The loaded question

As I was leafing through today’s El Mercurio, I came across an editorial piece entitled “┬┐Donde estudiaste?” or “Where did you study?” After reading the one-page article, I actually felt PLEASED (of all things!) because the author reflected what I have thought all along about this ridiculous question:

  1. Discriminatory by defacto, this question seems to have little-to-no socially relevant objective.
  2. Those who pose the question want nothing more than to tell YOU where THEY went to school because in their mind, something about the school is better than yours
  3. There is no Eton-equivalent in Chile (sorry, Grange and Nido) so there is no justification for such a mundane question
  4. In the end, most, if not all of us, are pretty much run-of-the-mill and no amount of English words in your school’s name will change that

But I guess what I should do is take a step back to clarify that here in Chile, perhaps in Latin America as a whole even, the question “where did you study” does not automatically mean “From which university did you graduate?” or “Where did you attend college?” Rather, this question literally means “Where did you go from Kindergarten to 12th grade?”

The author of this article goes as far as to claim that said question is usually third or fourth in a conversation between adults who are meeting for the first time, usually following suit shortly after “What’s your name,” “What do you do,” “Are you married/have kids?”

When I moved to Chile, this issue came up in various conversations with different groups of people. At first I found it hard to believe that anyone would care where one went to school 20, 30, even 40 years ago especially in light of the fact that most real-world experience is obtained later in life, in college and post-college. Perhaps this is why I find it more relevant to be asked where I attended college and what it is I studied there. My personal experience here in Chile has been that people don’t ask me this question once they find out that I didn’t grow up here. But it has been the case that I’m asked where my husband went to school. (After the snide “What do you care” crosses my mind) I answer that he grew up in the northern part of Chile and didn’t move to Santiago until he was 11 and then, he attended a Catholic school in Macul (a middle/working class district of Santiago). The answer is met with “Oh” and followed by “I went to Santiago College” or “I went to Nido.” At which point I make it a point not to ooooh and ahhh over said statement.

When considering where G and I would send our future kids to school here in Santiago, we discussed three fundamental factors for selection: 1) the school needs to be fully – and I do mean 100% fully – bilingual (English and Spanish), 2) the school must not be psycho heavy on religion (Catholic schools are OUT OF THE QUESTION in a dominantly Catholic society), 3) the school must have a curriculum that promotes individuality, adventure, exploration, teamwork and curiosity (in other words, I want innovative, forward thinking education. Not something that’s stuck in the dark ages.) Given the above criteria – things that are FUNDAMENTAL to us – are the chances high that our kids will go to the Granges, Nidos and Santiago Colleges of this world? Maybe. Unless I found another school that will prove to support our criteria for our kids’ education, it may very well be the usual suspects as contenders. Regardless, I’m not bound to any brand name school in Santiago, I’m bound to the three points above. Unfortunately (or fortunately) every adult I’ve met who attended one of the brand name schools of Santiago speaks pretty fluent English. Even the kids I’ve met who currently attend these schools are already on the road to said fluency. The fact of the matter is that in my case, English is my first language and as such, it remains a priority for me to make sure it’s always spoken to a good extent in my home. Sadly, the options are limited in Santiago.

This brings me back to the author’s last point of the article where he states that the answer to the infamous question does not grace the person answering with some kind of admirable quality or attribute. After all, they didn’t decide where to go to school – their parents decided that FOR them. If the person did happen to attend one of the brand name schools, does that mean that the parents are worthy of all the merit? I think it depends. If they carefully looked through all possible schools that combined their fundamental educational goals for their children, and then opted for what turned-out-to-be a brand name school, then yes. If said decision was based more on status and keeping up with the Joneses, allowing the family to use the child’s school as another indicator of the family’s wealth (such as the car and the house), then no.

Taking that into consideration, when someone in Chile asks you where you went to school, what if they’re really asking “how much money did your family have while you were growing up?” Which actually equates to asking for the family’s financial statement prior to engaging someone in conversation, interviewing them for a position or, generally speaking, deciding their worth as a human being.

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Skiing in the Andes with the Annie’s

G and I have taken to completely regarding ourselves as avid skiers in the making. After some convincing from me on how awesome the ski/snowboard/general snow experience was and my repeated “OMG’s” on the fact that he’s never been skiing in his life, (considering the Andes are so close), he relented. He purchased new snow gear (at 50% off and still ridiculously expensive for Chilean standards) and this past Friday we were off on our snow bunny trek.

Obviously you know where this post is headed: the comparison between going to the snow here vs. going to the snow back home.

