Another Turkey Day gone by

Another Thanksgiving came and went, completely and totally below radar. It was my third Thanksgiving spent living abroad and by no means does it get easier. Back when I had been in Chile a mere four months, I wrote a pretty positive post about all the things I was thankful for – sort of an ode to Thanksgiving despite being in a land far, far away. I reread that particular blog post and realize that I’m still thankful for all the things I listed three years ago and of course there are at least three things I’d add to said list: little human, Obi and my job. I’m not done being thankful and more so, being consciously thankful.

However … yes, there is a however. It’s Thanksgiving and I’m alone. A-L-O-N-E, alone. Yes, little human is with me (and she’s a presence to be reckoned with) but she’s also six months old and at 9PM said little human sleeps. Yes, my tub of burning love, Obi, is also with me, but he’s partial to sleeping anytime, anyplace and that means he’s sleeping right now. And probably will be in the next hour and so forth until tomorrow. So where does that leave me? Alone. On Thanksgiving. A-L-O-N-E. Yes, I will proceed to cry you all a river right now.

I’m thankful, dammit!!!

Thanksgiving arts and crafts!

But, I’m sad, too. I’m sad because of the aforementioned reason, but I’m also sad because it’s the first Thanksgiving with little human and she has NO idea what’s going on. Of course I went on to tell her about the pilgrims and the native Americans and about the turkeys she needs to learn to make by tracing her hand on construction paper, but she wasn’t even listening and she certainly wasn’t cooperating with the hand turkeys.

Adding insult to injury, Thanksgiving always marked the beginning of the holiday season for me. It’s grotesque, I know, Black Friday being symbolic of everything that’s wrong with society, but that’s how I knew the holidays were coming! Christmas lights, decorations, cookies, smells, colors, food – aaaaaaaaaaaaaand just like that, right after Turkey Day, I was walking in my very own imaginary winter wonderland (imaginary because it doesn’t actually snow in the SF Bay Area). I ask you – what marks the beginning of the holiday season now??? The Christmas decorations that pop up a week after the September Independence Day celebrations at the local Jumbo? That and the wilting flowers all around because of the 80+ degree heat?? Or the allergy attacks that have me pining for the “nighttime-sniffling-sneezing-coughing-aching-stuffy-head-fever-so-I-can-rest medicine? (If any Chilean gets this reference, please let me know so that I can be your BFF.) Let me tell you, these things mentioned DO NOT a Christmas season, make.

Thanksgiving also happens to be the one important holiday that we just don’t share with other countries. Christmas – that’s shared the world over. Independence day – not shared the world over (look at me, I’m England and I never had to claim Independence from anyone! Whoop-dee-do!) but shared nonetheless in the Americas, given that England and Spain were greedy bitches back in the day. There’s Labor Day (legal holidays in both the U.S. and Chile) and there are even holidays where we commemorate wars and/or fallen soldiers who have given their lives for our freedom and rights. Easter – shared. New Year’s – shared the world over. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day – shared, shared and shared. Granted, few of these dates coincide with one another but we share similar concepts and holidays.

What I’m trying to say here, folks, is that Thanksgiving is sorely missed – for many reasons. Not so much because of the food (not particularly a turkey fan myself – too dry) but because it was a time of togetherness that marked the beginning of the best time of the year! I just don’t have that anymore on Thanksgiving. Maybe 20 years from now, when I’ve lived here far too long, I won’t even flinch when the fourth Thursday of November rolls around. But I’m flinching now, people, so let me be heard!

That said, I’m super thankful for the three glasses of wine that have gotten me through this very, very lonely Thanksgiving and this very, very crybaby blog post.

Cheers, kids.
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Thanks Tom

When living in a foreign country, sometimes it seems that the planets are aligning against you and you begin to wonder what the hell you’re doing there. If you decide you have enough reasons for being there (like I do here) then you begin to wonder how you’ll not only keep your head above water but actually start treading it and then walking on said water.

That’s where I am right now, this very second, today. And because of that, I have to imagine that Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers are speaking directly to me …

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Wedding Planning Chilean Style

Oh Chile.

