Fake Chilena

Today I went out to lunch with a good gringa friend who lives here in Chile and we always joke around about how much more Chilean she is than me due to the fact that she’s been living here for about two years (going on more) and before that, had been traveling here for a good number of years to visit her then-boyfriend, now-husband.
Hand-in-hand with that feel-good joking, is the same joke about me being the complete opposite – in that really, I’m a fake Chilean. It’s kind of ironic considering that for many of the 29 years I lived in the U.S. I claimed to be thoroughly and 100% Chilean… I remember busting out my passport on occasion just to prove HOW Chilean I really was!

The reality is that aside from being registered as having been born in La Serena, Chile and having a RUT (ie a social security number), having family members who are product of generations of family members born in Chile and thus having family who has lived here forever, I’m not that Chilean. You might disagree with me after having just read all that makes me Chilean but I have evidence and facts that will support my claim and as this is my blog, I’ll lay them all out for you. Then, you can determine if I’m right or not.
I am not familiar with Chilean customs or everyday to-do’s. I just went to Tavelli for the first time ever and apparently this place is an every day go-to spot for lunch. Similarly, I’m not wired to order the lunch specials in most day-to-day restaurants. These lunch specials are much less expensive, offer more food for the buck and generally are pretty tasty. But I’m not wired that way. So I don’t know the restaurants or spots AND once there, it never occurs to me to order the lunch special.

Also, since it’s Christmas time (though you wouldn’t know it given that it’s 90 degrees here!) there’s many Nativity scenes around – in people’s homes or outside city halls or even in the mall! It’s a predominantly Catholic country so this makes sense, of course. Except that the other day I passed by one with G and I freaked out because there was no baby Jesus to be found!! “OMG they stole the baby Jesus! Who does that?” Because we’re in Lat Am and of course, stealing is more of a norm here than not. Yeah except that no one stole the baby Jesus. It just so happens that in Chile, the custom is to put the baby Jesus out the night of Christmas Eve – after the time he’s supposedly been born!! Ok, so that makes sense I guess but I had no idea that’s how they roll in Chile – Baby Jesus doesn’t make it to the party until the 24th.

Innately, I think it’s super weird to call just anyone “Tia” or “Tio” and I only think it’s ok if 1) you are directly related to them or 2) they’ve been in your life for so long, that you imagine they were in the delivery room when you were born. Any other relationship, in my mind, doesn’t justify calling someone your aunt or uncle. But get this – children in preschool call the preschool teachers Aunt This and Aunt That. Um….why? Don’t give me the “out of respect” excuse bc if it’s solely due to that, then I’ll argue that Miss/Ms. This or That shows tons more respect than Aunt This or That. Any day. Yet here I am, fighting the power, calling people by their first names or Miss/Ms So-and-So bc to me, this Chilean custom isn’t embedded in my DNA. It’s a losing battle, I’ve been told…

Maternity leave. No I’m not taking any of that as of yet (and for some time to come) but for the few months I’ve been here, I’ve heard stories and stories about pregnant women taking FULL fledged advantage of the time off they are legally granted. According to my friend Google, Chile allows 18 weeks of maternity leave! But wait, there’s more! Chilean women are further protected by the law that prohibits employers from firing pregnant women and making it illegal to fire a woman who has taken maternity leave for up to a year after she has finished this leave. Can we sit back and ponder that…just for a moment? For a full year, this said woman is basically SECURE in her job and that NO MATTER WHAT KIND OF performance she’s exhibiting at the office, she cannot be fired. She can show up late for ten days straight, miss important meetings, decide she no longer wants to work with excel sheets, etc etc and there is no way she can be fired.
Adding to this mix, I’d like to add that from insider scoop, I can attest that these women can also secure their jobs for longer by becoming pregnant with a subsequent child and thus securing further maternity leave and another year of employment after her second leave is over.
In my un-Chilean mind this is how I see it: 18 weeks is a nightmare and what the hell am I expected to do all that time?? I mean sure, I’ll like the baby and want to make sure it doesn’t get hurt or anything like that, but trust me, I’m not sure I like to be with MYSELF 24/7 for 18 weeks, let alone a baby. [Note, this is NOT where you insert jokes about my maternal instinct. I’m going to be a great mother! Hrmph!] I would also fear – FEAR – that during that time that I’m (forced) away from work, some other woman, man, older, younger, more experienced, more enthusiastic, what have you, will somehow “take over” my duties and excel at them! While I’m at home with a kid for a million years?? I think not. I did not go to school to be left in the dust by a man who isn’t even capable of having kids and my forced time off is not a pedestal for said person to excel in MY ROLE. I refuse to be anyone’s professional piggy back when I’m just as qualified.
Finally, from a supervisor point of view, how utterly annoying and UNproductive to have someone on staff who is protected by all these wonderful laws, but who abuses them by being quite half a**ed in her work. I’m just saying, I’d be pissed if I were the boss of such kind of woman (and I’ve heard they exist.) Needless to say, quite un-Chilean of me. G tells me that even if I were to beg my employer to let me work from home, chances are they’d say no. Thus, having kids = abandoning career. And THAT, my dear blog reader, is a thorn in my side that I will fight until the very end!! Can’t I just give five weeks to the next woman who likes to stay home with her kids in lieu of career advancement? That sounds like a nice trade.

