We’re on each other’s team

It wasn’t so long ago that I was obsessed with replaying in my mind what went wrong at my last job. After just three months there, I felt forced to quit because the environment was, to say the very least, becoming quite hostile. For a while, all the events that led up to this once unfathomable action pretty much haunted me. How did this happen? How did I get here? Or just … why? I’ve literally never quit ANYTHING in my life. Not one thing, least of all a job, and trust me, I’ve had some pretty hideous and tortuous jobs in my lifetime. I’m just not the quitting kind (not that anyone in their right mind would describe themselves as such.) I’ve endured pathetic relationships with past boyfriends that were (and are) complete losers just because I’m the kind of person that seriously sticks it out until the end. I’m pretty much that way with everything and this is the reason why my sudden unemployment because I quit my job just slapped me in the face over and over again until recently.

In any case, after prolonged consideration (or, obsessive thinking as my husband would say) I realized that the main reason I didn’t succeed at that company came down to one fact: not a single woman at that company had my back in any way, shape or form. Furthermore, the one woman who was tasked with guiding me and downloading all pertinent information to assure my assimilation and subsequent success, seemed to have “forgotten” to do so, leaving me to connect the dots on my own, grasping for answers in an environment I wasn’t familiar with and on several occasions, throwing me to the wolves as she sat on the sidelines and watched me pretty much falter miserably. Most of the time and generally speaking, she wasn’t a bitch and she wasn’t mean, but that’s how they come, you know. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. The fact of the matter is that she had the roadmap to my initial success in that position but she never handed it to me or even REMOTELY shared it with me and I now believe she did this on purpose. Why would someone act this way? Why – considering the long process of recruiting me, where she herself also participated in the interview process – would she simply decide not to share valuable information with me and just watch me cave, day after day?

Maybe the reasons are obvious:
1) I’m a decade younger than her
2) I have two university degrees, she didn’t have even one
3) I speak two languages fluently, she doesn’t
4) I’ve traveled the world, she’s traveled the country
5) She wanted the position I was hired for
6) In general I’m just a happier person

The first four points above are facts and the last two are subjective – some half ass reasons that make me out to be no better than her, really. But even if these reasons and many more were ALL TRUE, all I can think is: WTF?

Why don’t we, as women, help each other out?

I’m not free of fault either.

A few months ago I met one of G’s female colleagues at one of his company events. She and G basically have equal positions but at different companies and my first impression of her was that I just didn’t like her. Now that I think about it – WHY didn’t I like her? She seemed ballsy. She didn’t really talk to me, she just talked to G the entire time. She didn’t seem friendly. She seemed crass. And so on and so on and so on. A few months later G and I were invited to a work-related wedding (if that makes sense) and his colleague was also there. As fate would have it, she and her sig other sat with us at the same table. In fact that table included a few board of directors from both companies and the conversation was just as monotonous as you are probably imagining it… but you know what I realized in the hour I sat with her at that table, watching and hearing them all talk about the day-to-day business: holy sh*t it must be so hard for her to have this leadership position in a male dominated company, where she’s a relative newbie and all these men have been there for 10+ years (including G.) I suddenly not only had mad respect for her but I also felt kind of bad for her. Here I was, judging her and immediately not liking her, when it really came down to it, I’ve always encountered her surrounded by aggressive male peers and I’m thinking – that’s sure to mess with your friendly bedside manner when it comes to meeting new people, I’m sure.

It’s happened to me on both sides and I know it’s happened to other women I know. An expat friend, with toddler in tow, trying to enjoy a dinner date with another girlfriend and having to endure menacing glances from an older lady next to her just because her toddler was surely acting like a toddler usually behaves (I know because I have one of my own.) The older lady’s stance was simply “People shouldn’t bring their kids to dinner.” Forget any kind of human compassion for the stress she seemed to have caused my friend with her evil stares and tsks tsks. Maybe in that lady’s mind, women with children just shouldn’t go out if they don’t have anyone to leave their kid with. “You’re a mom therefore your life should just revolve around your kid and don’t even think about having a good time, least of all with that little one in tow. Oh, you want to try to have it both ways, baby and a nice dinner, well I’m going to stare you down all night and let you know I’m totally against you, your baby and your decision to eat out, how ’bout that? Make you think twice about doing that again.” Thanks lady… thanks for having our backs. Being a mom isn’t hard and unrelenting as it is. Now we can count on glares from women who seem to have forgotten that we’re people too. Fuuuuuuuuuun!

