First off: this post was inspired by this blog, which was such a huge inspiration and comfort during this journey. The inspiration specifically comes from this post. My list will not be nearly as comprehensive, considering that I have lived here barely 5 months, and I’m in Santiago- it’s not exactly a bastion of traditional Chilean culture. But I figured I’d just give it a shot.
Chileans are typically more spontaneous than Americans. Americans like email and plans and planning to meet up to plan things and iCal reminders, and things of that nature. Chileans? Not so much. I was invited to various things- a day trip to the beach, going around el centro and sleeping over- that I had to turn down because I had already made plans, and it seemed like the Chileans who invited me had a little trouble dealing with that. You mean, you knew that you were doing something this far in advance? Yes, I did. It’s a gringo thing.
Along with that, Chileans tend to be a little late. Not very late- I’ve heard they’re pretty good in comparison with other Latin American countries. But unless someone has specifically told me that I must absolutely be on time to something, I know that I always have a leeway of about 15 minutes. This was even truer in Linares. We never left on time for anything. I think we departed for Santiago an hour later than we said we would. So the next morning at breakfast when my host dad suggested we leave, 15 minutes earlier than he said we would leave, I was stunned and not ready.
Chileans are a little fatalistic. This whole American dream thing we have in the States? There’s really not a sense of that here, probably because for 99% of the population, it doesn’t exist. The class division here is astounding. It affects every part of life: where you go to school, where you live, what kind of job you can get, what you eat, where you shop, how you practice your religion, even where you will end up in the cemetery. It’s incredibly difficult to move upward, and Chileans know that. They also don’t trust the success of their economy. Chile is currently in a great situation: lots of consistent growth, major reductions in poverty (although there’s even higher income inequality), and solid trade relationships. But most of this is based on the exportation of natural resources, like copper, wood, fish, and fruit. That kind of economy is unsustainable, and I think Chileans worry about when the other shoe will drop.
Family is very, very important to Chileans. My host mom in Linares told me that she doesn’t have many friends and doesn’t need them, because she has her family. My host grandfather stops by the house several times a week. My host grandmother stayed with us during my first few days while my host mom was in the States. I think I’ve met most of the family that lives nearby. The importance of the family is probably one of my favorite things about being here. Both of my host families took that title seriously: they took me in like their own daughter, and I was never treated otherwise. Which is exactly what I wanted.
There’s a big divide between the culture in the country/the south (el campo y el Sur). Santiago is a big, modern city. The people, especially in the professional world, run all day long. They wouldn’t be out of place in New York. But in the country, kids still come home for lunch. As I’ve said before, life is just slower. Another thing related to this: everybody wants to be south, except santiaguinos. The city folk (generally) look at the country as boring and too quiet. In Linares, however, they tried their darnedest to instill this fear in me that life in Santiago was too crazy, that crime was rampant and that they were going to steal the shoes off my feet in the metro (not even kidding. That was actually something we were warned about.). And even in Linares, they didn’t want to be there. They wanted to be even further south, Puerto Montt and beyond into Chiloé. With the exception of the various leers and catcalls my blonde friend and I received while south, which happens in Santiago too, the people in the south were noticeably warmer and friendlier. They took more time to be with you. They were interested. They were very willing to offer whatever kind of help they could. Muy buena onda- good people.
Particularly in the city, people (especially young people) are friendly, but fairly closed-off. This goes back to the class division thing. Everybody goes to school together their whole lives and maintain very tight social circles. My Chilean classmates were very nice and interested in what I was doing here, but not enough to want to hang out, establish a friendship, etc. It takes a special Chilean (and a special extranjero) to make the effort to take you out, introduce you to people, and keep hanging out. That’s another Chilean thing: they’ll make you offers, say they’ll take you to this and that, but a lot of times there’s no follow-through. It’s not mean or purposeful at all. It’s just the way it is.
They drink a lot of juice, a lot of tea, a lot of agua de hierbas, and a lot of Coke (so. much. Coca-Cola.). And do they love their bread. And French fries. Oh, and chocolate. I have never seen king-size chocolate bars sold as the standard size. They don’t do the little normal Hershey’s bar. They do the huge bar, or a little single-serving. No in-between. I don’t know how my clothes still fit. But they do and I’m not going to ask why.
They’re more likely to go the doctor for little things. I’ve had two colds this semester- about two weeks after I arrived in Santiago, and one right now. After two days, my host dad has suggested, once again, that I go to the doctor. I leave in 5 days. No way am I going to the doctor. Besides, I just have a stuffy nose and a cough. I feel just fine. Just give me some agua de hierbas and confort (Kleenex). (All right, I cracked and asked for cough medicine. And it was the nastiest medicine I have ever taken.) (On the other hand, the agua de hierbas we have for colds is like drinking a tree. I think it has actual pine needles in it.)
As far as the Spanish goes, it’s just not a good place to go if you want an easy immersion. They speak so quickly. They drop letters and slur things together. They use the diminutive (-ito or -ita at the end of words), but it never actually makes anything “little.” If they say “tecito” or “pancito,” they’re gonna give you a whole cup of tea or a whole piece of bread. If they say “rapidito,” they mean really fast, like right now fast. They use an absurd amount of idioms and slang (especially outside of the city). Who knows how much I missed during my first couple of weeks in Linares. My host uncle down there was making a lot of jokes, and probably about me. It’s probably just better that I don’t know what he said, considering the one thing I understood was that he loved my hair.
They love the Simpsons. And The Big Bang Theory. And Phineas and Ferb, apparently- I saw Perry the Platypus t-shirts everywhere I went. They love American music maybe too much. I probably heard more music in English than in Spanish this semester. And a couple extremely popular songs in Brazilian Portuguese. Lady Gaga came and it was front-page news. Oh, and they call LMFAO “Limfow,” because saying out the letters in Spanish takes way too much effort.
I know that I felt fairly at home in this culture. They do appreciate meaningful relationships: family time is serious. Dating someone isn’t a casual thing; it’s a big commitment. They’re very “de piel”: literally, “of skin;” better translated, they’re a lot more touchy-feely. They smother their children with hugs and kisses far later than we usually do in the States. You greet everyone with a kiss on the cheek (all women), or with a handshake (between men, although some very good man-friends will kiss on the cheek and hug). There’s no just waving or head nodding. You get up close and personal with la gente. I was talking with a friend of mine recently. She studied here last year. We were talking in Spanish, but then she said in English, “Well, I’ll let you go now,” because she couldn’t figure out the phrase in Spanish. You know why? In Chile, at least, it doesn’t exist. I have never heard any Chilean say that. They don’t worry if they’re taking up too much of your time. And I hope that as the Internet and smart phones and social networking continue to sweep Chile, that that closeness and personal interaction and effort doesn’t disappear.
Coming soon: how I am and am not Chilean. What I am excited for at home. What I will miss about being here.