How to ask for directions in Chile

Travel Tips — By Bearshapedsphere (Eileen Smith) on October 25, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Dónde está el baño? or el catedrál? or any of a host of other things you’re looking for? Where are they?

Photo from jodastephen on flickr.

These roving Segway kiosks in and around Plaza de Armas in Santiago can give some tips.

Where are they, indeed.

A common and recurring frustration while traveling is the ability to find what should be just right over there, and walk for many, many blocks trying to find something that should be right there. Your NileGuide guide (like this one for some of Santiago’s stand-out churches) tells you it’s right there, even your smartphone (yes, you can use your foreign cell phone in Chile, but you’ll have to buy a data card, though WiFi is plentiful) seems to show that it’s right in front of you. But you can’t find it.

What to do?

It’s time to ask a local. And you can try English, but in Santiago it’s unlikely to get you very far. You could also try your high school Spanish, should you still have it on hand, but using a couple of little muletillas (literally: small crutches, in this case, commonly-used expressions and verbal tics), you’ll put your listener at ease and hopefully find whatever it is you were looking for.

Asking for directions.

You can say “permiso” or “perdón,” but both of these have a tendency to make people think you’d like them to step out of the way. Careful watching of Chileans indicates that the proper way to ask a question consists three parts: the greeting; the warning; and the question.

Greet:

Hola (hello)
Buenos días/ buen día (Good day)
Buenas tardes (good afternoon)
are all acceptable. You can say cómo está, but that’s not generally done in Chile in this case.

Warn:

Having greeted your friendly Chilean (and they really are pretty friendly), you must now warn them that you’re going to ask something.
The simplest way to do this is to say “Una consulta.” (a question)
The longer version is “Te puedo hacer una consulta?” (can I ask you a question)

The question:

Here you can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. If your Spanish is at the beginning stages, you might like to just say the actual thing you’re looking for.

El baño? (the bathroom)
La entrada? (the entrance)

Or you can get more elaborate.

Dónde está el baño?
Dónde está la entrada?

or if you think it’s not close, and you’ll have to walk a few blocks, you’ll probably want to use “Cómo llego a” (how can I get to…)

Cómo llego a Los Dominicos?
Cómo llego a Cerro Santa Lucía?

And now that you’ve got the greeting, the warning and the question out of the way, how do you decode the answer?

Go here to figure out what they just said.

And for a key to Chilean pronunciation, don’t miss this blog entry.

Tags: Chile, directions, lost, Santiago, Spanish

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  1. What did he say? Decoding directions on the street in Chile | Santiago | NileGuide - October 25, 2010
  2. Dónde está el baño? (Where’s the bathroom), Santiago style | Santiago | NileGuide - November 3, 2010