Crime, punishment … and justice?

If I write the name Daniel Zamudio, does it mean anything to you?

What if I wrote Daniel Zamudio is equal to or as similar as Matthew Shepard? Do you even remember him?

I have to admit that when I heard Matthew Shepard in comparison to the recent events surrounding Daniel Zamudio here in Chile, I had to do quick Google search. I didn’t immediately remember Matthew Shepard because his death occurred in 1998, just as I was spending a good four months living in Chile prior to starting my Junior year in college at UC Davis. In other words, I was too wrapped up in my own little world to have remembered the event or the subsequent rally for changes that occurred after it.

Daniel Zamudio passed away on March 27th, after almost a month-long grasp at life. He was beaten and tortured in early March by four men, claiming to be Neonazis. Once hospitalized, Daniel was put in an induced coma and was declared brain-dead just this past weekend. And now he’s passed on.

This doesn’t sound all that different from what occurred to Matthew Shepard on the night of October 6, 1998. A young, homosexual man, at the wrong place at the wrong time, surrounded by monsters who didn’t see him as human. Who saw him as less than human, enough so, that torture seemed irrelevant, the term almost not-applicable.

I wonder about the kind of school, whether formal or environmental, one needs to be exposed to so as to regard violence – no, TORTUREas irrelevant to a human or living being. In an attempt to wrap my mind around such acts, motivated strictly and only by hate and fear, I recalled quite vividly a course I took in college on Criminology. Before my Chilean counterparts ask themselves why on Earth I took a Criminology course in college when in fact I studied something completely different, briefly speaking, in the U.S. you are encouraged (forced) to study a wealth of subject matters during your first two years of studies. I had a sociology requirement and the criminology course fulfilled that requirement.

"Crime and Punishment" - classic novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky that takes us into a criminal mind and the motivation for murder.

Mostly what I remember about this course, where the first three months were spent explaining the different theories as to why criminals exist or why criminal acts occur, are two things: 1) it freaked me out and 2) there are theories upon theories upon theories behind the criminal mind. Last night I took to our storage room and after rummaging through some boxes, found my sophomore year notebook where my sorry version of notes from this class were buried deep. I guess I could have Googled the theories but I found it easier to refer to these notes because they were written in they “lay-est” of layperson’s terms (don’t worry, I won’t run through ALL of them – there are lots!)

The most basic of basic theories (and the oldest) is this: crime is a choice. People choose crime because there is absence of true punishment. This, coupled with self-interest, motivates the choice to commit crime.

Yet another theory states that criminals have different biological and/or psychological traits from those who are not criminals.

Another theory states that crime is learned, for example, via peers who are criminals or perhaps even in environments where crime per se isn’t condoned but isn’t necessarily frowned upon either (a controversial example I offer you: when purchasing pirated items is considered justified and not a crime.) Yes, I realize that especially here in Chile this is a controversial example.

Yet another theory tells us that when someone can’t achieve “normal” success (money, status, power, etc) via non-criminal routes, the pressure of this will result in crime under certain conditions.

Believe it or not, there is even a theory that states that our daily activities affect the likelihood that we’ll become a target of crime, especially if there is no type of authority or guardianship present during the process of said routine activities. I don’t so much like this theory because it reflects the outcome of crime on me. As if just going to the grocery store is a reason for someone to act out (towards me) in a criminal manner.

Fifteen years after taking this course and after scanning pages and pages of notes from this time period, if I had to deduce why people commit crimes (again, based purely on my notes) it would be either because of 1) control, 2) opportunity, 3) social learning and 4) strain and/or pressure.

Why all this?

Simply my feeble attempt to make sense of acts that, to me, make no sense at all. I simply cannot imagine hating someone SO MUCH based solely on that person’s preference of who they like and who they decide to be intimate with. Why is that my problem? Why was that their problem when they attacked Daniel? Why then, is the same rationale not continuously rehearsed, say, with prostitutes? Or people who marry, then divorce, marry, then divorce? This isn’t a statement to condone but a statement questioning why this rationale is limited to a homosexual? But that’s my rational mind trying to make sense of irrational impulses and reasoning.

Personally I blame the society where these criminals have spent the majority of their time. Delusions of grandeur (based on the fact that they are proclaimed neonazis), lack of proper and immediate punishment from authorities, ignorance, poor stimuli, learned and justified criminal activities, family support or lack thereof. Finally, in some form, I believe that in the case of Matthew Shepard as with Daniel Zamudio, their attackers also had fear in common. Though I’m sure they wouldn’t agree with that …

I wonder if my own personal reaction to these acts are in some way “criminal-minded” as well? In cases like this, I would support eye-for-an-eye. No questions asked. No rehabilitation, no mercy. Why is this? Because I’m angry. I’m angry that such barbaric acts continue to occur in this day and age and I’m angry that the powers-that-be have not introduced sufficient deterrents of such crimes. And it angers – and scares – me that the perpetrators, as well as would-be perpetrators, just don’t care. This is a cycle that I see: There is lax authority and so, the would-be perpetrators aren’t deterred. How can the authorities really instill iron-fist consequences to such acts when surely there are still a great number out there who don’t “agree” with homosexuality? Though I’d like to think that even if they don’t “agree” with it, surely they wouldn’t condone such violence?

