Culture Notes and Final Days


I’m taking the opportunity of my life being quieter to give you a glimpse of the street culture in Santiago as I’ve experienced it. I am fully aware that my perception is biased by the places I frequent and the way I look and speak, but I think that much of the positive behavior of the people around me doesn’t change from me being close by. Although the lifestyle is faster-paced in Santiago than in other parts of the country, I’ve found the people to be welcoming, friendly, and very fun-loving. I feel safe and welcomed and enjoy the more laid-back attitude.

Chileans sing on the street when they’re happy, coo to babies on the metro, and are almost always ready for an asado and a drink. They jump and dance and cheer like there’s no tomorrow when they’re watching their favorite futbol|soccer team. Colo Colo is playing Universidad de Chile? Be ready for loyalties to show themselves in full force. If you’ve never watched a game in Spanish and heard the announcers cheer following a gol|goal, I highly recommend it. You can’t help but get pumped up. Couples are very affectionate (sometimes too much so for my liking, but I’ll leave it at that). I have never seen an older person, someone with a handicap, or any mother with a young child have to stand for very long on the metro before someone offers up their seat. People stand and speak very close to each other, but are rarely pushy.

Talking with my friends here, they find people from the states, generally, to be cold. “Eres de los Estados Unidos?!”|”You’re from the United States?!” some said when we met. “Pero me besaste!”|”But you kissed me!” Greetings in Chile between a female and anyone consists of a single shared kiss on the right cheek. Hugs follow if you’re close. Guys usually greet each other with a handshake into a hug, and sometimes a kiss on the right cheek if they’re close and haven’t seen each other in a while. If you see someone, you had better greet them properly! Don’t know them yet? It doesn’t matter. Don’t just wave timidly!

My friend, JC, teases me about holding back, and if I’m acting shyly around people she’s just introduced me to, she imitates me by opening her eyes wide, pulling away, and waving with her arm pinned against her side and glancing sideways. Then she’ll laugh, hug me, and pull me back into the conversation. She’s always reminding me that I’m gringa|American enough! Laugh, hug, and live with the Chilean warmth while you can. By now, I’m so used to kissing and hugging that it’s going to take some remembering to not kiss people in the states. And talking: I’ll have to remember not to talk so closely.

Everyone I’ve met here genuinely loves and values their relationships with friends and family, and they’re not afraid to make it known. I’ve spent nights dancing and singing with my friends until my face hurts from smiling and my feet are sore. Even after the longest day at work, people are always stopping by to visit my roommates and catch up. I still get lost in the shuffle of group conversation occasionally, but regardless of my language abilities my friends here have accepted me with open arms and hearts. I have never once felt like a foreign burden. Something that’s worked out in my favor is that while it’s important to address people politely, political correctness by U.S. standards is not very evident here… Or in the Spanish language for that matter. You have dark skin and dark hair? You’re moreno|brown/dark. You’re blonde and have light eyes? You’re gringo|white/foreign. People earn nicknames from their habits and looks, which tend to be used just as much as their regular names. My roommates, for example, have a few friends affectionately called el/la loco/a | the crazy. Because of their expressiveness and openness, there is never an elephant in the room about my looks or sometimes funny wording of things. My mistakes are corrected, and I’m teased lightly for the particularly entertaining ones. It’s been helping me better my Spanish as well as helping me to become closer with my friends.

Mi amiga tan linda, JC
Mi amiga tan linda, JC

Along with physical affection, love, in Spanish, is a concept much more freely expressed. There are different verbs to express different types of love, and people aren’t afraid to use them frequently, but thoughtfully. “Te quiero” for example, loosely translates into telling someone that you love the person that they are. It’s a deep, comforting, and friendly love. It’s used to express the fact that you appreciate someone, value them, and are grateful for them being in your life. You can love someone in this way without “being in love” with them. “Me encantas” literally translates to “You enchant me.” In reality, it is mostly used to begin to tell someone that they captivate you in a romantic way. “Estar enamorado/a” is a cognate that translates directly to being enamored. The way I understand it, it is being captivated by love. It’s usually used in the beginnings of a relationship, and is not necessarily reciprocated. The verbs “encantar” and “enamorar” can be used similarly, but there are subtle differences that can change how they are received. “Te amo” is reserved for strong love, such as that among family and between two committed people in love with each other. It means “I love you” in the strongest and purest form possible. For some examples to help put these into context, check out this list that I found recently.

Along with a love of friends and family, Chileans have a strong affinity for fairness on the street. While they can be passionate about their beliefs, and are often quite physical in expressing themselves – think loud confrontations if angry and joyous celebrations when excited – and they tend to have a group mentality where everyone is responsible for everyone’s business. I’ve seen the beginnings of a two or three fights in the metro stations in particular, but every single time, before the first punch can be thrown, strangers step in and grab the offenders. Men are usually the first to step up and restrain people, and the women sometimes put themselves between the two fighting to distract them and talk them down from a confrontation. The metro assistants arrive quickly, and are able to diffuse the situation. Everyone moves on. While I still get nervous walking around at night, and the constant catcalling makes my mind formulate escape responses if I’m alone, I know that if I was ever in danger in a crowd, I would receive help and support immediately. I have no doubt about it. Just last week, I was crying, walking down the street because of a problem with my visa and passport (all solved now) and multiple people – strangers – offered me a hug and supportive advice. Nothing of a creepy nature, they were all genuinely concerned for my well-being.

I spent this past weekend hanging out with my roommates sharing asados|barbecues, meeting new people, and drinking micheladas a la chilena. The girl who I’m renting the room from at the moment, MSH, arrived back from her time in France this past Friday, so we’ve been spending time together as well. She’s nicely allowed me to let me stay in the room for my final week, while she camps out in the living room for a few days. I’m grateful that I didn’t have to move all of my stuff out early! She’s a ton of fun and I’m happy to have her around again. I only wish we had more time together in Santiago!

Exploring Cerro Santa Lucia a few weeks ago
Exploring Cerro Santa Lucia a few weeks ago

Among everything that I’ve been busying myself with, including just sitting and relaxing, I’ve lost track on the days and am suddenly in my final 7 countdown. Wherever you joined me on this trip, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I wasn’t sure if I would have enough to say to keep people coming back, but have loved keeping track of my experience and connecting with people from all over by writing. I’m happy to have someone to share my experience with! I’ll post again in the near future, to keep you updated on my return home. Until then, I’ll be spending my time working, seeing friends for the last time, and getting everything in order for my trip back, while squeezing a few last days of my second summer in before returning to the states for the spring. Two thirds of the tres primaveras|three springs complete. Hasta pronto!


2 thoughts on “Culture Notes and Final Days

  1. Enjoy your last few days in Chile and thank you again for sharing your thoughtful words about living and working in another country! See you soon!! (with hugs and kisses xxoo)


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