There are many, many things about Santiago and Chile and the Southern Hemisphere that are different than our American lifestyle. Too many things to list, in fact. One of the misnomers of traveling is the idea that you simply “translate” your life in your new country. But in fact, you cannot simply translate your life. New money, new history, new language, new customs, new toilets, new flushing directions in toilets, new food, new spaces…the list is possibly endless. Here’s what you can count on in your new country–they may not do ANYTHING in the same way you do it.
Top Three Bizarre things about life in Chile (so far):
1. Stray dogs. Santiago is completely FULL of stray dogs. They are in the street, lying on the sidewalk, in the parks, outside restaurants, EVERYWHERE. Most of the them are unneutered males and all of them, without exception so far, are non aggressive, sleepy, dazed dogs. They kind of beg but give up easily. These dogs are so omnipresent they even have a special name for them: quiltro. Someone explained to us that in fact they aren’t really stray dogs. People who live in the country have dogs that they let roam around their property but when people move to the city they keep up the practice. So, many of these dogs really belong to someone, they just let them roam the streets of Santiago. Hmm. After almost five weeks of living here they don’t bother us at all anymore. Well, almost…
2. Nescafe. Chileans are not fond of drip coffee or espresso. They love their instant coffee. You can find it virtually anywhere whereas finding a “real” coffee shop can be pretty difficult. We are lucky. We sniffed out a “real” espresso stand/coffee shop directly across the street from our school. Needless to say, we are now over caffeinated as we try and make-up for our first two weeks of Nescafe-only-mornings. We are also quite popular at our language school as we’ve shared the good news about the availability of real coffee with all the Europeans who look utterly dazed and confused every morning.
3. Food. Yes, food. Now, I realize that I’m a food snob/foodie/food guru/naturalist/etc. But still. And I do not exaggerate here, it is nearly impossible to find good food here. I’m not talking about eating out. I’m talking about grocery stores and rituals and customs. We have yet to find juice that does not have sugar added or even color added. Organic meat? Cannot locate. Plain Greek yogurt with no sugar added? Nada. On our first night Josh went out and bought pre-formed hamburger patties. The ingredient list was 20 items long. The food movement has not come to Chile and I cry inside for the havoc their eating habits are going to wreak on them in 5, 10, 15 years. I know, I know, I know…Americans eat horribly also. But, even in a town like Yakima (population 100,000) we have SO many more choices than even the biggest grocery store here in Santiago has (population almost 7 million). Their mega-grocery store Jumbo has almost an entire aisle devoted to artificial sugars, especially stevia. Chileans have a remarkable sweet tooth. And they LOVE their stevia (Carter poses in the Stevia aisle of Jumbo). So, we are daily sacrificing our commitment to eating well in exchange for the ability to be immersed in Spanish.
When I travel, I have an insatiable appetite for information. I want to know everything about the culture, the people, its history, their ideas and opinions. So far we have not created enormous opportunity to find out what Chileans think about things–just a few friends and our instructors at the school. And we are very careful asking about the Pinochet era since we’ve heard and read that there are plenty of Chileans who loved Pinochet and his policies. And of course, as is true of anywhere you go, what we experience may not be objectively true of the city, the country or its people. This last truism gives me pause when I write because I don’t want to suggest something is true when it is not; when I write I hope my readers know that these are my experiences. And they may be true of the whole or they may be a distorted or limited perspective.
The class divide here is massive. While many things cost as much as they do in the US, minimum wage is abysmal, a mere $2.50/hour. We could have a full time “nana” Monday-Friday 8:00-5:00 who would watch the kids, clean and cook for roughly $700 per month. A ride on the metro is $1.25 per ride. The tax on books is 19% (and it has been suggested to us that this is because the government does not actually want an educated society–a tricky predicament considering their history). Toys are almost entirely from US companies and are at least double if not triple the cost. A tiny box of beginner Legos is $40.00. You can finance everything. When you pay at a restaurant or a grocery store you can select to pay with your debit card with cuotas and then select how many cuotas. These are payments. So if you eat a $10 sushi lunch you can select to pay that $10 bill over 3 months. It’s still not clear to us if people are regularly paying interest on these transactions or not. Someone suggested that every Chilean is deeply in debt. 2% of Chile’s GDP is college tuition payments: html”>http://www.slate.com/articles/life/inside_higher_ed/2014/10/free_college_in_chile_michelle_bachelet_s_no_tuition_plan_has_meant_more.html.