RIP, Daniel Zamudio

In the end I guess this process of trying to comprehend the incomprehensible is all pretty much in vain. It’s not going to bring Matthew Shepard back any more than it will bring Daniel Zamudio back. It can’t erase the hatred that exists in this world towards people who simply choose other options. It doesn’t revert ignorance and it doesn’t feed kindness and understanding. Criminal minds don’t care and the authorities and powers-that-be will continue to lament without really offering urgently needed solutions (deterrents, as I like to say). The examples we have are in the Matthew Shepard case itself. Though this crime occurred in 1998, it wasn’t until 2009 that President Obama was finally able to sign the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded existing United States federal hate crime law to apply to crimes motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation (among other things). In the case of Matthew Shepard, legislation caught on almost a decade later. It makes me wonder how long it will be until Chilean legislation and subsequent law enforcement react accordingly to the acts of violence committed against Daniel Zamudio.

Though really, is justice ever truly served?

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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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Our dining experiences in Santiago (Part 1)

G and I were a long-distance couple for about eight months before I made the big move to Chile (You can read about the beginning of our relationship, how we met, our courtship and the proposal here.) Granted, we were lucky that our time apart didn’t span years, as it does for so many other LDR couples, we still missed out on the usual day-to-day activities that come with the start of any new relationship.

Which might explain why we find ourselves going out on dinner dates quite frequently now that we live together. Of course outings are (and should be) part of every married couple’s life, but it does seem like we are trying to make up for lost time considering the fact that we try to head out at least twice a week. In defense of this lavish tendency, I’d like to note that G and I figure our time for such gastronomical activities can be measured in an hourglass and what’s left is less than half the sand. In addition, I tend to cook more times than we actually go out and it’s refreshing to know that if we don’t cook, it doesn’t mean we’ll starve.

Santiago has its wealth of restaurants, relative to those you’d find in Sao Paulo and Mexico City (both cities where I’ve eaten mind blowing, delicious food) and I also find that there seems to be a wide variety of options – diversity in their origins and applicable to any desired price range. For a country that seems to be far from hopping on the diversity bandwagon, I personally think that there are many, many options out there and the list of restaurants G and I are looking to try, grows with each new edition of “El Mercurio’s” Club de Lectores list of participating restaurants (Chile’s largest newspaper, “El Mercurio,” has an agreement with American Express to offer card-holding subscribers, discounts at many restaurants. In our case, the cost of having the card, including the monthly subscription fee of the paper, is more than justified considering how much money we save whenever we dine at one of the participating restaurants.)

Some of the restaurants we’ve been to in the past few months, include:

Aquí Está Coco – recently reopened after falling victim to a fire a few years ago, a local online media outlet had it right when they stated that it reopened in “2.0” style. I’d been to the restaurant, which mainly serves fish and seafood, back in 2000/2001. The food was great and the restaurant itself had an old-world charm, literally having been gutted out and remolded from a former home that stood on Avda Concepcion in Providencia. Now, the restaurant is set to challenge the likes of La Mar in Santiago with it’s modern decoration, Peruvian-fused seafood dishes and wine cellar dining option, all which offer the differentiation necessary to call out its dishes from the various seafood alternatives available in this city. Note that their pisco sour “aperitivos” are literally the size of shots but their “Ceviche Altiro” more than makes up for that lapse in judgment by the staff. I feel like their menu needs more options, but can hail an “Amen” for their MEDITERANEAN TURBOT dish, which was, in a word, A-mazing. I’m sure G and I will go back at some point, but despite having had a great experience there, I’m not sure it can be repeated. Their menu didn’t scream “I’m delish” through and through. BTW, can I point out that when we went, G’s Mazda 3 was the “poorest” (his word, not mine) looking car in the lot. What, with the BMWs, Benzes, Porsches, Land Rovers and what not, we felt a little like Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman” when she went to the boutique to buy a cocktail dress.

A Pinch of Pancho – I recall that this restaurant was one of the first I’d heard about when I moved here because it was highlighted as an option for “good ol’ comfort food.” Located at General del Canto 45, near the Manuel Montt metro, the first thing we noted about this restaurant was how the outside SO DID NOT do the inside justice. The decor is eclectic, to say the least, bright and perhaps a bit overwhelming but nonetheless very, very cool. The food is definitely “comfort” and I went ahead and ordered the ribs, something I’ve never done in any restaurant. I can only attribute it to a deep feeling of nostalgia for all things American. They were good, but I’m not particularly a rib fan. G ordered some kind of meat, which was also pretty tasty, but rather basic with its potato side. I think G and I decided that we wouldn’t go back any time soon, not because the food wasn’t good – it was – but because it wasn’t really our style of food. After we left I’m sure we weighed a good 30 pounds more, combined, given the heaviness that is any and all comfort food. Still, it’s nice to know that solid American-style options are available in my same comuna.

