation, many Canadians would be insulted if you called them Americans. Hahaha. To each his own.

Also I think on large cultural lines, Latin Americans have a SEVERE INFERIORITY COMPLEX and that's why this debate bothers them so much. This is a product of their history and the fact that the idea of white supremacy was accepted here by intellectuals such as Andrés Bello (Pratt) and propagated by the history that was (and is) taught in school here. Plus many Latin American countries didn't do as good a job erraticating the natives as my anscestors did. So while they look down on the indigenous, many have indigenous blood. This is culturally fertile ground for the creation of magical realism and for hibrid cultures.

Also Latin Americans seem to be much more aware of the United States than Statesians are of Latin América.

Comments like "Chile is 10 years behind." "Chile is so behind." "Chile isn't a developed country.", while I think perhaps they have a grain of truth, when seen from a certain perspective, are a bit simplistic and are a result of this white supremist attitude which continues to reproduce itself. It's a belief in "progress". That we must "progress." Define "progress" in a general sense for me please! Because it's used in a vague general sense a lot. When people make comments like these, they are referring to Chile as inferior, compared to some vague ideal that they often don't have a clear picture of. Many Chileans seem to want Chile to turn out like the U.S. and/or Europe, this Edenic place to be worshiped and imitated. Most of these people have never been to either the U.S. or Europe. It's a grass-is-always-greener sort of mentality.

And clearly each culture has its good and bad points.

So I suppose this whole conflict of opinions will continue. The analysis and attitudes that this problem evokes in people, reflects the identity of the speaker more than it approaches a resolution to the problem. It's rich historical-cultural-lingüistic terrain.

Here are a couple forum threads that debate the unresolved America/América controversy:

There are a few more threads like this on wordreference including one I started about Mexicans, but I couldn't find one.

Here in Chile, they often think Mexico is part of South America. I was always taught it was part of North America so I started a thread in a cultural forum to see what Mexicans considered themselves. The general response was all three, first Mexican, then Latin American, then North American.

**I've seen this distinction America/América distinction made by Mary Louise Pratt.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

El precio gringo

Totally agree about what Sara says about the "Gringo Price". I also agree with the comment Kyle makes on Sara's blog, that if Chileans can get other Chileans to pay more, they will do it. It's not just something they do to gringos. Although, it's called the gringo price because it's much easier to make gringos (especially tourists) pay this price than other Chileans, who know that some of their fellow people will try to rip them off, if given the chance.

When I think about el precio gringo, several incidents come to mind that have happened to me in just the last few months.

When I printed my thesis, my friend X. designed a really stylish cover to put on the ugly fake-leather book (my bound thesis). She had studied architecture for a couple years near where I live and she knew where to get architecture plans (or in my case, a book cover) printed cheaply. She said it should cost about 1.000 pesos (2 dollars) to get the cover printed. We went to this place with the design on a pendrive and asked how much it would cost to print. The guy needed to see my thesis in order to get an idea of the size of the paper. First of all, just looking at me, it's apparent I'm a gringa. Second, on the cover, it said that this was my master's thesis for the Catholic University. So the guy was thinking, she must already have a job since this is her masters. She's going to a nice University and she's a gringa. "That will be 11.000 pesos." X. almost fell on her ass. Of course she questioned why it was so expensive, because she'd often had plans printed there and it didn't cost nearly that much and they were much bigger. The guy said that the paper was really expensive and that's why they were charging me eleven-fold what they used to charge X. It cost me less then that to bind two theses. This was just going to be a simple cover for them. Needless to say we canned that idea, because I had to turn them in the next day anyway.

This is just one of many cases I've experienced where people have tried to rip me off here.

That same day I'd eaten in one of the vegas and I didn't confirm the price of the lunch before ordering. (You should ALWAYS confirm the price before ordering if there's any chance of them trying to charge more. I knew that but had eaten at the vega a few times before with no problem, so I didn't confirm it this time, because it is a pain in the ass having to do it every time.) They totally screwed me over on the price. The waitress brought me the check and they were charging me double the price. At first I questioned the waitress, is this the right check? I pointed to where the price of my meal was written on the wall and asked why they were charging me double. She didn't know what to say so she looked at her boss who said "that is the right price." I got angry and started ranting in really colloquial, semi-vulgar chilensis how "me están cagando por ser gringa, el pedazo de pescadito era así una wea y uds me quieren cobrar 3 luka por esto? Puta, que tengo mala cueva por ser gringa. Qué penca. Así tratan a sus clientes?, etc." The waitress got visibly uncomfortable as all the Chileans having lunch there looked our way. (Chileans don't like to make a scene, so embarrassing them throughly in this way is reeeeeally satisfying. I might have even gotten my money's worth. You got to make them suffer a bit). I didn't want to get much more aggressive than that though because I was not on my turf at all. (Read: It's a poor neighborhood.) But the boss wouldn't ease up on the price even though the waitress didn't know what to charge me and was visibly ruffled. She knew they were charging double and that I knew it and I was letting everyone else in the little restaurant know it too. I left without tipping, too bad for the waitress, pero cómo tan penca? I haven't eaten at the vega since.

And, a month later, I was at the airport. Airport taxis are notorious for charging el precio gringo. You barely walk out the doors of the airport and the taxi drivers start bombarding you with offers to take you to the city. In October I arrived in the airport and needed a ride to my place. I was going to take the Transvip van to downtown Santiago, because it leaves you at your doorstep for like 5.000 pesos. However, most everyone was going to Providencia, or to the suburbs even further East. Right, I thought, Chileans who travel don't live in Santiago center. It was going to be a wait. So I decided to go talk to the bus people to see if the metro was running. Because for 1.000 pesos, the bus leaves you at the metro. However, it was early Sunday morning, so the metro wasn't running. I turned and started walking back the way I came. Just then, a taxi driver came up to me and offered to take me. I asked him how much he charged. He said 12.000 pesos. I looked at him, and very softly, so that he would doubt whether he'd really heard me say this or not, I said, "nica", and kept walking. So then he shouted at my back "11.000", "10.000", and then slightly flabbergasted: "how much do you want to pay?" This made me chuckle, but he'd already tried to screw me over and I knew Transvip could get me home, so I went with them.

When I need to call people to ask for their services, I sometimes have V. do it so that they won't hear my accent and charge double right off the bat. Just the other day I called my suegra to see if she could call the photographer for me so he wouldn't charge me the precio gringo. He gave her an excellent price. But sometimes you just have to suck it up and pay el precio gringo. There's only so much you can do.