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University of Missouri

I’m blonde, no entiendo nada

Filed in Blog, Chile by on August 27, 2018
by Lane B.

In the U.S. blondes are sterotypically, well, dumb. They are spacey and smiley and can seem a little lost. In Chile, where I am often the only blonde in a room, my hair means something slightly different. Coupled with my sub par Spanish, it immediately marks me as either a hapless exchange student or a luckless tourist to be robbed immediately.

In one of my first conversations with my host fmaily, they had a good laugh about my hair color. “If anyone ever stops you on the street and you don’t want to talk to them,” my host brother said, “all you have to do is tel them ‘lo siento, soy rubia, no entiendo nada,'” meaning “sorry, I’m blonde and don’t understand anything.”

All this emphasis on hair wouldn’t bother me except for one thing: for the first time in my life, I actually feel like a dumb blonde.

My program is for the semester but I have only been here three weeks, not long enough to adjust to the rapid Chilean Spanish. Although my comprehension is improving, I tested into the lowest group of language learners in my program and often find myself just smiling and nodding along to native speakers, too confused to know what questions to ask or what parts of a sentence I need repeated. In lecture halls, I fight to stay engaged with speakers, grasping at foreign words which fly over my head in rapid fire.

Small cultural missteps, experienced in one form or another by all travelers, only add to this idea. Bringing my host mom a knife instead of a spoon when she asks for una cuchara. Forgetting to weigh my fruit before waiting in line at the Jumbo market check-out counter. Showing up at the wrong time for class or not even being able to find my building (both have happened, separately).

Before leaving the states, I went to the hairdresser one last time and was asked which I wanted highlights or lowlights. To me, this question wasn’t a question of color. Did I want to stand out or blend in? I chose the former and upped my wattage by a few degrees. Although this decision has given me a bit of trouble abroad, I stand by it. Feeling myself succumb to the dumb blonde stereotype is frustrating but ultimately, appearance is harmless, my Spanish is getting stronger every day and I feel less like a gringa all the time. In a few months, when I’ve got my feet under me, I’ll be all too glad to be able to say “soy rubia, no entiendo nada.”

Student stands in from of large grey coastal rocks by the coast of Quintay, Chile, with arms spread wide open.

MU student Lane B. near the coast of Quintay, Chile.

About the blogger

Lane B. is studying abroad on the IFSA-Butler: Chilean Universities Program program in Valparaíso, Chile.

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