Nolita – Nolita is actually owned by the same people who own A Pinch of Pancho and as such, they seem to have consulted the same interior decorator. This time, whoever did the decorating, did so with a less exaggerated hand (lowered the uppers and upped the downers). It’s located in the El Golf area of Las Condes at Isidora Goyenechea 3456 (in a neighborhood otherwise known as Sanhattan). Their specialty is their pasta, so I went ahead and ordered their lasagna, which of course, was amazing. The owners of both A Pinch of Pancho and Nolita are all about making sure their customers leave feeling like a grossly overstuffed pig sitting on King Henry the VIII’s table because I don’t recall actually having walked out of the restaurant. I’m pretty sure G rolled me to the car that time. As the New York Times adequately describes “the pasta dishes are rich and decadent.” No sh*t. Would we go back? In a heartbeat. Would I make sure to not eat for 3 days straight prior to going? Definitely. BTW those on TripAdvisor who described this restaurant as “disappointing but edible” must have been sniffing White Out – it doesn’t come close to being like that at all.

NoSo at the W Hotel – Ok, so I’m cheating a bit because I didn’t technically go there with G, but rather, with my mom. This restaurant describes itself as being the meeting point of French and Mediterranean cuisine but I personally found it to be more like it was sitting on the corner of “Falling a Whole Leap Year Short of being Good” and “Ridiculously Overpriced for such Small Portions.” Rather than being “succulent,” it’s pretentious and don’t get me started on the ridiculously small portions. I don’t tend to agree with my mom when she claims she should have brought her “lupa” (magnifying glass) in any given case, but this time around I agreed that we should have added my own personal lupa to the outing. That way we would have been able to see a fraction of what we were actually eating. I ordered one of the fish options and honestly, I can’t recall too much about it other than it tasted overly fishy. I’m all about fish but when the fish has too much of a fish taste, I find it’s rather fishy of it and the restaurant. But, it’s in the W (also in Sanhattan) so of course, I’m sure it will do well no matter what I write so more power to them, I guess. Also, and this could be me being persnickety of course, but I find that the table and the way the chairs are shaped and placed, make it really awkward to hold a conversation without yelling across to the other person.

Mestizo – I was actually a super fan of this restaurant (located in Vitacura, at one end of Parque Bicentenario) until I went for about the 5th time and realized that what I’m actually a fan of is their Mero (Grouper fish), their appetizers and their pisco sour. I like when I get to the point of actually knowing what it is I particularly like about a restaurant. It saves so much time and is much more cost-effective. I’m not gonna lie. Their grilled octopus appetizer is TO DIE FOR and I could eat it until the cows come home. It’s the kind of good where you want to take a piece of bread and soak up anything left on the plate – but of course, in this particular restaurant, I’m sure the Annie’s would frown upon that (if they only knew what they were missing. That, and garlic). You can tell there’s a lot of money invested here and besides the menu as evidence, there’s the geometric shape of the actual restaurant itself. It’s so random that it’s as isolated as it is, literally without any other restaurants or even hotels in sight, and located instead in a very residential neighborhood, at the foot of a park. One of my favorite times there was when I went with KM during lunch, drank a little vino, people watched and ate … salads perhaps? I can’t recall but in memory of that, I’d like to highly recommend this place as a very SATC option for outdoor/trendy lunching. Also, keep to the bar if you’re going for dinner – much cooler and the service is faster!

Epicúreo – Here’s a restaurant I really, really like. I like it because it sticks to offering good food, low on the holier-than-thou factor other restaurants we visit tend to have. It’s located outside of Patio Bellavista, right next to the Dublin Pub, on Constitucion. Though the location screams nightlife, the reality is that this restaurant is very below-the-radar in its appearance. In typical Chilean fashion, the site itself is a refurbished and remodeled former home, with wood floors and a comfortable, welcoming ambiance that seems to be both spacious and intimate, if that makes any sense. At the core, the restaurant states that its driver is the French cuisine. I can kind of see it, but not really. What I definitely CAN see is that the chef takes note of details when preparing and presenting the food and the result is pretty impressive. I had the Centolla (King Crab) black raviolis and of course, they were delish. The steamed mussel appetizers were amazing as well, as are their salads, notably their Asian option. The pisco sour is ok, nothing to write home about, BUT what lacks there is made up with a shiny gold star for outstanding service. Plus it’s rather inexpensive. My mom, sister and I ate there the other night and for three main dishes and three non-alcoholic drinks we paid less than US$50, with tip included. Not too shabby.

