Talking about coincidences (and Christopher Colombus and my appearance)

And continuing with the theme of coincidences, it seems like when some topic of conversation comes up in my life, it comes up EVERYWHERE, with different people who don’t know each other, in different contexts and settings, but somehow happens to appear in conversation.

I realize that maybe this has to do with me; perhaps I inadvertently pay more attention to a topic just because I’ve talked about it recently. However, sometimes it just can’t be explained.

For example, the other day I was talking to a friend about Christopher Columbus and how his name is so different in Spanish: Cristóbal Colón. Then in class, I asked my students to think of a famous event in world history, and they thought of when Columbus discovered America, which lead us to discuss his different names in different languages (Crisoforo Colombo in Italian, Christoph Kolumbus in German, etc.). Then, lo and behold, the lesson for the next class was on Christopher Columbus! And I swear I hadn’t opened the book that far yet. Crazy, huh?

But anyway, this post is not about Christopher Columbus at all, in fact it’s about how lately the trendy topic of conversation is how “gringa” I look. I was talking to a friend about how another friend, R., speaks very Chilean and how he got confused once when she called him because he thought she was Chilean. Then he said that people can notice that I’m gringa “al tiro” (right away), not only by the way I talk (duh) but also by the way I look. Then, last night as my student was driving me home we were talking about piropos and she also commented that people could tell right away that I am a gringa. Finally, my friends and I were talking the other day about how we can always spot exchange students right away, but how people who live here permanently and older ex-pats are harder to place, this lead to an analysis of which of our friends looked the most gringa, the most Chilean, etc.

There is no denying that, as my friend said, I talk like a gringa. I also admit that I look gringa, I have light skin and light hair compared to most Chileans, but I don’t think I scream “LOOK A GRINGA FOREIGNER!!” as I walk down the street like some people do. I feel that most Chileans who think I look SOOOOOO gringa already know that I’m a gringa, and that clouds their judgement a bit.

Case in point. The other day I was minding my business when a woman comes up to me on the street and asked me for directions. I’m totally used to this because it happens all the time, and I happen to know my way around very well so I tried to help her. As soon as she heard me speak, her face changed and she said, “Oh, you’re a foreigner! I didn’t know. Sorry for asking!”and before I could explain where she needed to go, she walked off and asked a Chilean the same exact thing. This same type of thing happened yesterday when I was waiting for the train to come in the metro. A woman asked me if the train went to Tobalaba, and I said “Sí” and she somehow, with that little word, knew I was foreign and started asking me how I knew my way around so well. I felt like saying something snarky like, “Well, if you just look at the subway map it tells you this train goes to Tobalaba”, but instead simply replied, “I’ve been here awhile.”

So, en fin, I know I’m a gringa and in no way am I trying to become super Chilean (annoying!) but I find comfort in the fact that I don’t automatically get pegged as a foreigner while I’m walking down the street.

From Christopher Colombus to my gringa (or not appearance). Those have been the recent topics of conversation in my life. How about you?


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