You are many great things but I have to say, the least of all is efficient. Chilean people are many great things, the least of all, is responsive (especially when they should be!)

Take for example the vendors I’m TRYING to work with (because I can’t actually say I AM working with them) to get my wedding even slightly organized. Let me preface this with stating that the wedding industry in Chile is in diapers when compared to that of the U.S. Things that are a standard option in my world (i.e wedding coordinators or “day of” coordinators) are an anomaly here. Forget about the ideology of “anything goes” and personalization for one’s wedding. Out the window here! Weddings and wedding options are like pre-packaged services that remind me of the houses in the movie “Edward Scissorhands.”

See this? …. In my world this = Yawn.

But this is exactly how I can best describe the options brides and grooms have for planning a wedding. Everything from the dress to the flowers to the decorations in general are whittled down to Option A, B, C or the “fancy” D (which is never all that fancy or different anyway!) So if there’s a bride like me, for example, who grew up elsewhere, who saw different kinds of weddings and receptions where it’s ALL ABOUT personalization, you come to this town and think “color me bland” and then break down and cry.

…After the meltdown, you realize that you just have to get creative and above all else, you have to CHASE.THESE.VENDORS.DOWN. We chose our wedding venue because of the space, the food and the amazing wine. We’re all about feeding our peeps great food and having them drink amazing Chilean wine. However, the decorations offered at our venue are, at best, so boring you want to gouge your eyes out. See an example of another wedding at this same venue (note: ACTUAL event picture follows:)

I hope I didn’t lose you in the blandness. Now, for those of you out there who are OK with this, I think that’s awesome. It’s awesome because YOU are ok with it. But G and I are outside-box thinkers, at least for Chilean standards, and this is definitely not ok with us. So we decided to search for companies who could take the decorative ambiance switch and turn it up about 20 notches.

We found one which we noticed had done pretty good work, both creative and fun, as far as we could tell. So we went to their office and explained our general ideas to them. They then showed us an array of events they had done in the past year, and when all was said and done, we agreed that they would send us a proposal within the week. One week passed, then two. I called. Had to remind the lady of who I was… then I was told we would get the proposal within 48 hours. One day passed, two, three – until another week passed. We emailed. Another day passed. THEN we got an email with a lame excuse (of course), saying they’d get us something “as soon as possible.” Pray tell, what does that EVEN mean in Chilean standards? This email was followed by the actual proposal, all of 30 minutes later mind you, but it was obvious that they had merely removed one couple’s name in the document and replaced it with ours. It was so bad that I actually had to create a power point presentation, detailing each area of the venue, with example pictures of the kind of decorations we want and send it back to them asking “Can you do any of this? Can we meet this week? Does X day work for you?.” What happened? NO RESPONSE. Three days passed and I had to call and believe it or not, I had to REMIND the lady of WHEN my wedding was taking place and when I told her April 17th, she replied with “Oh dear, yes well we’ve got to start working on this.”
#@#*&!%#!!! YA THINK?!!!!

I won’t keep detailing what a nightmare this has been but let me just say that the coordinator at the venue itself has had a similar attitude… don’t get me started on how much information he’s promised us and we still haven’t received! Just yesterday I had to email him again, reminding him of the info he promised to get us, telling him we’d be on holiday on x,y,z days and that following that, I’d be in the States on other days and that PS – after that, it was February. As I’m writing this blog, the coordinator finally responded to my email with this (and I’m only SLIGHTLY paraphrasing here):

“Dear A & G,
A thousand apologies for not responding sooner but the truth is that I’ve had to travel a lot and I simply haven’t had enough time on my hands. I have a series of outstanding emails I need to respond to and I promise, without fail, I will get you the information promised to you by end of day.”

And on that note, let’s talk wedding invitation vendor: those designing and printing our wedding invitations. The same company who informed us that they are on vacation the ENTIRE MONTH OF FEBRUARY. The same ones who we keep and keep and keep chasing to get us the proofs ASAP so that we can have our invites so that WE CAN SEND THEM OUT IN FEBRUARY given that the response deadline is March 1st!

And um… did I mention that we’ve paid all these vendors a pretty hefty deposit?