Pasta e Vino Santiago – The original Paste e Vino is located in the hills of Valparaiso, Chile and I went with G last year when we took a quick weekend trip to Con-Con so that this California girl could get a dose of ocean. Known for their pasta and wine (obvi) this place did not disappoint. Thus, you can imagine our enthusiastic surprise when we took a wrong turn one night (coming back from Epicúreo actually) and stumbled upon The Aubrey Hotel (btw my newest hotel obsession) with its sign for Pasta e Vino. It’s located at the foot of Cerro San Cristobal, at the end of Constitución in the Bellavista area of Santiago. The good thing is that it’s, in three words, ridiculously good pasta. The bad thing is that half of their pasta options are gnocchi and for those of us who don’t like gnocchi (G & me), this automatically reduces your pasta options by half. Furthermore, I’m not a big ol’ fan of raviolis either so for me, the menu was reduced to the three remaining fettuccine options. No bother though as each one looked so tasty, I had a problem deciding. The one I settled on was a cream sauce with a taste of honey intertwined, which resulted in a medley of nectar of the gods in my mouth. It was that good. But then I found myself with the same problem I had at Nolita, in that I’m pretty sure that G rolled me out to the car. There was no way I could walk – I couldn’t even finish the entire dish! Although if you go, bring a flashlight because at night, it’s impossible to see what’s in front of you. The servers, all of apparent different nationalities, are also a little on the slow side, though they do aim to please.

That’s a little overview of our dining experiences here in Santiago – very subjective and not at all to be taken as the bible of culinary experiences. In fact, it’s not even representative of what Chile, as a country and culture, is truly about. Yes, it’s a part of what makes Chile Chile, specifically Santiago Santiago. I encourage you to check out Cachando Chile for a true-to-reality take on culinary experiences here (the link is tagged for food entries) that will help round out an entry such as this one, which is focused on the subjective view of particular restaurants in Santiago.

Stay tuned for the other Parts (II or even III), budget permitting and as I get around to eating more (and working out so that I don’t balloon into a hippopotamus. That’s Obi’s role.)

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Chile, 100 years ago

I love the magazine inserts that come in the weekend editions of “El Mercurio” (Chile’s primary newspaper). I rather enjoy reading them and finding out about all things related to the Chilean culture and the happenings in Santiago itself.

This past Saturday’s edition of “Sabado” Magazine. A Bicentennial special.

I grew up learning the in’s and out’s of American History: the wars we fought in, the important figures that helped shape our country, the geography, the movements and the changes we encountered and the obstacles we overcame to arrive where we are today, whether good or bad. So when I moved to Chile last year, I realized that I arrived with very limited knowledge of why Chile is the Chile it is today, who was involved, which historical dates were the most important and who played a role in shaping society. Of course I know who Pinochet was, who Allende was … but what did Pratt do? Is he the naval hero or is it Bernardo O’Higgins? And mind you, the only reason I even know the names Pratt and O’Higgins is because every city in Chile has streets named after these two so I gather, they must be important, right? There are holidays that randomly come around and G will have the day off from work and I ask “To what do I owe the pleasure?” and the response will be the likes of “El combate naval de Iquique.” (Iquique’s – city in northern Chile – naval combat.) Oh. Right. That.

Apparently baby’s got a lot to learn about her new home.

Which is why I was particularly happy that this past “Sabado” magazine was a special on the Bicentennial and as such, many fun and interesting historical “datos” (or facts / information) were featured. My personal favorite from last weekend’s issue: “Chile Puertas Adentro: Como han cambiado nuestras costumbres.” (Chile behind closed doors: how our customs have changed.) The article gave a very top-line but interesting look at how family life has changed, what tendencies have been left behind and which ones still remain intact in Chilean family life.

The article first begins with stating what we know of Chile today: 60% of families consist of both a mother and a father and 27% of families are single-parent; the woman not only works outside the home but makes up 50% of the Chilean workforce. We read that there are now more divorces than marriages, that Chilean women begin to have children at about age 30 (give or take) and the average woman will not have more than 2 children. Further, it is now a viable option to just have one child.

From here, the article takes us back 100 years to what the family life was like at the turn of the century. The most fundamental difference between families then and families now is that the men and women of the last century did not typically marry for love. Rather, they married to procreate (how romantic.) Couples were introduced and were pressured to marry based on family preferences (either personal or professional) and this led to the majority of husbands turning outside the marriage for sexual satisfaction and even love. As an outsider, I still see a little of this in Chile in that many, many couples I know have been together for 5,6,7 or more years BEFORE ACTUALLY GETTING MARRIED. Then they seem to get married because it’s the logical next step. Yeah, I gather that they must love one another but after 7 years together, at some point there must be way more family and societal pressure to marry than there is heart-wrenching, burning desire to do so. Nowadays I wouldn’t go as far as to say that men opt to cheat since I’ll take the information regarding growing divorce of evidence that greener pastures will be pursued sans infidelity. Plus, in the more elite circles of Chile, I am willing to bet that little has changed with regards to family preferences and who a man or woman chooses to marry. If they come to say it doesn’t ever matter … I call LIAR!

The article then moves on to talk about where the family spent the majority of their time. Since central heating systems are still lacking in Chile, and chimneys weren’t introduced until the 1930s, the majority of Chileans used “braseros” to heat their homes at the turn of the century. I had to look up what a traditional brasero looked like and this is what I found:

Typically coal was burned (indoors) to provide heat. Hi, intoxication!