Let me preface by stating a couple of things. First, I’m using the term “going to the snow” in lieu of skiing or snowboarding because I want to encompass the entire experience AND leave room for a switch between skiing and snowboarding down the line. This time, G and I skied but next time we go (in about three weeks hopefully) we’re going to be snowboarding. Second, I recognize that skiing and snowboarding (mostly skiing) are not a cheap activity no matter where you’re located in the world. Considering gas involved getting there and back, gear involved, lift tickets, accomodations (if need be) and food, it’s pretty pricey to list skiing/snowboarding as a frequent activity during winter.

However, I learned that in Chile skiing/snowboarding is most definitely an ABC1 outing and I realized this mostly because of those around me that day.

Back in California, we used to head out to Lake Tahoe for our yearly doses of snow and this usually involved getting a group of friends together and 1) staying with friends who had houses there or 2) finding a vacation rental for 2-3 nights and splitting it across all those going.

Me and my friend Jen in 2005 or 2006, in front of the house 8-10 of us rented in South Lake.

Lake Tahoe was about a four hour drive from San Francisco, depending on traffic and velocity, so in our case, we always stayed at least two nights. Besides, being on the border with Nevada, there is definitely a nightlife and subsequent debauchery that one can partake in on the evenings when one isn’t philandering in the snow (skiing).

Also, there are SO MANY options for skiing, depending on which “shore” of the Lake you are staying, and because of this, there are also various options when taking into account the budget. This site gives you a very topline idea of the various prices of lift tickets in the Lake Tahoe area and seriously, the range is anywhere from about US$21 to US$90. And equipment rental prices? Anywhere between US$30 – $60 for gear and boots for the day. So on the expensive end, skiing for a day in Lake Tahoe could cost about US$160 at most … while here in Chile it will cost you about US$65 for a lift ticket and about US$45 for equipment rental. Taking into account the salary discrepancies in this country when compared to those in the U.S. AND taking into account how I mentioned in a previous post that only 10% of the population of Santiago has money to spend on these types of “luxuries”, you can imagine the type of people that one encounters on a skiing adventure here vs. a skiing adventure back home.

Back home, I remember the outings in the snow to be all about friends and fun. It was never about luxury, even if the place where we stayed was super nice. Yes, skiing is an expensive sport no matter where you are, but back home, it was more about being with friends than consideration of the fact that we were doing something very upscale. To most of us back home, “upscale” might entail First Class tickets to Paris and staying at the Four Seasons Hotel George V. And even when you were on the mountain you rarely noticed if people had more or less money … just like in the movie “Clueless” with all the groups united on one same high school campus, you had all kinds of people who enjoyed gallivanting in the snow, one right next to the other. In short, the differences are less obvious back home when compared to Chile.

And the culmination of our high society (“cuico”) experience in the snow last Friday, was overheard on our way back to the car after our time skiing. A blonde-ish woman, wearing a poofy North Face jacket, was walking around talking on her phone… in her very notable “cuica” voice she was telling the person on the other end of the line that she was headed “back to the apartment” (mind you, we were 2 hours outside of Santiago so obviously she had a place right there on the resort) and that “Annie” was on her way “to the spa.” The minute we had suffieciently walked past this woman, G and I proceeded to crack up. It was just so.typical.rich.Chilean.person. Obviously this now means that all the “cuicos” in this country are to be known as “Annie’s” from now on … and we’ve proceeded to exploit the term continuously since then. Feel free to adopt it if you’d like. I find it has less of a negative connotation too.

Some might argue that in partaking in said activities, relatively speaking (i.e. for Chilean standards vs American standards as mentioned above), G and I are Annie’s too. I can respect that opinion but I would argue that the difference with us is that we don’t take our advantages and accomplishments for granted, nor do we act like it’s our God-given right to take trips to the mountains to go skiing. Realistically, it’s not like we could afford a week in the mountains skiing/snowboarding either. In fact, between one trip and the next, we’ll have another payday so that makes a difference with regards to how often we head to the mountains. Trust me, the Annie’s don’t think like that and I really can’t imagine them figuring out when it makes most sense to go, money-wise.

I like to think of us as ‘come-and-go’ Annie’s. When we feel like putting that particular hat on (and our bank account tells us it’s ok to do so), we do…but all the while making fun of ourselves because we know we aren’t “born and bred” into it.

G and I being Annie’s. Ya dig?

But that’s what makes it so much fun!!! Our ability to “blend” in with the Annie’s doing things like eating out at certain restaurants or frolicking in the snow … it’s like we’re Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in “Titanic”) when he’s eating with the First Class passengers …

“Nothing to it is there? Remember, they love money so pretend like you own a gold mine and you’re in the club.”

We don’t necessarily look like naturals but at least we’re standing!

Of course most of this blog post has been written in a tongue-in-cheek fashion and though some elements are somewhat exaggerated for your reading pleasure, the truth of the matter is that we had a lovely time at Valle Nevado and we are definitely looking forward to falling in the snow again very soon!

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