All of my best girlfriends have dealt with “evil women” out to get them at work. Some of my friends can take it with a grain a salt, a la “sorry you’re so insecure that you have to hate on me but I’m going to keep being the mad baller that I know I am! Have fun hating me for no good reason!” While others, like myself, have a hard time not getting worked up by these “evil” women. An article I once read talked about three reasons women were hard on women at work: competitive threat, collective threat and favoritism threat. You can take the time to read the short article but basically it’s about feeling threatened that in some way, someone is going to be better than you. If it’s a guy, fine – that’s expected, but if it’s a woman –> Oh hellllllll nooooooooooo. And thus, the evil woman at work is born.

The fact of the matter is that there will always be someone better than you out there, be it a man or a woman. The sooner we come to terms with that fact, the better off we’ll be.

So should we go around supporting women and their sometimes dumb and inexplicable antics just because we’re women and we need to stick together? Um, no. Respect, as we’ve all learned in our lives, needs to be earned. But geez, give a woman a chance to prove herself! Let’s be open to helping out, free of judgement and with an open mind. People are different and that difference sometimes compliments us. Let’s be open to learning new things and how about being patient when people don’t necessarily know the same things we know. Let’s share knowledge, how ’bout that? Geez Louise, let’s be human. It’s about putting yourself in another person’s shoes.

Let me tell you, if that woman at that company where I quit had been remotely willing to share knowledge, remotely willing to hear and implement my knowledge and just a tad bit less threatened by whatever it was that threatened her with my presence, I truly believe I wouldn’t be where I am right now. If she would have just realized I was on her team… But in the end, I learned a valuable lesson – I learned that I never, ever, want to be like that. Ain’t nobody got time for that nonsense.

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Rock Star Kids!

I’m intrigued by kids, especially those with imagination and drive. This is because on the other hand, I’ve seen my fair share of the typical kid and his/her antics. I know it’s not their fault these kids have nothing new to offer; it’s mainly their parents fault and in light of that, I think the majority of parents today are really proactive about how their kids develop and how they are stimulated. It’s a sign of the times, I believe.

Which is why it’s no surprise that some very close family friends back home have accomplished something that I too hope to accomplish when I have children: they’re raising women leaders who wish to make this world a better place.

I reject the idea that if one is a girl, that girl needs pink and needs dolls and needs cutesy this or that. Girls aren’t bubbles, fragile and likely to burst if poked. Further, girls, just like boys can very well be encouraged to run, explore, climb, question, think, laugh, build, rearrange and a series of other active verbs that right now escape me but that are traditionally seen as boy behavior.

Our family friends have three girls: Kylie (11), Devon (10) and Piper (8) and these three girls think big. They started a club called Earth Savers Club for Kids about two years ago, initially with the belief “think globally, act locally,” with the purpose of picking up trash around their neighborhood in Northern California. But big thinkers and doers don’t just settle on the first idea that comes to mind, no matter how old or young they may be. No, they decided that to go BIG would mean reaching kids in other parts of the State, country and world and encouraging kids to pledge their commitment – however they can – to saving the Earth. Some kids pledge (via the website) to eat as much organic food as possible, others pledge to pick up garbage and recycle more, while others pledge to save the Earth by simply walking more. Um, did I mention these are KIDS making said pledges?? Rock star kids, all of them.

A local newspaper called “The Almanac” did a short report on these three girls and their hope for the future. But the real gem that lets one truly appreciate where these girls hope to go and what they hope to accomplish is the actual Earth Savers Club for Kids, a colorful, interactive website that invites kids from all over the world to join the global effort to save the Earth’s natural resources. As 10-year old Devon reminds us in the article she wrote for an e-magazine, “the Earth can’t be saved without kids.” Call me crazy, but if I were a parent, I’d definitely use this site to encourage my kids to participate in their own way.

An epilogue to ponder ….
On a personal note, I’ve known these girls since they were babies. In fact, I’ve known Kylie since she was 4 months old and I “met” Devon and Piper days after they were each born. My mother used to be their nanny when we lived in California and we were as much a part of eachother’s lives as any blood-related relatives. We’ve had the opportunity (and honor) to watch these girls grow up, celebrating with them, vacationing with them, sharing with them and to watch them individually become exactly who they chose to be … They are the reason I reject the notion that girls – and women – aren’t capable of excelling beyond our everyday imagination (and expectation). I’ve seen it first hand numerous times and in the simplest of forms, such as conversations with them or everyday play with them. In any case, I’m proud of them and of the girls they have become … I look forward to marveling at the women they will be and I hope that one day, if I have a girl, I too can accomplish the feat of encouraging her to look around and consider how she can help make things better.

Kylie and me in St. Thomas, USVI.