These were used across all social classes and the primary consequence of this less-than-cozy apparatus is that it forced the family to spend the majority of their time together in one room of the house. The article then states that family members would wear coats to move about other areas of the house … which got me thinking that it doesn’t seem to me that that’s changed much nowadays. I’m pretty sure we aren’t going to see coals warming the homes of the average Chilean but I’m fairly certain that no matter the social class, the lack of heating in Chile forces everyone to walk around the house looking like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man…


…or Randy from the movie “A Christmas Story” …

What have you.

Santiago, with a population of about 544,000 people back then, was a considerably smaller city than it is now. Hence, people either walked from Point A to Point B or rode around in horse drawn carriages. The men worked, went home for lunch, took a nap and then went out to work again. Mind you, this concept of closing for lunch is still relevant outside Santiago and it’s like you’ve been in the DeLorean and have been shuttled back in time when you encounter a sign that tells you the store will reopen at 3 pm. Happy hour seems to still be around since back in the day the men would go to their “club” after work (whether it be La Union, Club Hipico, a Mason club, firefighters club, etc) and to quote Kate from Titanic, I imagine they were also inclined to “congratulate themselves on being masters of the universe.” Woman had their little get togethers as well and after a long day of duties at home, would invite other women over and partake in a little gin rummy and conversation. It sounds to me like they may have also dipped into their husband’s wine and may have gone crazy showing one another their ankles. Call me crazy.

Other interesting tidbits about the article include:

  • Children did not eat at the same table with their parents until they reached puberty. Since this term wasn’t coined until later, those that had reached it were identified as those who no longer wore “short pants.” I guess young boys wore shorter slacks back then … the article doesn’t mention anything pertaining to females (as I’m sure they didn’t go around wearing long or short pants, ever) but I gather once the girl began menstruating, she too got the privilege to eat with the adults. Though how embarrassing. You arrive at the table and not only does your brother know what’s up with your body but so does your dad! Ewww.
  • The term “mama” actually came about from the elite’s use of wet nurses back in the day (taking from the verb “mamar” which means “to nurse or feed.”) The name and idea of a “nana” is actually as recent as 30 years ago and has gained popularity as the times have changed and more women pursue interests and goals outside their home.
  • Back then 98% of Chileans claimed to be Catholic, with at least 50% of them being practicing Catholics. Now, observing Catholics make up 7% of the population.

The article concludes stating the one thing that hasn’t changed at all in the last 100 hundred years here in Chile: women continue to be the ones responsible for “keeping” the home and that “domestic co-responsibility” is something that continues to be non-existent in the majority of Chilean households. This despite the fact that women now work outside the home and like I said, make up at least 50% of the country’s work force …

Thinking, thinking, thinking ….Hmmm … why does that sound so familiar …?

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Close cab encounters of the Santiago kind

I was once convinced that the weirdest or most awkward of cab encounters were contained strictly to the island of Manhattan. The normal cab experience in New York involves the word “no” yelled sternly from the driver himself in response to one’s query if he happens to be going Uptown. In general, they never seem to be going in the direction you need to go. And there’s always a split second of analysis on their part, as they determine whether it’s worth their while to carry you from Point A to Point B (it rarely seems to be and in the rare instance that they determine it IS, they act as if they’re doing you the biggest favor in the world.)

A few years ago I was once in a cab with a Japanese coworker of mine, during her first trip to the Big Apple. It was winter and it was snowing and because of this, it was naturally 90 degrees inside the cab. Meanwhile, she and I looked like the kid in “A Christmas Story” with the amount of clothing and layers we had on as defense against the storm outside – in short, we were shvitz-ing. She got hot, she rolled down the window. She realized it was down too much, she put it back up. She accidentally kept the button pressed too much so she adjusted it again so it was just right. What did the cab driver do? YELL AT HER to “stop playing with the window.” Of course I sat up in her defense but it was too late. She was appalled that anyone would speak to someone else like that (after all, she’s from Japan, the country of polite). My poor coworker never recovered from that NYC cabbie experience.

On a different trip, I was in the car with a Muslim driver from Iraq at a time when the sun was beginning to set. We were driving into the city from the airport and he realized he would soon need to participate in “Salah” the formal prayer of Islam, done by Muslims at various times of the day. The sunset one was fast approaching, so he whipped out his dinner (packed by his wife, he told me) and proceeded to eat prior to dropping me off and heading to prayer. Except, being the polite man that he seemed to be, he couldn’t bear eating in front of me and not SHARING. And that he did. I don’t know what I ate precisely but it was both weird and intriguing and definitely the first time I had tried Iraqi food. In NYC. In a cab. From foil wrapping.

Given all of the above (and trust me there are other similar stories), you can imagine that it seemed really, really unlikely to me that I’d ever find a city where cab drivers were just as rude, weird or awkward. Be that as it may, Santiago is quickly securing its spot at the top of the “Cities With the Weirdest Cab Drivers” list.

