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Culture Shocked in Chile

February 25, 2018

I've spent the last couple weeks here exploring the different regions of Santiago, and understanding the geographical and cultural distinctions of Chile in general. Navigating a foreign country that speaks a foreign language is challenging, but nonetheless intriguing. I have become more aware of my own cultural and linguistic gaps than ever before. Moreover, the sense of internal displacement starts to kick in. In short, I must be prepared to constantly adapt to the unfamiliar this semester. 

1. Language

I've studied Spanish for a decent amount of time, and figured that I had a fairly comfortable grasp — definitely enough to navigate on a daily basis without a problem. There are a few factors that have made my Chilean life unexpectedly challenging: the local vocabulary, the pace of conversation + accents, and my own gaps. For example, instead of avocado being translated to 'aguacate', Chileans use 'palta'. 'Novio/as' are 'pololo/as', 'fiesta' becomes 'carrete', and 'taco' becomes...traffic jam. Locals speak quickly and often drop the 's'. When I crack open a Nature Valley granola bar on the bus, I realize I don't know how to say the words 'crumb' or 'messy'. 

2. Social patterns

Like most Americans, I enjoy my circle of personal space and find myself inching away from the formidable close-talker. However, as they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Chileans trade kisses as casually as pesos, strangers pressing their lips against my cheek upon introduction. They stand closer to one another when speaking, and are prone to hugs rather than handshakes. In fact, for most people in casual situations, a handshake is the clear sign of a foreigner. I'm still getting used to it, and find myself awkwardly sliding my palms back to my sides when meeting someone new. Besitos! 

3. Cuisine

I'm a lover of spicy food, and often cook with copious herbs, oils and flavors. The traditional Chilean diet isn't spicy at all, much to my disappointment. However, I've found that the food here is delicious in it's own way, seemingly centered around various forms of breads and meats. Empanadas make an appearance at every street corner, with limitless variety of fillings. Cazuelas, the local soup favorites, are brimming with vegetables and stewed beef or chicken. The diversity of the Chilean population is also reflected in the street food — Venezuelan arepas, sopaipillas, and even a Jamaican restuarant or two. In addition to the food, the local drinks flow as freely as if served by Hebe herself. Pisco, mojitos, terremotos galore. You name it, they have it. And it's on the happy hour list too! 

The Chilean Mealtime Schedule

8-9am Breakfast

Somewhere between 1 and 3pm Lunch

6pm Once (tea + a sandwich)

Somewhere between 8 and 10pm Dinner 

4. Random Daily Life 

There are always vendors on the street. Some of them sell dishsoap, and some of them sell homemade in-an-icechest "tempura sushi rolls". Many of the ones in hipper neighborhoods are kids in their 20s like me, marketing vintage clothes and vegan treats. 

In convenience stores and more formal street stalls, it's common to require payment at a separate cashier before collecting items. 

I love the bip! cards. They're used for public transporation, and can be swiped for buses and metros. 

The sun is unrelenting and sunscreen is a daily necessity. By night, the temperatures drop rapidly and you can go from needing shorts to a jacket rather quickly. 

At grocery stores, university students work for tips to push grocery carts of food back to your house; many city dwellers don't have cars to transport bulk purchases easily.

I can never eat too many empanadas.

Artists dot the city, dancing in the crosswalks with speakers blaring or hanging up their paintings and jewelry on the street. 

The tap water is safe to drink, but tastes like pennies. 

The city runs much later than normal, even though everybody gets up at the same time as they do in the States. Radios and laughter blare until the wee hours of the morning on every day of the week, regardless of early work schedules. 

Until next time. I'm growing accustomed to the lifestyle here, drinking in the sun and enjoying the pace of life. And the immersion commences!



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