Devon and me playing on their backyard’s swing set.

Piper and me in Disneyland.

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Chile – evolving!

I rarely listen to the radio here in Chile but I saw a billboard advertisement about a radio station that plays classic rock so I tuned in yesterday when I headed to the gym. I encountered good music but what really struck my fancy was a public service announcement (PSA) by a government agency here in Chile called SERNAM (Servicio Nacional de la Mujer or the National Association for Women, to loosely translate.) I, of course, only heard the audio version of this PSA but upon searching the SERNAM website, I found the video which contains the same message I heard yesterday. You can refer to the 30 second spot below:

Even for those of you who don’t understand Spanish, it’s clear that you see a man sitting on a stool who eventually begins turning into a caveman. Why is this happening? No it’s not a GEICO commercial … The reason for this is because the narrator of the commercial is asking the man “Felipe, what do you do?” and Felipe answers that he works. The narrator then asks “And do you have kids?” And Felipe answers “Yes, but my wife watches them.” The spot continues with the narrator asking the same series of questions and each time Felipe answers the equivalent of “Me work, wife stay at home with kids” he starts turning more and more into a caveman, until eventually he’s just grunting, pounding his chest and saying “me work!” The spot then concludes with the word “Evolucionemos” (let’s evolve) and the narrator communicates that Chile needs men AND women sharing responsibilities (termed “co-responsabilidad” in the campaign) both inside the home and at work. We see Felipe and his lovely wife locking hands as the narrator tells us that we should make a pact to “grow together in a better country.”

What can I say? I LOVE it! I love it because it’s addressing something that is so outrageously prevalent in many societies, though it’s something that needed addressing, oh, yesterday. The United Nations reports that though more and more women are now part of the labor force of many countries, “when hours in paid and unpaid work are combined, women tend to have longer working hours per week than men, and less time for leisure or sleep.” On the flip side, the report states that men may work as many hours or more in a day, but that said work is most often paid work. In short, the norm is that home management and keeping is not ultimately a shared responsibility among supposed partners. Of course Chile is the rule, not the exception as we can tell from a report done by Channel 13 in Chile as the journalist took to the streets to ask men and women how much sharing is really taking place when it comes to the home.

Sadly enough (but truthful) most men and their wives will agree that the husband or male partner “occasionally helps” or just “helps” but it’s a far cry from actually SHARING responsibility. Really, it’s kind of sad that the first man interviewed in the video above can’t, for the life of him, give an answer and so he looks at his wife/partner for help with the question of shared responsibility. She laughs and answers, “Sometimes he sweeps the balcony.” Whoop-dee-doo!! That lady has got herself a gem!

So what’s my reality when it comes to this? G is an exception to the norm. Though our reality is peppered with other variables that could very well explain why things are more shared in our home: he was a single-parent when his kids were 8 months & 4 years old, thus he had to handle many things pertaining to running his home and taking care of his kids every other weekend. Also contributing is the fact that we’re fortunate enough to have a nana come once a week, which ultimately reduces the amount of cleaning and upkeep either of us have to do around here. Of course we can factor in that we don’t have kids together and his kids don’t live full-time in the house, though trust me our dog certainly makes up for it with his fair share of strewing toys about, shedding and generally being messy and slobbery (such is the case with bulldogs.) So yes, in our home I’d say it’s 40-60 and I say this ONLY because I generally do the cooking and generally do the grocery shopping alone. But then again, he’s the one who waters the plants and takes the initiative to do laundry when the nana isn’t here. I do neither of those two things – ever. In any case, personally we are lucky to be an exception because really, whatever I do, he can do and whatever I don’t do he definitely does.

But I have to commend SERNAM for starting this campaign. I’m all about sharing responsibilities because there is no reason that anyone in the house should be held responsible for the majority of the work. It’s also quite unfair to women (what else is new) that we spend more time working – period, when combining paid and unpaid work. I like that they chose to make their point using a little comedy. In addition, I would imagine that being portrayed as a caveman is something that no man likes. I assume, with all of their ingrained competitiveness, that if they are shown in a manner to be the antithesis of evolving, they’ll at least look at themselves and think “Hey now, I’m better than a caveman.” I just hope that this campaign also evolves because I imagine that many men, namely the older generations but perhaps the younger ones alike, probably don’t really get the difference between “helping out” and “sharing responsibility.” After all, it seems that even the wife filmed above was ok with the husband merely sweeping the balcony every so often.

And of course, that’s the other side of the battle. As long as women are accepting of this behavior and attitude, as long as women are ok with a little help here, a little help there, then the notion of shared responsibility will be lost and contained to a few reels of PSA’s stocked away in a library of film.

