A Few Dozen Questions for the Road
I am moving to Chile when it is our autumn and their spring. I hope to learn how Chileans feel about rain. Do they despise it for the mud it brings, the wet shoes it leaves in the hall? Or do they go out to the sidewalks and gutters and beaches to revel in the miracle? Will someone join me in dancing bachata in the rain?
I hope to learn how Chileans greet each other. In Spain, the people kiss each cheek with smacking gusto or cool delicacy, while Filipinos kiss the right cheek, breathing deeply through the nose to bring the scent of you into their soul. And the gringos back home? Some hug, some high five, others interlock in rhythmic handshakes. Do Chileans mind if I hug them out of sheer excitement to be sharing their home? Will they accept if I ask to dance bachata in the rain?
I hope to learn how Chileans drink wine. How they eat fish. How they share meals and dinner tables and how their days went. Does one sip wine in Chile or gulp it down (if one is so inclined on a Friday night)? Are Tuesday nights like college Friday nights, like Spanish any-day-of-the-week nights? What do they sing while they wash dishes, what do they hum as they sudse the day’s work off their backs? Will they roll their eyes at me for gaping at the fish heads on the market floor, at the stacked globes in the fruit vendors’ stalls?
I hope to learn how Chileans insult each other. Do they fight like Italians, trading insults like angry prima donnas trapped in a duet? Or do they slouch and stare daggers, throw cold shoulders to the room? How does one speak Spanish as a Chilean, as an aspiring hispanohablante? How does the language taste on the tongue, the accent on the lips? Is Neruda all the more delicious when savored in his hometown and tongue?
I hope to learn more of my own culture. How many biases can I leave behind, and how many will cling to my shoelaces and survive the journey? Will my accent and clothes keep me undeniably estadounidense, or will they look at me, see my Philippine eyes, hear my Mexican-tinged accent, and think I am altogether, indefinably worldly? (I hope so.) I hope I feel my foreignness at once with my at-home-ness.
What will I do with all these answers, come eventual return? I hope I won’t settle for firm handshakes, instead blessing acquaintances with kisses. I hope I’ll sip wine wistfully, and learn to treat some Tuesday nights as if they were Fridays. Maybe I’ll walk through Los Angeles and Tijuana and finally understand the Spanish bubbling up around me. One thing I know: I will miss the Andes.
And will I know my culture then? With a new language and place tingeing my words and thoughts, I believe I’ll be even more of a melting pot—which is to say, more American. I expect “America” will come to mean two homes on two continents. I expect the rain will fall differently, as a memory of bachata dances on Santiago sidewalks.
Sara Alura Rupp
Los Angeles, California