Thursday, December 3, 2009

Group Post: Finding Your Way in Chile

Yay! Another group post!!! I am really loving this idea. Good work whoever started this trend! Just to warn you, this post might not be the greatest of posts because I am currently functioning at peak stress levels and barely have a second to spare! I have ALL of my finals within the next week AND a paper worth 40% of my grade due on Monday (which I have conveniently not even started!). Oh to be done the semester! The light at the end of the tunnel seems so far away! Having said that, I just cannot bear the idea of not participating in these awesome group posts so here we go!

First of all, here are people's links who have posted on the topic already. If anyone else wants to join, just send me your link!


Finding your way in Chile...this is something I wish I could have read before going there for my first time. Here are some general guidelines and advice to help anyone that wants to go down South to the land of paltas, pisco, and cueca (the three things I most associate with Chile ha ha).

1.) Have a map of the general area you will be living in and the places you will frequent most often. If possible, try to actually understand that map.

Of course, this comes from personal experience. To those of you coming from smaller towns (like me!) and those who are directionally challenged (also like me!), this is especially for you! Santiago is not labelled very well. A street will change its name various times throughout its length and in many areas, streets aren't marked. I will never forget the stress of my first weeks (okay months) in Chile when I was constantly stumbling around and getting hopelessly lost all over Santiago! Poor E must have gotten about 50 phone calls a day from me on the verge of breakdown because I didn't know where I was and was late for my class! He even had to leave school to come find me once...or twice...ha ha! S0, as you can see, I am amongst the group of directionally handicap individuals and even now, 5 years after my first Chilean experience, I need a map with me at all times!

2.) Get to know the transit system.

Though it may not seem like it in the morning and evening hustle and bustle of the overwhelming Santiago traffic, Transantiago is your friend. The metro is the most efficient form of transportation, though at peak hours you can expect to find yourself plastered to the metro wall due over-stuffed metro cars. You can't be afraid to get physical and fight for your right to get off at your stop. With all those people in there, it may be necessary to push and shove and scream your way out of those metro doors.

Another piece of advice: if using the bus not...I repeat, DO NOT stand up until the bus comes to a full and complete stop!!! I once did this, and flew to the front of the bus when the driver decided to slam on his breaks at the last minute. I also witnessed an old woman get seriously injured after flying to the front of the bus and hitting her head on the windshield! (The ambulance actually had to come!).

One last tip: the direction of traffic changes on certain main streets at different times of the day. The purpose of this is to accommodate the morning and evening traffic rush. So know your bus stops well! And don't be surprised if you come out of the bus black and blue, Chilean bus drivers can be a bit rough!

3.) Take advantage of the ferias!

The ferias are farmers markets which are conveniently distributed all over the city. Buying produce here is so much cheaper and you have a much bigger and delicious selection!

4.) Piropos: Get used to being cat-called.

I don't need to say much about this one. In Chile, like most Latin American countries, you will get cat-called no matter what you wear, where you go, or what you do. Be especially weary of passing by a construction site because the noise from all the piropos will deafen you. Because of this, it is necessary (as a woman) to watch what you wear. You can get away wearing a mini skirt in North America, but in Chile, make sure you wear tights with that skirt unless you want to be yelled and whistled at all day! For those of you who are blond and blue eyed, I feel especially sorry for you! Blond hair and blue eyes is pretty rare in Chile and so these people are likely to attract much more attention than us boring brown-haired ladies. (Just kidding! Brown rocks!)

5.) Eating in Chile.

The two things that most blew me away were how much palta (avocado) is eaten here and how late people eat their dinners! Now I'm not complaining about the palta obsession, I LOVE palta and when in Chile, I eat them as often as possible! But it's really interesting how late Chileans like to eat their dinners. Sometimes my fiance and his family will go out to eat around 10 or 11! It's just another thing to get used to. Don't worry about going hungry until dinner though, Chileans have a great little in-between lunch and dinner snack time called "once" which is really just plain wonderful! At "once" you're likely to eat some freshly made bread with palta, cheese, and cold-cuts. In the mornings and evenings Santiago is full of the glorious smell of freshly baked bread...a smell that I will forever associate with Chile.

6.) Learn and use Spanish!

Assuming that everyone speaks English is just rude and ignorant. Try to learn at least a little Spanish before coming down and try using it. Most Chileans will be grateful that you are at least trying and will be more likely to help you out. However, be warned that Chilean Spanish is nothing like the "Spanish" you probably learned in high school! No matter how stellar you think your Spanish skills are, you can expect to be blown away by a typical Chilean conversation. The Spanish here is faster, less pronounced, and full of expressions and slang you've probably never even heard of before. Don't stress, just'll learn it soon enough, we all do!

7.) Be nice to people!