But we’re on the right path with this campaign and personally, I’m kind of digging SERNAM for making the right to a balanced and fair life for all, men and women, enough of a priority so as to spend some dollars on communication to the masses.

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The last name issue in Chile: another dilemma

I think my fellow expat friend was on to something when she wrote her post about her struggle to figure out what to do with her name following her marriage to a Chilean this year. You see, as she explained quite eloquently in her post, Chileans have a certain way of viewing the last name game and it’s basically this: first name, middle name, father’s last name, mother’s last name. This is the case for every single person born in Chile and this is the case for men, women and children, alike. There are a few exceptions, such as, for example, when the father has completely disappeared and the mother chooses to give her child both her last names (which technically speaking would make Chileans think that the child was actually her mother’s sibling and of course, eyebrows would be raised.) Women don’t take their husband’s name after marriage and are forever known by the name they were born with, regardless of marital status. This is the antithesis of what we know in the States because many women choose to either keep their last names or adopt their husband’s last name once married and if you live abroad, this options somehow becomes obsolete. At least, this is what we’re faced with here in Chile.

My issue with the name dilemma here in Chile is not quite the same as my friend’s and it has more to do with Chilean society and their obsession with last names. Although perhaps outwardly Chileans will argue that classism and discrimination based on one’s last name no longer plays a major role in opportunities for advancement here in Chile, incognito, it really does. How do I know this? Besides the reliable source that is my husband and his experience with the matter, I have many other reliable sources who have given me their input based on experiences in college, experiences in the work force, their personal experiences as decisions makers within their companies, experiences in their social life and so on. As much as I wanted to believe that such a reality was no longer the case in this age of globalism AND considering that there are many expats who live in Chile, the reality is that sadly, last names matter. They matter just as much as where you live in Santiago and where you went to school (and I’m not talking school as in which you university you attended. Rather, I’m speaking of where you went to KINDERGARTEN. Believe it or not, these factors also still matter in Chile).

I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify that not all of these variables are important 100% of the time. For instance, there may very well be many examples of how someone who lives in Puente Alto (a lower to lower-middle class neighborhood in Santiago), went to a mediocre school, achieved the best grades possible, attended a prestigious university, such as Universidad de Chile, based on their own personal merit and consequently landed a great job where he/she moved up the ranks and is now a decision maker at a very good company. I totally believe that happens and I’m HAPPY it’s possible. On the flip side, just because the aforementioned is possible, is BY NO MEANS an indication that the opposite doesn’t happen. Meaning, without seeing a face, without knowing a background, without even bothering to type the word GOOGLE in the browser to find out more, someone may very well look at G’s last name, coupled with my last name and completely disregard our future children for a number of things (including entrance into a good school.) I totally believe that happens based on REAL examples and it’s worrisome.

I’m not gonna lie. G’s paternal last name and my paternal last name are bad. I say this not because the actual, physical spelling of either name is phonetically equivalent to the word shmagina (God forbid), but because they are so blah, so common, so ORDINARY, and so typical, I truly believe it will be a disadvantage to our future children (hey, I didn’t make the societal rules here in Chile, but I’m here and I need to plan for them). Seriously. You might call me crazy or think I’m exaggerating but what I’m telling you is based on the social sphere we find ourselves circulating in more and more and this stuff REALLY matters (in this circle)! So what am I going to do? Fight the power my entire life? With the last name equivalents of Smith and Jones, G and I are seriously considering putting our second last names as our children’s last names, IF ONLY, the proposed new law that is circulating in the congress-equivalent would JUST PASS. After all, if I have two last names that identify me as, well, ME, shouldn’t I have the option to give my future kids one of those two last names? Why does the government get to decide what I get to name my future kids? Truth be told, G’s second last name might secure our future kids a senate seat and why should we have to give up that option just because the government tells us that we HAVE to give each kid the grandfather’s last name? Needless to say (in case you can’t tell) I’m irate over the matter. If being born in Chile means you get two last names, my thought is that of those two last names, one should be able to choose which of the last names you give your children. Plain and simple. It’s not like I’m suggesting Chile adopt the practice of allowing anyone to give their kids ANY last name imaginable! (Imagine if that were the case, what roll call would be like at school: “Manchester United? Here! San Francisco Forty Niners? Here! Lan Chile? She’s absent. Ok, thanks.”) If given the option to choose one of your two last names to pass on, I totally agree that all the kids should share that same pattern of last names so that you don’t have a family of five, all with different last names. I get that consistency and the ability to trace your roots back to the time of the Spanish Inquisition makes sense to some.

