— “So, what do you think of Chile?”

“Well, I like it a lot, you know? I haven’t gotten to travel enough yet, but I really like Santiago.”

I haven’t figured out how to give a more complete answer than that yet, but I’m working on it. Fortunately, this seems to suffice.

— “What do you study?”

“In the US, I study estudios internacionales, and here I’m finishing minors in Spanish and Latin American Studies.”

I generally get looks of confusion about some part of this answer, whether the question is “What in International Studies?” or “What’s a minor?” or “How can you study so many things at once?” (When you enter university in Chile, you pick one carrera and stick with a very strict course schedule for five years.) or “Oh. Latin American Studies.”

The last “question” is something I have a lot of trouble responding to, which leads me to:

— How many continents are there?

“Seven. Obviously.” Except apparently it’s not so obvious.

Ask a South American, and he or she will say, “No, it has to be one (America) or three (North, Central, and South) continents.” To which I reply, “Look at a map! The area we give the (completely appropriate) political designation “Central” to clearly belongs to the North American continent, geographically speaking; how can you possibly distinguish between Europe and Asia (as most of them do) and refuse to recognise that North and South America are geographically separate?” This line of reasoning, however, goes nowhere, and just goes to show how differently even the “facts” we learn in the second grade can be viewed, sometimes. (Poor Pluto’s fate is another good example!)

More to the point, though, I have so much difficulty with adjectives here. I’m never an “americana” but an “estadounidense” (a word that, tellingly, doesn’t exist in English, lit. “United States-ian”) — okay, that’s fair, we’re all Americans after all, and I frankly don’t like self-identifying as an American either in any language. But when to say “latinoamericano”? Is “sudamericano” (South American) ever okay? And what does it mean? Am I using it pejoratively? Why should it be perceived as pejorative? As far as I can tell, it’s just descriptive. And why should I feel bad or silently judged for having a minor in Latin American Studies? In other words, what would you rather we call it? Particularly due to the lack of an “estadounidense” equivalent in English, simply “American Studies” means something entirely different to us. I just hate feeling guilty and defensive (rightly or not) when explaining the estadounidense perspective on issues like this.

I joked to a friend in the States that I should just give up the semantics game and start identifying simply as a Texan — confirming all her worst suspicions (as a Missourian) about our pride and exceptionalism :P.

— “What’s your last name (apellido)? Y, segundo apellido?”

(In most Latin American countries (and Spain/Portugal), the first apellido is the father’s name, and the second is the mother’s — and women don’t give up their name at marriage. So, most people go by their first last name (abbreviating, for example, María Márquez M.), though it’s up to each individual which name(s) he or she wants to use.)

“Well, I don’t actually have a second last name.”

As my lit professor opined today, “It’s interesting, isn’t it, that in countries where women have so many rights and opportunities (which includes more than just English-speaking countries, it should be noted), they still give up their last names at marriage?” (Immediate response from one student: “What? But that was just in the past, right? Aren’t things are different now?”)

So, extrapolate from this what you will about the differing roles and importance of tradition and lineage and religion in these different areas of the world (or better yet, do some research, like I ought to do); it’s an interesting thought exercise.

— “Spanish is a difficult language to learn, isn’t it?”

Funny, that’s what I tend to assume about English. Spanish certainly has its pitfalls, including conjugations, agreement, and tenses galore, but all things considered, it was (is) nothing next to my current task at OU of learning Russian. And while this has a lot to do with the fact that Spanish has a lot more in common with English than Russian, I’m also positive that it’s directly related to the fact that I started learning Spanish at age twelve. Every time I remember a vocab word from the eighth grade (I pulled the word for stapler (“grapadora“) out of the air the other day, much to my surprise), or use a verb in the subjunctive without a second thought, I become more convinced of this.

— “So, America. Guns, right?” (followed by shoot-’em-up hand motions)

Yep, that’s how the conversation started. The ensuing encounter was a good example of me failing to handle myself with grace and civility and give the questioner the benefit of the doubt. The acquaintance in question is from Europe, which I failed to immediately process but gives the question a little more context, but I was mostly completely taken aback by his tone and abruptness (for goodness’ sake, we were being introduced at a party!).

So I gave an equally abrupt, annoyed, semi-coherent answer in which I explained the Second Amendment and concealed handgun laws as rationales for and examples of the rhetoric and culture surrounding guns in the US, and tried to paint the issue as not necessarily partisan (okay, that’s a bit of a stretch). I’ve given the question a lot of thought myself, and have emerged unequivocally ambivalent about it, which more than anything accounts for my combative tone and obvious irritation in answering his question. (Actually, upon re-reading, that’s ridiculous. What got under my skin was clearly the unabashed stereotyping (especially after he learned I’m from Texas) and his offensive presentation of it.) At any rate, it’s stuck with me as an example of how not to respond on behalf of myself and my country.

— “What do you think of Obama?”

“Well, I voted for him.” This is usually all the questioner wants to establish; most of them don’t actually follow American domestic politics, from what I can tell (hard to blame them, it can get pretty depressing sometimes).

(“Oh, Texas. That’s where George Bush is from, right?” generally carries the same subtext.)

Going to build houses in Region XI (still not sure exactly where) tomorrow! Wish me luck!


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