Allá al fondo

The title doesn’t really have anything to do with this post. I don’t think. It is, however, one of my favorite phrases, because it is so typically Chilean. Ask a Chilean where something is, and they will likely point you in that direction by saying “allá al fondo,” which means “over there and a little further down.” It is probably the least helpful direction, but I love it anyways.

Language reacquisition continues. My team at work consists of two Spaniards and two French girls. I have more trouble understanding their Spanish sometimes than Chilean Spanish- that’s not a joke! I realized that I became so used to Chilean Spanish that it’s actually the accent I understand the most easily. Which is funny, considering that anyone who has traveled anywhere else in the Spanish speaking world will tell you that Chilean Spanish is possibly the worst pronounced and most slang-filled of all of the dialects. I’m also learning a lot of new vocabulary, and various Chilean phrases are coming back to me in bits and pieces.

Most of the people working in my office are from other countries in Latin America- Argentina, El Salvador, Ecuador, and Mexico, for example. It’s been interesting listening to all of the different accents and realizing just how particular the Chilean accent is. I have never traveled anywhere else in Latin America, so I have a very narrow and specific language experience. The other Latin Americans all think it’s hilarious that I say things like, “¿Cómo estai?” instead of “¿Cómo estás?”, or “¿Cachai?” or “bakán.” And I try to explain to them that this is where I learned to speak Spanish! This is the Spanish I know!

Working life is fun. My dad asked me the other day which I like more, work or class…and I think I like work more. Granted, rush hour on the metro and bus is not my favorite thing. Going to work isn’t too crowded. Going home from work is absolutely packed until about the last ten minutes on the metro. It really helps to have people riding with you, at least part way. But the nice thing about work is that I can leave it at the office, and I can do whatever I’d like and go to bed early when I get home. Not like at school, where I have class all day, and then homework all night. There’s something freeing about letting home just be home and not a workspace. But like my dad said, work is for the rest of your life. So I should be careful before I get too excited about it.

As I’ve said before, winter is for real. Last week was especially rough. We had very heavy rain for two days solid last week, and the city flooded. All of the schools in Santiago were closed for a day. For rain. They had a rain day, guys. You would think that in a mountainous area the streets would run off water, but nope. For whatever reason, maybe poor engineering, it rains heavily for about an hour and the streets flood. You inevitably get wet. Combine that with temperatures around 50 and no central heating, and that means you get cold. Very cold. Have I felt colder in my life? I guess in absolute terms, yes. But this is a kind of cold you can’t shake off. One day I drank about five or six cups of tea- regular, caffeinated black tea- just to keep myself warm. I have now taken to bringing my own herbal teas with me to substitute for normal tea, since I just can’t consume that much caffeine and sugar every day. I’m also getting pretty good at layering, and I even brought a small blanket with me to work. I bought a poncho this weekend, and maybe with a couple more turtlenecks, I’ll be set!

This was my bus stop for two days last week.

This was my bus stop for two days last week.

It was so cold outside that our windows steamed up.

It was so cold outside that our windows steamed up.

As a side note: you know you’ve been spoiled with central heat when the revelation that people actually use hot water bottles to keep themselves warm is a huge deal.

I have been enjoying my weekend days with my family, hanging around, relaxing, going to the mall. And I have been living up my weekend nights with my friends, going out dancing and enjoying the fact that I never have homework to look forward to on Sundays. The first weekend, my friend N. invited me out with another girl from our school and a Chilean classmate of theirs from their salsa class. We ended up at a small club separated from all of the extranjero craziness of Bellavista, packed with just Chileans and playing only cumbia (the second national dance of Chile, after la cueca). It was an excellent time. We were lucky to have the Chilean with us, because otherwise we never would have gone to this place. Having a Chilean guy with you also decreases the likelihood that men will jotear you- jotear basically means “to creep on” or “to hit on” in English. Going to a place that has a dearth of foreigners also decreases the number of jotes (literally, buzzard…colloquially, creep) present. Why? Because the jotes want the gringas! Jotes know not to go to places like this cumbia club, because their “prey” isn’t there. All in all, it was a good choice.

A mural inside the cumbia club.

A mural inside the cumbia club.

Speaking of extranjeros (foreigners), I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on being a foreigner since I’ve come here. As I mentioned, my office is mostly made up of non-Chilean Latin Americans, and a couple of Europeans. I am the only gringa. What we all have in common is that we are foreigners here. We are different. We’re all making the same language adjustments- yes, even those who are native Spanish speakers! We are all living in a culture that is not our own. And the thing is, Chileans notice. They do. Chileans can spot a foreigner like that, with wicked accuracy. You don’t even have to be blonde. I confuse the heck out of them once I start talking, but it only takes a look to know that I’m not from here. My Spanish coworker says it’s because of the way the rest of us dress. It’s not that there’s anything particular strange or different about our clothes, or even about their clothes, but they just know it. It’s little things, like your backpack or your shoes or if you carry a water bottle (a reusable water bottle in the side of a backpack is a dead ringer for Americans!). It’s probably in the way we react to staring. We’re highly aware of our differentness, and therefore extra-sensitive to when people recognize it. Staring back at them gives you away. The Chileans don’t look back. Even the blonde ones.

One last quirk about being blonde and foreign: if you’re blonde, and you catch yourself and another blonde on the metro staring at each other, trying to figure out who’s Chilean and who’s not, trust me. Neither of you are. Chilean blondes don’t stare at other blondes trying to figure out their nationality. Only the foreigners do.

This is what life looks like lately:

This is the reward for two days of rain: beautiful, snowy, powerful mountains.

This is the reward for two days of rain: beautiful, snowy, powerful mountains.

"It's not enough to get mad. You have to mobilize."

“It’s not enough to get mad. You have to mobilize.”

I went back to Pomaire for a day. Pretty spectacular for winter, and a 180 from a few days before.

I went to Pomaire for a day. Pretty spectacular for winter, and a 180 from a few days before.

That’s all I’ve got, friends! Hope you are enjoying good weather, whatever season you’re in.

With love,



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2 responses to “Allá al fondo

  1. Pingback: Urban Canvases – 15 Street Art Snaps from Santiago, Chile | piran café

  2. Pingback: Urban Canvases - 15 Street Art Snaps from Santiago, Chile - PIRAN CAFÉ

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