In short, I hope this law finds its way to passage. I’d really, really like to give my kids last names other than the paternal ones G and I unfortunately have. Again, nothing is wrong with the names themselves, but everything is wrong with what Chilean society will do or not do, how it will react or not react, based solely on these last names as they are. I have two last names and I should have the right to pass on whichever one I choose. Why the h*ll does the government of Chile get to decide this? And why the h*ll do I have to give credit to and pass on ONLY the paternal one?

What century are we living in, Chilean government? Get with the program and lighten the h*ll up.

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The land of samba: insights from my recent trip to Brazil

A few blog posts ago, I wrote a quick note from Brazil as I was on a business trip on behalf of the company I work for in San Francisco. I kept in mind a few things about Sao Paulo that really caught my attention on this trip because I realized that despite various trips I had taken previously to the country, there were just some that completely escaped my all-too-analytical eye. I thought about why this could be and it occurred to me that perhaps I never gave Sao Paulo much mind (aside from the agonizing traffic and congestion) because I always looked at it from the eyes of someone who grew up in San Francisco. After all, what could be better? Picturesque city where the liberals and conservatives alike have seen it all.

After living in Santiago for a little over a year, I landed in Sao Paulo only to realize a fraction of a second later that I LOVE IT THERE! Obviously this outrageous claim comes from someone who lives here, not there and it’s coming from someone who didn’t have to partake in any of the bad things about the city (namely the traffic and the crime.) Furthermore, I was living in a hotel. Ease and plush included. Adding in the fact that I ate out at every dining chance and that my dinners were initiated by a caipirinha each time, you’ve got to ask yourself, what’s not to love about that country?

Here are some reasons why Brazil has a gold star next to it in my book, despite having taken this long (about eight trips) to appreciate it for all it’s worth:

Have you met happier people? It’s true that one of the first things I learned to appreciate about Brazilians is how happy they always seem. They could have been sitting in traffic, NOT MOVING AT ALL, for a complete hour and still, they arrive at their destination with a smile. And even if they’re upset about something, a lighter view on the topic is never far behind (“Aw, it will be all right. Probably just my turn in the day to sit in it. When I head home it won’t be the same.”) Whereas, in the same situation, I’ve been known to throw down a few f-bombs, laced with a little shiz-nat here and a d*mmit there. They’re always smiling, always cracking jokes, always finding the lighter side of the coin. It’s amazing and inspiring. Why can’t I be like that? Why do I take a sour situation and turn it into the worst, life-altering, apocalyptic situation that could have possibly befallen anyone? Whereas they take the same sour situation and turn it into Spanish Fly, offer it around and start a party! I’ve decided I needed a little more of them and a little less of me in said situations.

By far, they’re the most diverse group in the entire region. True story. It turns out that they’re history brought people from far and wide to their ginormously large country and as a result, one sees people that are dark, or light brown, or pale and blonde or … aisan! Specifically, Japanese or Japanese descent. The point being that they aren’t a homogeneous crowd, at least not in Sao Paulo which is an EXTREME 180 to the reality you find in Santiago, where pretty much everyone has dark brown hair (or regular brown hair), stands at about 5 foot 3 and shops at Falabella. Oh and Chileans only wear black, brown or gray AND they wear boots until about October. Open-toed shoes are unheard of before then, as is going sockless. Because of this diversity, they too are the kind of people who have seen it all – kind of how I equate San Franciscans. What does that translate to? Brazilians DON’T STARE!! They probably don’t stare because they have either seen someone 1) prettier than you, 2) uglier than you 3) fatter than you 4) just overall better/worse than you. Do you know what a relief that is for someone who comes from California to live in a foreign country? The fact that not one person stared at me – not at my shoes, clothes, hair, make up, bag, iPhone, etc – seriously had me as a happy as a clam! I could just blend in the way I always remember blending in. Sure that might sound boring and sad, but it’s not. In fact, after a year of living in Santiago, I find it boring and sad that EVERYTHING seems to catch their attention and everything is “novedoso” (or newsworthy) either because it’s weird or because it’s cool. I miss the anonymity the States grant you and appreciate the anonymity Sao Paolo lent me while I was visiting that week. Upon returning to Chile, since I’ve been trying to enforce observation #1 listed above, I’ve tried to conquer the overwhelming feeling I get to b*tch slap obnoxious starers. So far, it’s going ok. No one’s been hit this week.