In the end though, I will say that not 100% of the vendors we’ve dealt with so far have been as irresponsible and UNRESPONSIVE as this. Our photographer has been amazing since day one, even reserving our wedding date before we paid her the deposit. In fact, her price includes an engagement session, actual wedding and a post-wedding session and she’s been the ultimate communicator since we met. We have our engagement session scheduled for next week and she’s been so amazingly helpful with questions G and I have had and just overall, she rocks our world. Not to mention her style of photography is EXACTLY what G and I have always thought of when we pictured our wedding shots. Grateful, grateful, grateful! And the cherry on top is that now she’s even managed to find us a potential “day-of” coordinator!! Oh sweet, little, chocolate covered photog!
Also, our band has literally rocked our world! They kept their appointment with us, came to our house, pulled out a contract and detailed from A to Z exactly what they need from us and what we can expect from them. They have been constant communictors as well, which trust me, is so important to us. Sound standard to you? Well, my experience has been that THIS type of business practice is a novelty in Chile.

What can I say? I’m frustrated. I’m scared that the laissez-faire attitude of most Chilean vendors will absolutely RUIN most of what G and I have worked so hard to accomplish and reach (hello? Those who know, remember the evil ex stories). What do they care? To them it’s standard and all about $$$. Well, you’d THINK it’s all about money but even THAT doesn’t seem to motivate most of them. Why are they even in this business if they don’t have the motivation to help couple’s plan their “dream” event?

But I’m not even asking for that miracle at this point. Right now, at this very moment, all I want is responsive, sympathetic vendors…the equivalent of just getting a hug and hearing the words “Everything will be ok.”

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My anti-Chile moments

Earlier I tweeted the following: “Totally disgruntled today. Am completely anti-Chile and it’s dumb bureaucracy. Today.”

I’ve been living here since July 18th and in a few more days, it will officially be five months since I’ve moved here. I lived through the freezing cold weather that July embraced me with upon setting foot here and I’ve learned to do the every day things that are part of living in Chile (i.e. weighing your produce BEFORE the checkout counter in the supermarket.) I’ve branched out and met some great people and dare I say I have a social life. In short, I’ve done well enough in my five months here that I feel like my fights with Chile are becoming minimal.

Oh, but sometimes … SOMETIMES Chile and I still have it out.

Back in October, a fellow gringa friend and blogger wrote about three things she’ll never get used to in Chile. I am completely on board with ALL THREE of those points because from a gringa perspective, those three are one of the hardest adjustments to living here. Usually the banks closing at 2 isn’t a big deal for me because I work from home and as such I do have the luxury to stand in line at the bank on any given day without my boss breathing down my neck as to where I’ve been for the past two hours (in line at the bank!)

In lieu of the bank bit, I’d like to add the following points. For whatever reason, today, I was thoroughly annoyed and DISGRUNTLED over these Chilean idiosyncrasies.

1) There are just way too many people in too small a space. Namely Jumbo (the GINORMOUS supermarket chain owned by Cencosud in Lat Am.) My Jumbo (everyone here has “their own” supermarket, meaning, where we generally shop) is like a Costco – most Jumbos are, hence the name. Imagine Safeway, but five times bigger, and with about 40-50 checkout stands. Yet, PRAY TELL, how on Earth do they cram – oh, 250,000 people – in one store?? There is no such thing as maximum capacity in Chile. It’s like what I’ve been told the subways are like in Tokyo. They actually have people on the platforms who CRAM the commuters into the trains. Yes, this is someone’s JOB! That’s what shopping at Jumbo is like, sans the person paid to cram people into the store. Except unlike most commuters on a packed train, I’m actually wielding a cart, my “green” supermarket totes (save the Earth!) AND trying to find food that’s remotely familiar to me! And this is when I’m not having to take a number for the deli, the bread or the sweets OR having to weigh my produce. I’m just saying there’s a lot to consider once I get myself into the Jumbo and it doesn’t help that there are TOO many people with once cart each, leaving them here or there, and stopping to argue over a kilo of tomatoes!! Grrrrrr!!!!

