Come with me on a word adventure.

It starts with the word “portmanteau.” It’s a real word that no one alive today knows how to pronounce. No one.

But our lexicon is filled with examples of them. Brexit is a portmanteau. So is Spanglish. And bootylicious. And Jerseylicious. And Fergalicious. And malware, which is software that is malicious.

New portmanteaux are entering the English language all the time. You’ve probably heard the word “mansplain” being bandied about fairly regularly these days, and if you don’t know what mansplaining is, then don’t you worry your pretty little head about it*.

After a while, the portmanteau “mansplain” gave rise to the invention of the word “manspread,” which relates to the habit men have of spreading out on public transportation and taking up an uncomfortable amount of space.

Now, before this devolves into an argument about how genders see each other, I want to shift my gaze back to Santiago.

See the shining city of Santiago. See it. Look right at it. See this area of the city somewhat to the right of the center. This is the banking district. The Wall Street of Santiago. Shimmering glass buildings climb into the smog, flashing blinding sunlight down into the eyes of pedestrians and motorists alike. The people here wear suits and ties. Their hair is neat. No tattoos are visible. This area carries the nickname “Sanhattan.” That’s another portmanteau. A blend of Santiago and Manhattan. It even has its own Wikipedia page.

According to a passing local, this building is called, “Ahhh mis ojos!”


So far so good. There’s a lot of new content in our lexicon. Lexicontent, if you will. Now I’d like to propose a new addition to our word list – our wist – and that word is: Sanspreading.


Sanspreading /ˈsansprɛdɪŋ/ n. The phenomenon whereby people living in Santiago spread out to fill the largest amount of space possible: Get a load of that guy Sanspreading right now.


Picture the scene: I slam off my alarm clock moments before it starts beeping. I’m that good. I air-punch my way out of bed and into the shower. Nothing stands in my way. Being the go-getter that I am, I pound down a protein shake for breakfast and I’m out the door. So much energy. I arrive at some fancy building in central Sanhattan. Wait for the elevator? No thanks! I take the stairs. I bound up one and then stop dead because there are two people in front of me who have unconsciously positioned themselves in such a way that bypassing them is impossible unless I announce my presence and ask them to step aside, but who wants to do that because it’s early morning and I don’t want to talk to people.

I don’t mind scooching around one person, but I draw the line at slaloming.
The people of Santiago have developed the remarkable ability to block even the widest of walkways. If a sidewalk allows two people to walk side by side, then you’ll find one individual walking dead center. If the space allows for three people, then you’ll find a couple holding hands while strolling along at opposite sides, preventing third party passage. If you try to make your way up a broad set of stairs, you’ll likely be blocked by a foreigner who won’t ask the people in front of him to get out of the way.
Metro entrance
“The best place to have a conversation is at the entrance to the subway,” I mutter to myself as I passive-aggressively take this photo.

This happens in shops, too. Aisles will be blocked by trolleys left by shoppers who are oblivious to other shoppers. The city is plagued by an epidemic of lack-of-social-awareness. The whole idea of “Keep right, pass left” goes almost totally unheeded. And make no mistake, this is not necessarily a Chilean trait. This is a trait of the city, and by far the worst offender is me.

I am always in the way. And this is why: People in Chile drive on the right. Statistically speaking, I am probably one of the only people in the city who grew up learning to always walk on the left hand side of a path, and that habit has not left me. Whenever I encounter people coming toward me while I’m out walking, I automatically veer to my left (the stranger’s right), and the stranger will veer to his or her right (my left). Then we dance about a bit, the stranger mutters “Get a load of that guy Sanspreading right now,” and I climb around the person with much bodily contact and exclamations of “disculpe!”

When I try to quickly and illegally cross a street, I often look the wrong way. Hooting and and tire screeching are all-too-familiar sounds to me, which is why I’ve taken to flailing my arms and screaming as I run across the asphalt.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Accurate re-enactment of me crossing the street in Chile.

In short, Santiago is a place that distorts all sense of space and direction. We are like particles in an endless dance of Brownian movement, constantly climbing over and bumping into each other like bees in a hive, without regard for facilitation, efficiency, or metaphorical consistency. But the real message I want you to take away from this, Dear Reader, is that Sanspreading is a cool new portmanteau that I made up and that I want to popularize.


*Did I do that right?



One thought on “Sanspreading

  1. Loved this. I’m sure I’m still a bumbling American tourist in most places of the world, but it’s awesome to see how other cultures interact, even from city to city within the same country. Someday I hope to see Sanspreading for myself!


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