So here’s another theory: because Brazilians have it all and have, as a result, seen it all, what else does that translate to? Brazilian fashion is, in a word, awesome. Whether awesomely atrocious and weird or awesomely fabulous, it definitely makes its mark and it invites you to view colors, lines and styles in a way that might blow the minds of the average Chilean. It blows my mind and I lived in California all those years – of course I’ve seen weird stuff! But really, the fashion and the designers themselves, speak quite a lot to the country’s diversity and it’s a shame that Chile can’t make a home for local designers in the same manner. Raise your hand if you’re sick of including Saville Row as the one-true Chilean designer? Word.

But here’s what I find most attractive about Brazil: the confidence that exudes from the majority of the Brazilian women. A confidence, that from what I can tell, isn’t laced with envy towards anyone else. This observation actually struck a chord with me some time ago – about 5 years ago actually. I went to Rio de Janeiro on business with my boss and since we had an afternoon free, we went to Copacabana Beach. I remember seeing the quintessential itsy-bitsy bikinis that have become infamous and synonymous with Copacabana and Ipanema beaches… except I saw these bikinis on women who were … “entraditas en carne” or as we say in English “big-boned” (in short, a nice way to say that someone was slightly overweight, to say the least.) My first reaction is one that I’m now ashamed of since it slaps me across the face as quite typical – something I hate. My first reaction was a snotty, obnoxious “Ew. WHAT is she wearing? She shouldn’t be wearing that.” That reaction lasted all of five minutes and here’s why: as I watched these women, one in particular, move gracefully from their towels, to the ocean, speaking casually to their neighbor, laughing and soaking in the sun, I realized how completely, wonderfully, 100% relaxed they were in their own skin. That is something that I’ve seen very few women pull off, no matter how thin they are or how great their boobs look in a bikini top. In fact, TO THIS DAY, I conjure up images of this one particular woman just to remind myself that confidence doesn’t come from six pack abs (which I don’t have), sculpted legs and perky breasts (which, sadly actually, I don’t have either). It comes from somewhere else … somewhere called Brazil…

Of course, it’s not like I’m packing my bags and about to hop a plane to Sao Paulo hoping to start my life anew yet again (Egads, no! I’m just now getting accustomed to living in Chile.) But the few things I pointed out above really make Brazil stand out in a way that Chile can’t possibly aspire to achieve. Not that Chile is worse in comparison. It’s like I told my professor the other day when he asked me about my Finance final … I told him “Hey, I have many strengths. Numbers happen to fall way below the top three.” (He vehemently agreed, much to my disappointment.) But this blog isn’t about Chile’s strengths, as some of the top things about living in Chile were well documented back in May. This is about my newly-found appreciation for Brazil and my hope to highlight some of what makes that country and its people so refreshing.

But you know me … a little dark, a little pessimistic, a little rebellious …Here’s what’s super weird about Brazil (again, just some minor points.)

  • Avocados don’t make the list of what they would consider top foods in their diet. In fact, most Brazilians have eaten avocados with SUGAR! Yes, as in a dessert. That, or their mothers used to mix the avocado with MILK and serve it in a smoothie. Coming from a country and a culture where avocados (“paltas”) are like the Emperor’s Child and we all form circles around it to show our gratitude and awe, this to me is really, really weird. The “churrascarias” (Brazilian steakhouses) have amazing salad buffets … yet are missing one, crucial element. The palta. Nope, Brazilians just don’t do their salads (or their salty’s in general) with avocado. Homey’s don’t play that. I wonder how the Chileans who live there adapt?? (Seriously I can’t begin to emphasize how much of this fruit Chileans eat.)
  • Pedestrians REALLY don’t have the right of way. Ever. I used to think that it was just Latin Americans, or specifically Chileans, who were so rude about pedestrians, but now in comparison I really believe that Chileans are quite courteous to the two-footed beast crossing the street. In the U.S. our noses are rubbed into the notion that pedestrians always have the right of way, whether we like it or not. Yeah in Brazil this never holds true, EVEN IF, you have a green light. For instance, I was crossing the street, green light in my favor, as cars begin to turn left and of course, I almost got hit. Not once, but twice. That was my first day in Sao Paulo. By the last day I took to watching the locals who only crossed the street when NO CARS were coming. Screw the light. This little morsel might save your life in Brazil so, seriously, I advise you to take heed. Watch the locals and do as they do!! Don’t go thinking that just because you have a green light means you’re entitled to walk. Or live, for that matter.
  • Personal space doesn’t exist in the world of the Brazilians. This is huge for Americans. We like our personal space. And since I’m kind of Latin, even I used to cross comfort zones when merely talking to someone else… however Brazilians take it to a whole other level and this, on many occasions, gets awkward. They speak much closer than I’m used to, use hand gestures that invade “my” space and generally tend to be all up in my grill (really close to my face.) I’m not saying that Chileans are keen on respecting the space of others, but in comparison to the general experience I’ve had in Brazil, I have enough space to set up camp for a night or two here in Chile. Brazil’s notion of personal space only allows for tenement camps.