One time, post a fluke night out dancing (we weren’t feeling it), me, G, a gringa friend and her boyfriend, attempted to hail a cab at Providencia with Pedro de Valdivia to take us about 4 blocks in the cold, dark night. Though the cab driver was going in that direction, after we all piled in, he told us to get out because he felt we were “abusing” the right to take the cab because of the “short” distance. Did I mention he was going DOWN THAT STREET and would pass right by where we needed to get out? Hello??? Do the cab drivers NOT care about making money – not to go out of his way, but down the same street? I was floored – not only because of his logic but because of how truly appalled he seemed by the mere notion of driving us four blocks in the direction he was already going. Needless to say, we walked the four blocks, all the while my gringa friend and I bashed the cab driver, Chile and the world in general – we were so pissed. (For the record, G thoroughly believed we were overreacting and when I stated it was “the principle” he asked me why the gringas always fight “on principle.” Aaaaaahhhh!!)

Then there was the time I took a cab to the U.S. Embassy to pick up my new U.S. Passport. An exciting trip for me because I had just become a citizen and thus, was about to retrieve the proper documentation stating just that. As it turned out, the cab driver was a die hard Communist.

[I get into the cab.]
Me: “The U.S. Embassy please. It’s on Andres Bello, please take XYZ route.”

Cabbie: (as he drives onward) “The U.S. Embassy? Why would you want to go there? That place should be destroyed. The U.S. is the devil.”

Me:[in my head “sweet. now is not a good time to tell him about that citizenship accomplishment.“] “Oh yeah? Well you know, sometimes certain documents are required from them, so that’s why I’m going.”

Cabbie: (groveling) “Those damn Americans think they own the world! I’m not surprised you have to do all this crazy running around to get your business done. They don’t make anything easy and like to flex their muscles to the whole world.”

Me: (smile plastered on my face) “uh huh. Yeah well I need something from them to travel. What are you gonna do? It is what it is.”

Cabbie: “I’d like to travel to Cuba …”

Me: “Oh, do you have family there?” (recalling that I had read somewhere once that many Cubans have come to Chile to seek better opportunities for themselves and their families.)

Cabbie: “No, it’s just one of my lifetime dreams. Now there’s a wonderful country and a man who has the right idea, that Castro, God love him.” (pause) (sigh) “Yeah, one of my lifelong dreams is to go there and I’m going to do it! Before I die, I will go there. And you know, those Americans, you have no idea how many times they’ve tried to destroy the Cubans. I know why too – the resources. The Americans want to get their grimy hands on all the valuable resources anyone might have – they’re so greedy they can’t stand to see others have valuable resources!” (cabbie is now adamant.)

Me: (noticing the Cuban flag on his windshield) “Uh huh… yeah I read that Cuba has really nice beaches.”

And so on and so on. He would rant and pound his fist against the Americans, all the while singing songs of praise for Cuba and Castro. In response, I would talk about their beaches and ask about the food and the rum. Perhaps I should have defended my fellow Americans but I ask you: alone in a cab, on your way to get your U.S. Passport, with a ranting Communist at the wheel, what would you have done? I rest my case.

Then last night, I was in a cab and the driver was a pleasant man in his late 60s or early 70s. He gets to talking to me about the woman who was in the cab before me, a “beautiful, striking” woman about 50, who was married to a former military man (so she told the cab driver.) The cabbie says to me, “Do you know that she was in the cab for 20 minutes and during that time her husband called her 5 times? FIVE TIMES!” Apparently the woman had guests invited to her house at 8pm and her husband was freaking out – to the point of stalking her and calling her names – because at ten minutes to 6pm, she still hadn’t arrived at home. Long story short, the cab driver proceeds to tell me 1) what a jerk her husband was 2) how men should treat women delicately and 3) how he himself still “makes love” to his wife and enjoys her as he always has in the past 30 years that they’ve been together. Um, what? Scratch record, stop the music. Then he proceeded to inform me that on some nights, she will put on an apron – not to initiate “lovemaking” – and “serve” him a pisco sour as if they were in a restaurant. Likewise, on some nights, he’ll play the waiter, placing a dish towel across his arm, and serving HER a pisco sour. Again, not as a signal that “lovemaking” time is about to begin, lest anyone be confused.

By then we had arrived at my apartment so I didn’t have time to ask him to differentiate the “yes to lovemaking” cues from the “no to lovemaking” cues that he and his wife had established. I got that the waiter/waitress role-playing game fell into the “no to lovemaking” realm, but what if, say, one day she forgot to put on her left earring? Is that in the “yes” or “no” realm? ….
I guess we’ll never know.

The moral of my blog post is this: if you find yourself in a situation where you have to take a cab in Santiago, don’t bother bringing your iPod. The cab drivers are just as likely to talk to you as if you aren’t trying to ignore them and you’ll find yourself hearing about the intimate details of their sex life OR about how Karl Marx was definitely on to something. My suggestion? Try to steer the conversation towards a topic so shocking, they’ll be the ones asking their friends why all the weirdo passengers choose their cab for their transportation needs.

I’ve decided that my outrageous story from now on will be that my lover, the goat, broke up with me and ran off with the neighbor girl.

