By Nell Haynes, on 12 May 2016
In Chile, “manjar” is a kind of sweet sauce, similar to dulce de leche or caramel. It’s often used as filling in layer cakes or atop pancakes. It is almost universally loved for its smooth rich flavour. But ‘manjar’ is also used in slang to mean ‘rich’ or ‘sweet’ in other contexts as well. One may refer to a delicious holiday meal as ‘un manjar’ or equally to their love interest.
I had heard these uses of the word in Chile, and also being a fan of the sweet sauce, it made sense that it stood in for something to be savored. Yet when I attended a concert by American rock band Faith No More in Santiago, I was bewildered by the crowd’s repeated chanting of ‘un manjar! un manjar!’. Sure, the music was good, something to be savoured in the moment, but the food metaphor just didn’t seem apt to me. And the fact that it was being chanted in unison by thousands rather than whispered with a wink as that especially attractive acquaintance passed by, puzzled me even more.
But then I realised it was simply the buzz word of the moment. And not because of some fluke, but because, as is usual these days, social media had set off the trend, much as I explained for the resurgence of The Rhythm of the Night in Chilean night clubs in 2015.
In this instance, ‘manjar’ was thrown into heavy circulation when a youtube video surfaced of a Chilean campesino [person from the countryside] taking a long swig of very cheap wine, and then in a slow gruffy voice, proclaiming ‘un manjarsh’. Because of his accent and stereotypical campesino look, the man’s drunken proclamation was hilarious to young youtube viewers and as the video was passed around, use of the word ‘manjar’ shifted from occasional to self-consciously inserted into any possible exchange. Not only in spoken language, but Whatsapp messages, Facebook posts, Tweets, .gifs, memes, and even parody videos flooded Chileans’ internet. After a week or two the joke subsided, though when casually used, even several months later, the word still conjures the video of the campesino and his wine.
So, sure, this is just another story in grand quantity about how a word, idea, or image goes viral, has a short-lived moment in the spotlight, then fades from memory. But in this case, it also tells us something about nationalism and popular culture. Because manjar is considered something of a staple food in Chile, to call a person, food, or drink ‘un manjar’ not only says that the object is desirable, but that the person speaking about it does so from a particular position of being a ‘true Chilean.’ In some ways, urban youth may be lampooning the campesino with wine, but they are also identifying a similarity between him and themselves as Chileans. And when shouting it at an international rock concert, it claims the space and music as Chilean, not foreign, appropriating such rock music into a ‘true Chilean’ repertoire. I suppose it would be something like Americans chanting ‘apple pie’ at a U2 concert, claiming them as their own.