I feel like Brazil is a must-do regardless of the good and the bad. Actually BECAUSE the good and the bad combined make it such a unique place and because I feel (and again, my own humble opinion) it offers more diversity than I’ve seen since the Meatpacking District circa 1990s (during it’s peak transition period.) Or perhaps I’m just once again projecting what I’d want on to others. In fact, I guess if you’re coming from a pretty diverse area, seeing only Chileans or only Argentinians or only Peruvians is just what one might want. Maybe that’s why I never really regarded Brazil as diverse as I see it now when I lived in California and worked in San Francisco. But man, oh man. Try living in the most homogeneous of societies and watch how quickly you begin to miss people who look different than you, act different than you, are extreme and weird or sophisticated and priceless.

Hmmm. Extreme might just be the word here. The idea that something is so far beyond the norm, it stands out to infinity and beyond (Buzz Light Year style).

Yeah … I miss that feeling of seeing the extreme and not batting an eyelash.

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Peacing out of this joint

I’m sure that expats everywhere have those days when you all of sudden TRULY wonder just what the hell you’re doing in your host country. Any backwards, freaky, scary or frustrating experience can trigger it and though I have days when I am pretty convinced everyone in this country has got it all wrong, last Wednesday I hit a limit with Chile and was about one online purchase away from hopping the first one-way flight back to SFO, bulldog in tow (naturally).

I’ll spare you the details and play-by-play’s of what happened that consequently pushed me over the edge, but suffice it to say that it entailed Chileans and their oh-so-wonderful ways behind the wheel and on the road. I made detailed references to some examples of their bad habits back in June but on Wednesday it was so bad, so rude, so frustrating and so unfair that I couldn’t imagine living another day in this country, with these people who apparently go out of their way to make you feel bad. Mind you, this is how it felt on Wednesday when it was literally happening just like that: some guy going out of his way to make me feel bad for something that wasn’t my fault. Do people like him really exist out there and why is it that I have to have the misfortune of crossing paths with them? To make matters worse, it would seem that about 85% of the men in this country are convinced that women are hands down horrible drivers. So you can imagine my horror, my raw, irrational frustration with this guy who not only wanted to make me feel bad but who also went wild insulting my gender!

Of course there are all kinds of drivers and the term “bad driver” is also really relative. I happen to think that someone who manages to maneuver around cars in order to cross a recently-turned-red light is a pretty bad driver. Maybe some idiot guy would think that’s a “capo” (capable) driver. Po-tay-toe, Po-tah-toe. Back home I happened to think anyone could fall into the bad driver category: me, you, women, men, African Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Malaysian, Greek, Jews, Italians – and so on. I was an equal opportunity labeler of bad drivers and gave no regard to sex, religion, race or political party. The problem in Chile then is that it’s SUCH A HOMOGENEOUS country they can only categorize and label based on sex: man = good driver; woman = bad driver. This annoying belief which happens to be embedded into the psyche of the general male population here is what truly had me at the point of packing my bags less than a week ago.

When I lived back home, I remember meeting expats from Chile who had relocated in California because of jobs, schools or in general, in an attempt to better themselves one way or another. Many of them found California, the Bay Area, to be really backwards. Gringos were considered “cold” and “too busy” to bother with each other. We were the type who seemed to only care about money and our jobs and didn’t take time to be with family or with our neighbors. Many were surprised to realize that they would never really know if they had neighbors in their U.S. apartment buildings or not. They were also taken aback by how restrictive California seemed: last call at bars at 1:30 a.m., no smoking anywhere and don’t even THINK about littering or jay walking or a ticket would surely slap you silly across the face (in fact, my mom got a ticket for jay walking once, after having lived there more than 20 years). “Que cuaticos son los gringos!” or basically that we make mountains out of mole hills and dramatize even the smallest of things. So we were square, workaholics who didn’t like to really party, who cared more about our environment (and dogs) than we did about forming bonds with the newly arrived Chileans who were calling California their home. In fact, I remember many Chileans I had met going back home to Chile only to later find out from one of their family members that he or she “just couldn’t adapt to the U.S. way of life.”