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Santiago the Segmented

I’m noticing this odd phenomenon about social classes here in Chile. There is a weird obsession over them that reaches every corner of this country. Further, there seems to be a constant need to identify which class people fall into.

…or maybe it’s because I’m studying Marketing and for all types of reasons, marketers need to segment the population at large…Ok, I won’t discard that this might be the reason why figuring out where people are “located” in the social class hierarchy seems to be a national past time for those who immediately surround me.

There are several factors that determine what socioeconomic class people fall under here in Chile and one of those factors in Santiago is the “comuna” or neighborhood you live in. Note the map below for a quick glimpse of the comunas that make up Santiago:

I first became aware of this chasm between classes when I visited some cousins in Chile for a three-month period back in 1998. My cousins, aunt and uncle live in a three bedroom house in Puente Alto. I didn’t personally see anything “different” about them or how they lived since they had all the things I had at home … in fact, I’d argue that they lived far better than we did back then because they certainly always had a good amount of food readily available for a quick asado (bbq). They had cars, tvs, phones, mircowaves, fridges, etc, etc. It wasn’t until THEY said to me “Vamos a ir al barrio alto” that I even had a notion that a “higher neighborhood” (as in upper class neighborhood) even existed in such a manner that it had it’s own nickname. See, to them, going past the Ñuñoa neighborhood is like venturing into a completely different country. Anything from the Providencia neighborhood and on, is mostly foreign to them. In fact, a couple of weeks after the earthquake, another cousin of mine who happens to live beyond Providencia, mentioned that she had gone to the mall, Parque Arauco, for a one-time job and she was FLOORED that people were shopping and eating out. She literally said “It’s like another world up there.” Up there being the Las Condes neighborhood.

Aside from neighborhoods, another factor in determining what class you fall into are what the Census calls “Good” (or “Bienes.”) Does the family or household have a tv, a land line, a refrigerator, a car, a microwave, a shower (yes, you read that correctly. They want to know if you have a shower)? There are about 10-15 items that are considered to be basic and depending on whether a family has them or not, helps determine where in the social class spectrum they will ultimately fall. The higher class will obviously have 100% of all items, in multiple quantities, whereas a lower class household may have certain things, but definitely not 100% of them.

Finally, another important factor that helps determine where a household falls is the level of education reached by the head (or heads) of household. Those in the upper sections of the spectrum will have totaled an average of AT LEAST 16.2 years of schooling and most have certainly graduated college and further, hold a Graduate degree from a known institution.

So then, how are classes “classified?” Not in the typical fashion we hear about in the U.S. – Upper Class, Upper Middle Class, Middle Class, Lower Middle Class, Upper Lower Class, etc, etc until you get to the standard Lower Class title. In Chile, each class has a letter or series of letters assigned to them as follows:

ABC1: These are college graduates who hold executive level jobs or otherwise “prestigious” jobs. Likewise, these individuals hold powerful positions within their companies and they live in the best and most exclusive neighborhoods of Santiago. Their monthly income is calculated at about $3.5 million pesos (about USD$7000) a month or more. These individuals make up about 10% of Santiago’s population. They own two or more cars, all or most luxury makes and models, and the cars are less than 5 years old. Usually the “AB” segement is grouped together with the C1 segment because the AB alone would only make up about 2.5% of the population (incidentally, this segment alone would be quite difficult to analyze since they are the ones who will have most of their “goods” completely guarded and all info on them would be heavily shrouded.)

C2: This is considered to be the “most typical” middle class of the city and make up less than 20% of the population of Santiago. They tend to live in more traditional neighborhoods of the city, sometimes further away from the downtown areas and with clean, well maintained homes,streets and sidewalks. The heads of households are generally also college graduates with executive-type jobs or are heads of departments in their companies. Their income is an average $1 million pesos a month (about US#2,000) and they own at least one car (sometimes two). Unfortunately in this group, savings is not a reality for the most part.

C3: Middle class noted mainly for its simplicity. This group tends to live amongst the C1 group and the D group, typically found in the more traditional, sometimes older neighborhoods of Santiago. Socially speaking an interesting point about this group is that in their neighborhoods, one can note an elevated level of domestic activity on the streets (i.e. housewives sweeping, children playing, etc). This group is said to make up 25% of the population of Santiago. The average household income is $600 thousand pesos (about US$1,200) and they tend to not have cars but might instead own very old, handed down trucks. Only 10% of this group has a land line in their homes.

D: This is the lower class group that makes up approximately a reported 35% of the population of Santiago. They have an average monthly income of $300 thousand pesos (about US$600) and they tend to live in smaller, older, mainly deteriorated homes. It’s reported that these households rely on only one revenue earning member. That being said, because there are so many individuals who fall in this category, they are notable for business purposes as they are a force as consumers due to amount of people in this group. Those in this group tend to not have steady jobs but rather will work seasonal or non-contractual jobs (i.e. parking lot attendants). They live in very populated ares of the city, generally on streets that don’t necessarily contain pavement.