2) Customer service here is the equivalent of going into a store and having each experience be JUST LIKE your visit to the DMV. It doesn’t matter really where you go (ok, MOST of the time, not always) or how much you’re paying. More likely than not, the person helping you doesn’t want to be there, doesn’t like you, thinks your question is dumb, or some combination of all of the above. Now, that’s just a normal circumstance for any given Chilean. Add the element of being a foreigner and speaking with an accent (because apparently I have an accent I’ve been told. Who knew?) AND not knowing how things work half the time and viola – I’m everyone’s favorite customer! Needless to say, my shopping/customer service encounters are never truly stellar.
Just last week I went to a wedding dress boutique to try on dresses, and the owner proceeded to point to my stomach and tell me that “that” (the fat, I guess??) was the result of “too much rice and too many sweets.” Then, when she helped me put on a dress, she pinched my back fat and told me to get rid of it. Oh, and THEN she told me that each dress cost over $1 million pesos (USD$2,000). See? Mo’money doesn’t mean better service. Bottom line is that you just CAN’T expect service that’s above and beyond and no amount of money can make that happen for you. This is a hard pill in good ol’ She-lay.

3) The aforementioned blog from October touched on this but I have to include it in this post because it’s a constant source of grief for me here: the staring. Apparently Chileans (man, woman and child) NEVER GOT THE MEMO THAT IT’S IMPOLITE TO STARE. A couple of weeks ago I was going to a fellow gringa friend’s apt and as I got to the corner, about to cross the intersection, the light turned red so I stopped. Next to me, an older woman in her mid-to-late 60s pulls up (mind you, IN my personal space, but whatevs) and proceeds to blatantly stare at me. I wasn’t wearing anything “weird” and I wasn’t even walking about with no make up on or anything that might remotely cause alarm. I was just standing there, minding my own business, listening to my iPod and waiting for the light to turn green so I could continue on my merry way. And she just stared. And stared. First up to my face (profile since I didn’t actually LOOK at her though I should have), then down to my toes. She stayed with my toes for a while because they’re bright red and here in Chile it’s not a widespread custom to have your toes painted. In fact she stayed with my toes so long that I finally concluded that she was trying to peg me as a prostitute. Not one that was prostituting there on that corner that very second (in her mind) but one who most likely did so at night and that I was just going about my day “normally” during the hours the sun was out. The reason I concluded this is because after the toes, she once again stared at my profile, but then, scrutinizing. Trying to understand what kind of person I was and why I was on that corner next to her. How dare I be there?? ….Well, at least I’d like to think she was doing all that thinking about me. She stared far too much and for far too long for me to feel comfortable knowing she just stared for the simple act of staring. The staring is so obvious and so frequent and so rude, that each time I just have to look the person in the eye and either ask “what” or “Can I help you?” And every time, the person gets nervous, fumbles about and says something lame. In the U.S. we’re taught that it’s rude to stare and if we do stare, knowing that it’s rude to do so, it has to be something PRETTY MAJOR or REALLY different for us to justify the staring bit. Here apparently something as simple as being taller (which is easy in a country where a woman’s average height is between 5′ and 5’2″) or wearing red nail polish on your toes, gives people free reign to stare at you for at least three minutes straight.

I could go on with several more points (i.e. I made a dentist appointment for a teeth cleaning only to be called in for two minutes while the dentist KIND of reviewed my teeth and then proceeded to tell me to come back for two-part cleaning at later dates. Even Gonzalo thought this was dumb) but the thing is, Chile really isn’t a bad country to call home. I don’t want to give the idea that I hate living here, either. I don’t. I have a great life here and I would recommend that most people try living down here if they have the option to do so. But yeah it’s annoying sometimes and yeah, the culture differences repeatedly hit you like one brick after another smashing around you. From my point of view, considering how and where I grew up, sometimes Chileans have really weird and backwards ways of doing things. Sometimes they have forward thinking ways of doing things.
But the purpose of my blog is to highlight what it’s like to LIVE here and my adjustment to life here. And trust me, the backwards highlights always make for a more colorful entry. But once I’m done with that said entry, I’m neutral again, and my anti-Chile stance just melts away until I’m back to being Andrea in Chile.

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