Aside from the horrible way Chileans drive and the despicable view on women drivers, my problem with Chile is that I don’t quite get their priorities. What makes them work? What’s really important (and of course I mean besides faith and family because I realize that’s a given here.) In the Bay Area I can tell you it’s about being the most successful, the healthiest, the most giving and socially conscious you can be, the customer is (almost) always right … all that and of course vacations are a big deal to Californians too, whether fancy or simple camping. Many other things are important but these are some examples. What’s a big deal here in Chile? … it’s so bizarre what people will truly give you a hard time about and THAT’S what makes living here so hard sometimes.

Why is it that at Starbucks they make a fuss about giving you a sleeve for your coffee, stating that only customers who order drinks “extra hot” are entitled to said sleeve? What part of their brains makes saying “no” to a customer whose hand is burning such a priority? And what part of their brains justifies offering a whole cup to put under the original cup as the solution? Don’t they know that a cup is much more expensive to the company than the sleeve? What’s the priority there? Who are they making the priority? Why spend the 15 minutes arguing about this when handing a sleeve is all it would take to make the customer happy and to get him out of the employee’s face STAT?

Why is it that when I run on the path designated for bikes (for all of a few seconds so I can run around others who are in the way of my regular path), twice already I’ve had people yell at me to get off since it’s “for bikes only.” Why do they care? Since when are rules so respected here that I need to get yelled at repeatedly for making my way around those who are going a tad slower than me?

Are Chilean societal priorities like restricción vehicular? [In Santiago there is a system known as “restricción vehicular” where private vehicles may not be driven on certain days, defined by the final digit of their license plates. Failure to comply with this restriction is punishable by fines.] See, if I had the legend to when certain things are enforced and when they are disregarded here, I would probably have less and less “F-U Chile, I’m peacing out” moments. In fact, it would make adapting here a much smoother process for expats like me and trust me, it would make us less “weird” to everyone else. If cars have a legend that tells them when they can and can’t be driven depending on the day of the week, I’m sure we can come up with something similar so that I can go about my daily life in a much more relaxed manner.

Here’s what I’m envisioning as regular, daily enforced priorities:

Monday
This is the day when customer service is put on the back burner. If you just paid US$30 for lip gloss, you’re absolutely not entitled to one-on-one service at the cash register and you are definitely not entitled to eye contact or to the asking of any questions. In fact, we aren’t sure why we’re the ones having to ring you up. This place better get self-serve registers pronto.
Tuesday
Today we’re focused on denying any requests for anything extra at restaurants or coffee shops. If you want a sleeve for that steaming cup of coffee that’s currently causing blisters on your palm, you’re going to want to ask for that little number “extra hot.” Said request on your part will undermine any rule we have regarding sleeves.

Wednesday
No matter what you do, today is the day Santiago has decided that you are the biggest moron it has driving around its streets. If you happen to be following transit laws to a tee, we’ve decided that you are supposed to have skipped the odd numbered pages on that guide so anything covered on those pages is currently disregarded today. If you violate this decision on our part then today also states that anyone, anywhere can yell at you and make you feel dumb. If you happen to be a woman, said badgering will happen for more than 5 minutes and we reserve the right to insult your entire gender.

Thursday
In any type of office or retail environment, today is the day we focus on telling you exactly the opposite of what we told you two days ago when you came in. If we told you that your pants were ready today, we actually meant Monday. If we told you that you didn’t owe money to the I.R.S. equivalent, actually we changed our minds and you do – double the amount previously thought. If you called and asked us if we had XYZ product/service before making the 40 minute trek to our store/office, we lied. Sorry!

Friday
Today is the day dedicated to random conversations and spontaneous sharing of too much information, sometimes by complete strangers. If you happen to be standing alone, or even if you’re with a friend, it’s more than likely someone will come up and start a conversation as if halfway through. Or you might run into your mom’s best friend’s great-aunt. Be sure to pay special attention and nod accordingly lest you offend the person sharing the story about the boil that developed right over his tailbone, which is now gone, thanks to the neighbor’s son who was visiting from the south where he goes to medical school. Upon concluding the random information sharing, the person may invite you over to his/her house for “once” (tea) but don’t worry, this is just his/her way of saying bye. For the LOVE OF PETE don’t actually confirm your attendance to said “once.” That would just be really weird of you.

Saturday & Sunday
Free-for-all, anything goes. Though note that these days there are always ample amounts of staring and bad customer service. Regardless of your reaction to anything on these days, note that 85% of the time we’re right and you’re wrong. However we’re happy to offer you the following: specifically on Sundays, we’re committed to making your driving experience in Santiago pleasant and accommodating. Since most of us aren’t out driving around OR we happen to already be at the mall, the streets will be pretty empty so LIVE IT UP out there! It’s our thanks to you for choosing Chile as your home.
We hope you enjoy your weekend with your family. God bless!

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