Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The whiny voice: Adult version

I hate the whiny voice. Hate it.

In the states, the "whining" scenario usually goes something like this:

The kid in the back seat sticks out his bottom lip, puts on his doe eyes, and pitches his voice up a few octaves: "Daaaad. Are we there yeeeet? I'm huuuungry and I need to peeee." He oozes pathetic.

"Junior, if you don't stop whining, you're not going to watch any TV when we get to Grandma's house!"

Of course, what Junior doesn't realize, is that if he had asked in a normal, respectful tone, Dad might have answered him nicely. So he'll learn, eventually, that whining doesn't get you what you want. Big boys don't whine. (They cry, but don't whine.)

And so I've rarely heard a kid over the age of twelve use the whiny voice.

Except here.
Where whining is a social art:

And I don't just mean the complaining, people. Everyone does that. We use them as synonyms sometimes. I mean the voice, the face, the works. They use it when they want something from you.

"Senoooor. Por favoooor, me puede atender? He estado esperaaando." (Siiiir, pleeese can you wait on me? I've been waaaaaiiting.)

"Senoriita, discuuupla. Me prestes tu baniiiito? " (Miiiiss, excuuuse me. Can I use your bathrooom?)

Daaaaani. Me puedes hacer un favoooor? (Will you do me a faaaavor?)

You think I exaggerate? Ha! I've heard Peruvian adults use the whiny voice a thousand times! Okay that may be an exaggeration. Is this a Latin American thing? A Peruvian thing? A Limeno thing?

If I'm being all Abe Lincoln here, most of the time it still irritates the heck out of me. To my United Statsian ears it feels ingratiating, begging, manipulating, childish.

And the thing is, in an objective way, I know Peruvians really mean for it to be polite. It's a social courtesy, a nicety. It demonstrates that they know they're putting you out. It's the equivalent of "I'm sorry to ask you this, but..."

AND YET, I still feel like saying "Stop whining, or I'll turn this car around!"

There's only so far the brain can take you in intercultural interaction.

Confession: I have, however, used the whiny voice myself a time or two. Followed by deep shame.


  1. while the whiny voice may annoy the heck out of me, i may or may not be guilty of using it on occasion. it seemed to fit well when i was bartering with some lady trying to sell me something in the mercados indios or when trying to convince the cobrador that he could not overcharge me because i was in fact a student who rode the micro every day and refused to pay more on my way home then i did to get to la cato. so no te preocupes, i totally understand.

  2. Abby: Thanks! Haha, I think I remember you using the whiny voice on the micro! I think the time I may have used it was at the photocopiers.

  3. Oh my gosh.

    I heard that all the time in Quito, from the rich kids, and thought that it was just them being rich and spoiled.

    Shows how you can be in a place and not understand it.

  4. Marie: Yeah. There's about a million other things I still don't understand about Lima. For instance: Why does my host family just yell over the radio when someone calls on the phone/is talking at the dinner table, instead of just turning it down? I may never know.