E: This group is considered to be at almost poverty, if not poverty, level and they make up 10% of the population in Santiago. Their average household income is $90 thousand pesos (about US$180) and this income is either very sporadic income or money granted to them by the government. This group cannot afford to cover the most basic of necessities and generally rely on third party assistance (i.e. the government in many cases). Due to their lack of purchasing power, unfortunately they are rarely regarded in consumer studies.

Why did I feel the need to write about this? First of all, on a selfish note, I really needed to understand how consumers are segmented in Chile. For obvious reasons, businesses and companies in general, focus on the ABC1 and C2 groups mostly because of their purchasing power. After all, these are the people who have the money to spend on goods and services. Logical of course.

I also wanted to understand, in depth, how one group differs from another because Chile really is a segmented culture. In fact, this study I explored done by AIM (Chilean Association of Market Studies) in 2008 contains 38 pages of information. Information that is so detailed, it even tells you how each group DECORATES THEIR HOMES!! Crazy.

I think that Chileans segment themselves and they do this because this is how it’s been all their lives. This is certainly not known as the “land of opportunity” and I wonder how many D class individuals ever make it to the sphere of ABC1 or even C2! Is that even possible here? I take a look at my own family members (ones I wouldn’t even dare classify!) and wonder why they never go out in other areas of the city, why they don’t have friends who live in other areas and why they only move around in their neighborhoods. The same goes for those who live in Las Condes and beyond – do they ever go to Puente Alto to have a beer or a quick bite to eat? My guess is no.

It’s interesting how my graduate studies have made me look at people and wonder how their socioeconomic class, as dictated by Chile and themselves personally, makes them tick and motivates them one way or another.

Is it possible to make leaps and bounds in such a segmented culture (and city)? Discuss.

Sources: AIM Chile, Novomerc Study, CERC.

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Oh year… don’t ever start out so romantico

Perhaps romantic isn’t the right word but if 2010 was going to be *the* year in which I focused on me and G, I’ve started out on the right foot. We’ve spent the first evenings of 2010 at home, cooking, laughing, drinking wine and finally playing with our new Wii. (We’ve played before but NEVER alone. Always with guests.) Incidentally I’m convinced the Wii is sexist because I can’t FOR THE LIFE OF ME beat G in wakeboarding (Wii Resort). On the other hand, my golf game is amazing in the Wii world and G just ends up kicking things because he can’t score below +23. Silly rabbit.

Anyway, last night we were on our balcony, eating outside, enjoying his amazing just-off-the-grill bbq chicken, drinking wine from the winery where we’re getting married (Casas del Bosque) and I was loving the simple fact that there we were, cooking, eating and gazing out our balcony to the stardust of lights from the vast city of Santiago. At night it truly looks peaceful, and dare I say, beautiful … we even have a clear view of Cerro San Cristobal and the statue of the Virgin Mary which is perpetually illuminated.

And though I still can’t, for the life of me, find the list of goals I made for myself back in the day which listed what I wanted to accomplish at specific points in my life (i.e. “A month from now,” “Six months from now,” “five years from now.”) I was recalling a point in my life, about nine years ago when there was nothing I wanted more than to move to Chile. I would come three, four times a year and stay for two, three, four weeks at a time and all I wanted to make my life PERFECT, was to move here. I applied for job after job after job and even had an interview with the winery Concha y Toro, which I ultimately didn’t get (hrmph. See if I ever drink your less-than-mediocre wine again, C&T!) I was so depressed! I had this crazy, idealistic view of Chile as a place where the food was better, the people were more carefree and loving, and that life was in essence, more wholesome here. People had the right values and it wasn’t a work-obsessed country like, say, the U.S. Very idealistic but then again, I always came here on vacation and of course it was ideal! I ate food I never had a chance to eat back home (ceviche, meat, empanadas, manjar, pan amasado, mote con huesillo, and the list goes on and on), I spent days upon days at the beach when I wasn’t running around Santiago dancing or eating out!

The reality of Chile is slightly less whimsical, as you all know by now if you’ve kept up with your blog reading, but that’s the case with ANY place that ceases to be your vacation spot and all of a sudden becomes your home. (I loved St. Thomas but if I had to live there, I think I’d choke half the people for moving as slow as molasses. I’m just sayin’,)

But one thing remains ideal: nights on a balcony, looking over the city of Santiago, while drinking amazing wine and eating amazing food. At least where I’m from in the U.S. most apt buildings don’t have balconies, or I just didn’t know of many. And even though we lived in one of those ever-elusive apartments with a balcony, NEVER did we just decided to take the evening outside to sit and talk. And one thing I can say GENERALLY about Chileans and their ways of doing things is that they truly like to take it outside and just chill, whenever the opportunity presents itself. It’s so simple but seriously, one of the most ideal things about living here.

Maybe it’s because I was from a pretty hectic place back home (Silicon Valley) … or maybe it’s because the taking-it-outside bit was done by those who owned homes and not by young 30-something couples who lived in balcony-less apartments … but it’s the simplest of things I treasure about Chile and one of my favorite summertime activities with G.

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