On a lighter note, here’s some quick things that remind me of my un-Chilean-ness:

1.) I don’t eat ice cream three times, twice or even once a week. Chileans like their ice cream! The McDonalds’ here even have a special window dedicated to selling JUST the ice cream: sundae, soft cone, McFlurry, what have you.
2.) Also, I walk like I know where I’m going or like I have somewhere important to be (even if I don’t.) Whereas, on a daily basis I’m stuck behind women and men lallygagging on the sidewalk, asking one foot’s permission before moving the other! My heaving, annoyed sighs usually signal that I need to get by, and usually they allow me to do so … but not before they look at me as if I were ET.
3.) I wear nail polish on my toes.
4.) I forget to eat with my hands in clear view for everyone at the table to see. It’s generally considered impolite to eat with one hand on your lap (I don’t know, lest I be touching myself … or others??!)
5.) I’m not inclined to partake in “once” or tea time and I don’t have that custom in my home. Whereas most Chileans, at least families, do.
6.) I don’t have a Chilean mullet and go out of my way to tell my hair dresser that I want my hair cut STRAIGHT in the back and not in a “V” (thus resulting in the Chilean mullet). We gringas here make fun of this phenomenon often enough.
7.) I think Pan de Pascua is disgusting.

Though to end, I’d like to share that I did do something today that made me feel quite Chilean. For the application to the Masters program I’m hoping to attend, I need to submit a “carnet” or ID style picture (think passport picture.) Most Chileans take really bad, deer-in-headlight/mugshot type of pictures … and I’m happy to report that mine, was indeed, no different. I am now, truly, a Chilean and I have the carnet-style picture to prove it.

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3 thoughts on “Fake Chilena

  1. hahahahah i totally agree about pan de pascua…and the worst part about it is that most chileans eat the ready made pan de pascua that you find jumbled together in a bin at Lider wrapped in green and red plastic (probably collecting yucky condensation bc, let's face it, another odd chilean thing is that most don't have air conditioners even though it's fully 100 degrees every day for like 3 months over the summer). oh she lay.

  2. A few years ago, I participated in a National Census, as a census worker, and it was explained to us, that a person needs to feel participant or belonging to a group, to qualify as a member of it. This was especially important with mapuche people, they could have a mapuche last name, but if they didn´t feel mapuche, they were qualified as regular Chileans. On the other hand, you could find people with a Spanish lasta name, but if they considered themselves as mapuches, and had a reason to do that, they qualified as mapuche.
    This, however, didn´t change their qualification as Chileans, just their belonging to a subgroup with a different origin.
    In your case, from my point of view, you´re as chilean as any other, just a Chilean that doesn´t like Pan de Pascua (neither do I), don´t go to Tavelli (neither do I, since I live in Temuco), don´t use a mullet (as a lot of other Chileans, since that is more a Santiago/Valparaiso thing), feel uncomfortable with the use and abuse of the Chilean maternal laws (as many other chileans do, especially supervisors, managers or bosses thinking about hiring women),and so on.
    So, even as you don´t feel belonging to the main branch of Chileans, still you´re one, but with different preferences, according to your own personal history. The law says, any baby born on Chilean soil is considered Chilean (with a few exceptions, but this is not the case), other countries consider as nationals any baby born from parents of their own nationality (ie a baby with both German parents, even if he or she was born in Madagascar).
    If I remember correctly, one of the gringa bloggers some time ago even categorized your current status as "Fake Gringa", in a classification of ex-pats in Chile.
    Even so, identity is a really interesting subject. Who you are? What you are? Should the law tell you?

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