I'll admit that even I struggle with this one at times, and I'm a nice person (at least I consider myself one!). In the big, crowded, loud, and busy city of Santiago, it's so easy to let the city turn you into a cold, hardened, and bitter person, especially since it's hard to get used to some of the quirks of Chilean life. Because of this, you might feel the need to complain, pack up and leave, and just be plain mean to everyone you bump into on the street. This is all the more reason to remain positive and "nice". It comes as a pleasant surprise to a lot of people in Santiago when you stop and take the time to help or be nice to them. For example, holding the doors open, chatting with the bus driver or cashier at the supermarket, giving someone a smile, and all those other little random acts of kindness can really warm the hearts of many Chileans. Plus you're representing your country and making us look good!

I learned this from a bad experience...I was in a bad mood one day and pushing and shoving my way through the metro station onto the metro. There was about 50 people waiting to get in through the doors and I had a big duffle bag to squeeze through on top of that. I was so fed up and stressed that I just pushed my way on the metro like everyone else, and didn't really care to check what my bag was doing. My bag ended up hitting this lady and knocking her down! I felt horrible! I felt so stupid and inconsiderate and rude for not being more careful and for giving into the occasional stress and negativity of big city life. To make matters worse, she decided to yell at me the ENTIRE metro ride home. She exclaimed (to any random metro passenger that would EVERYONE) that I was such a horrible person and how us "gringas" are so rude and conceded and how disgusting I was to place myself first before a poor old lady get the picture. Now I know she might have played it up a little too much, causing me to die from embarrassment the whole metro ride home, but I deserved it. Now, whenever I am ready to explode from the stress and annoyance that occasionally rears its ugly head when living in Santiago, I remember that instance on the metro and have vowed never to let that city get to me again!

8.) Explore this marvelous country!!!

Chile is seriously one of the most beautiful countries I have seen in my life! It has everything you could ever want. The vast deserts and abandoned beaches in the North, the Central wine and pisco country full of fertile lands and many great beaches, and the rustic natural paradise of the South, complete with volcanoes, islands, rivers, lakes, glaciers, mountains, and forests that go on forever. I'm a big out-doors person so Chile for me is a paradise. Go out and see it! Explore it! Don't just stick to Santiago because the image you get from that city absolutely does not represent the entire country.

9.) Take advantage of Chilean culture.

For example, take advantage of the Chilean arts: music, dance, theater, etc...I am inlove (obsessed) with Inti Illimani. I go to their concerts every chance I get. This group is incredible. I especially love the newer branch of this group (long story, there are two divisions of this group because they separated). To me the music of Inti Illimani is the music of Chile. It encompasses this country in every way. You really get a feel for Chile by learning its history and listening to its folkloric and traditional art.

10.) Make Chilean friends.

This is probably one of the hardest things to do for foreigners. It seems particularly difficult for women to make Chilean girlfriends. You just have to realize that this stems from the fact that Chile is a collective society. Most people have the same group of friends they've had since they could walk, and therefore, it takes a lot before you can call yourself someone's friend. However, don't despair! Just give it time and don't give up! Soon enough you'll find that your group of Chilean friends is slowly expanding. Once you do eventually find yourself a Chilean friend, there's no doubt they will be the most loyal and truest friend you have and will most likely be your friend for a very long, long, long time.

Okay so that's all for now! I'm sure there are many more but unfortunately, I have to turn my attention to studying now! Buuuuuu!


  1. That terrible what happened with that lady! I've never ahd anyone scream at me like that although I've probably deserved it. They were probably like "Gringa culiada..." and just didn't bother to say it becuase they didn't think I would understand.

  2. Oh yeah, and she was screaming at me the whole metro ride, to everyone! I've never been so embarrassed in all my life! I'm definitely more careful now!

  3. Great post! You are so positive, I love it. I love Inti Illimani too and my rebellious side loves Sol y Lluvia.

    mine's up now too

  4. Thanks Annje! I am positive now because I am looking at Chile more objectively from afar. Words are cheap and it's definitely a lot harder to be positive when you're actually going through a hard time living abroad. But this time spent apart from Chile has given me a fresh pair of eyes and I see Chile more clearly now (along with all the mistakes I made!) and want to be more positive in the future. Though I think it's good to be positive, I think it's definitely healthy to vent once in a while! And I'm sure I'll be venting on this blog in the future!

  5. P.S. Annje, I don't know if it's me or my computer but I can't see your post. I'll try again later!

  6. Just incase everyone's wondering why my post is so scattered...I semi misinterpreted the topic lol! I thought it was more about "how to survive in chile" and "giving advice" type thing. Silly me!

  7. Hi i get here through Margaret's blog, great post. I really like Inti Illimani too, it's my favorite Chilean group, i saw them first when i was 9 and loved them since then.
    Poor you because of the woman that was yelling you, but because of that you'll never be more embarrased than that, so relax yourself.


    P.S.: Sorry for my english

  8. Hey Fernando, thanks for stopping by! You're english is great! Just so you know, you can comment in Spanish as well since I am proud to say that I can now understand the Chilean version of Spanish ha ha!

    Inti Illimani rocks. I don't know many people that don't like them. They truly are a talented group. And yes, the situation on the metro was embarrassing but at least it taught me to try to always be positive, no matter what the situation! I sure learned my lesson!