Monday, July 14, 2008

Best and Worst of Chile


After two days of packing, cleaning, meeting with my landlady who did ultimately screw me out of most of my deposit, getting to Santiago and then dealing with the madhouse of an airport since we are now in ¨winter vacation,¨ here I am on my first day of vacation in Arica, Chile. Hooray!

Unfortunately I had to check my backpack and, being a first-time backpacker, neglected to consider the complications of so many loose straps. When I retrieved it at the other end of my flight, one of the straps was ripped loose and one half of the part that clips around the waist was ripped entirely off. Fortunately I found a sweet old man who is repairing it as we speak.

Arica is small but cute, not too much going on although Eiffel built 3 buildings here, no idea where they got that money since he built them after he was already quite famous. I spent the night in a cheap hotel and sadly already have travel bowels, no idea how that happened so fast.

Since I´m still technically in Chile I thought I´d finally post this bit that I´ve been working on for a while, which I like to call Elizabeth´s Best and Worst of Chile.

Best: Kissing on the cheek
I love this form of greeting people. Although my friend Renée recently pointed out that the mouth and nose are the most infectuous areas of the body and by constantly putting ourselves next to other people's faces we increase our chances of getting sick, I find shaking hands really unpleasant. In fact, I try to avoid it at all costs. I just can't help think about where people's hands have been or what they have touched. Also, a limp handshake may tell me a lot about a person, but I'd rather not have to find it out by squeezing their hand to death with my firm grip, taught to me by my father when I was five years old. Perhaps the most sanitary way to greet one another is with a bow, but the kiss on the cheek - one, not two, like they do in Spain, which gets really old if the group to greet is 3 or more people - is friendly and easy and sweet.

Worst: Kissing everywhere else
I know I've complained about this before, but seriously, what is up with Chileans making out everywhere?? There is no sacred space. I've been near Chileans making out in the streets, in parks or plazas, on the bus, in collective taxis, on campus and even in my classroom, on the dance floor or in line to get a drink at a bar, in the elevator, and even in restaurants with food in their mouths. Perhaps my least favorite sound in the world is the insincere smack of a kiss. I will admit that, ONCE, I made out with someone in public, at happy hour in an otherwise empty bar. As I recall, the relationship was short-lived because we had nothing in common, and we kissed because we didn't have anything to talk about. The national pasttime here is dating (and the jealousy that goes along with it), and I genuinely think that the majority of relationships are based on nothing more than not wanting to be single.

Best: Chilenismos
Chileans really have some great phrases they've incorporated into their language. I have an entire book called "Chilenismos" and have learned a great deal of Chilean Spanish that I am sad won't make sense in other Spanish-speaking cultures. Some favorites: a la suerte de la olla (at the luck of the pot, for when you ask what's for dinner); estar arriba de la pelota (to be above the ball, for when you're drunk and wavering back and forth like you're standing on a soccer ball); el eterno (the eternity; used for when you're preparing for a party or other event and have to go to a million stores, wait in line, and it seems to take forever); cachai? (means 'get it?' and comes from the English word "catch" as in "did you catch that? They love Anglicisms. Some people use this to punctuate just about every sentence); altiro (literally means 'at the shot' and means 'right away'); pucha (sort of like 'darn' or 'sheesh' or possibly a bit stronger, pronounced poocha); and a ton of others.

Worst: Chilean Spanish
As I've said again and again, the Spanish here is a challenge. I would not recommend anyone come to Chile to learn Spanish, because it will be a frustrating experience and, again, it will mostly only serve that person while in Chile. The accent is so tough that even other Latinamericans can't understand them, and I've come to the conclusion that they deliberately say things in a more complicated manner than they need to be. Also, unlike a lot of cultures, they do not account for non-Chilean speakers. Even after asking a person to repeat him or herself multiple times, they will still use the exact same words, rapid-fire pace, and low tone. I have stopped feeling bad about this; if they don't care enough to adjust their speech so I can understand them, I certainly don't care enough to know what they are saying to me.

Best: Street performers
I love both the quantity and quality of street performers here. Every busy street corner has at least one young performer juggling, doing gymnastics, dancing with scarves, or, at night, playing with fire. The best are the clowns, normally a terrifying sort but on the street, in groups, they're hilarious: they stop cars, get in the back seat or bed of a truck, lay down in front of stopped vehicles, and even mess with the police. This is all more than tolerated and most cars will pay the performers, which I find uniquely generous. Also, though not exactly in the same category, I like that here, instead of paying for parking via a meter, you tip whatever person happens to be working that street; he´ll flag you down if he has a space open, help you park, and for an extra fee, will even detail your car while you´re out and about.

Worst: Beggars
The beggars here are a different breed. I think it comes from the national ego - as far as I can tell, Chileans are abundantly proud of being Chilean, and want nothing more than for you to tell them what you love about their culture, their food, and even Chileans themselves. (Seriously, the intense nationalism here is akin to second world war USA.) They also have an overinflated sense of entitlement, which extends to beggars: when you don't give them a coin, they act incredibly offended, like they deserved whatever was in your wallet despite the fact that you were the one that worked for it.

Best: Living Abroad
Let's face it, living in another country is an incredible experience. No matter how many things go wrong, no matter how much I miss being home, no matter how unwelcome I feel in Chile, I have never once regretted my decision to come. I feel so lucky to get to know other cultures, and I know it has made me a more informed and accepting person. I´m going to travel as much as I can while the getting´s good, and once we run out of oil, I can say I did as much as I could while the resources allowed.

Worst: Teaching Abroad
Although I did, for the most part, really enjoy my students and even made good friends out a few of them, being paid to teach is an experience I hope not to repeat, and certainly not in Chile. English is a required program so a lot of my students couldn't care less about class; give me a volunteer position with immigrants who are hungry to learn any day! Also, the English program at DUOC schools is geared more toward prestige and marketing and less toward actual student learning; all students are required to take the TOEIC test at the end of their studies, which usually amount to 2.5 years, despite the fact that this test is incredibly difficult and should not be taken without at least 5-6 years (or more) of studying. This, of course, leaves the 'advanced' students frustrated and scared, since the TOEIC counts for 40% of their final grade. Additionally, student expectations are completely different in this country, student performance leaves a lot to be desired, and student accountability is even worse. Toward the end I got very exasperated with the many and varied excuses they came up with for why they couldn't do one thing or another. It's amazing how many relatives die and students need hospitalization during finals week...

There is a lot more I could say but I think I´ve said most of it in one form or another in various blogs, so I´ll leave you with this hilarious and defining moment of my time in Chile:

One time, I ordered a churrasco (thinly sliced beef) sandwich and they brought me a hamburger instead. When I finally flagged a waiter down, many minutes later, and pointed out the mistake, he took the sandwich without saying a word. Several minutes later he returned the EXACT SAME ONE, bite out of it and all, only with the hamburger scraped off and some churrasco thrown on. That, for me, sums up a lot about Chile.

Keep your eyes peeled for more vacation updates! This afternoon I´m headed to Putre where I´ll hopefully catch a one or two day tour through the northern parks of Chile, Lauca and Las Vicuñas, before heading into Bolivia.

I hope you are all well! Also, one of you is about to be my 1,000th visitor. Special prize to anyone who claims this honor.

1 comment:

Renée said...

All that I can say is...

jajajajajajajajajaja! It's all hilarious 'cause it's all true. I really like what you said about living abroad though, even though there are certain things that can be really unpleasant at times, its also really amazing.

Have fun and be safe on your trip. I can't wait to read all about it.