So You Think You Have a Hard Bed?

Chileans are masters of quick wit and they’re capable, in a split second, of inventing apt slangs that immediately twist a situation into something absurdly comical. They love to have a laugh at their own expense and often there’s little regard for political correctness.

I make no apologies for absconding with one of several Chilean slangs for ‘cemetery’ and using it for the title of my book.

‘Hard Bed Hotel’ (Hotel Cama Dura) needs no explanation and it’s perfect for the story of a desparate guy with half a brain (but a whole lot of good hair) who sets up digs in the family mausoleum. As it turns out there are, in reality, numerous living souls who share his situation and who find themselves sleeping side by side with the millions who have rested there for decades if not centuries.

In addition to ‘Hard Bed Hotel’, following is a list of Chilean slangs referring to ‘cemetery’ or for someone who’s half-way or already there. Some of the punch is lost in translation but you’ll get the idea:

  • Patio of the mutes (Patio de los Callados). This needs no explanation.
  • Where the souls grumble (Donde las almas penan). This comes from the idea that you can hear afflicted souls when you pass through a cemetery.
  • The parrot’s on his back (Se fue de espaldas el loro). You know it can only mean one thing when you see a bird lying on his back.
  • Dress in your wooden pyjamas (Ponerse al pijama de madera)
  • Stretch your legs (Estira la pata). Don’t use this one if you want to say that you’re going for a walk. In Chile, they picture someone flat out, legs stretched inside the box.
  • To cut out (Irse Cortina) This slang comes from ‘irse cortada‘, which means to get cut out.
  • Put away the sandals (Parar las chalas) Literally, “To Stop the Sandals”
  • Hand in your tools (Entregar las herramientas). Imagine taking the time to do this before you pass away.
  • The beginning of the autopsy (Principio de autopsia). Used for someone who’s at death’s door.
  • You smell like flowers (‘Andai’ pasa’o a flores). This in itself is a slang for smelling like flowers. If it wasn’t explained, it wouldn’t make sense because it is not literal. You can also say ‘you smell like gladiolas’. There are always flower sellers at the gates (to say nothing of those inside) of the cemeteries and normally you pass by on the way in and out. Thus this subtle hint about dying.
  • Ready for the photo (Listo pa’ la fóto) from the tradition of placing a framed photograph of the deceased at his tomb
  • At last the white smoke! (Por fin salió el humo blanco). With an obvious reference to a drawn-out selection of a new pope, this is also used when you’ve been waiting for someone you don’t particularly care for to pass away and when they finally die.
  • You’re out and about with the permission of the gate keeper. (Anda con permiso del panteonaro). This doesn’t have to do with dying exactly but it’s related to the cemetery. It is what someone might say to a person of very advanced age, meaning that they’re so old that they’ve risen from the grave and are wandering outside of the cemetery with permission of the cemetery gate keeper. 

Just a note about Chilean slangs in general. Although these are not cemetery-related, I can’t resist including here:

  • Rubber bell (Campana de goma) This is used to describe a person who’s very quiet, never voices an opinion nor participates.
  • Get into the envelope (Meterse al sobre). A mother might say this when she’s telling her children to go to bed.
  • He answers both phones (Contesta los dos teléfonos). He’s bisexual.

Having said all of this, Wikipedia  has a great list of English slang expressions for dying, some of which are similar and are also good for a laugh.