My anti-Chile moments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2 thoughts on “My anti-Chile moments

  1. Chilean customer service=DMV. Love it. In fact, that's exactly what it's like. When I got back to SF I was all happy to be here, enjoying the overall good customer service, and then I went to the SF DMV. Good Lord. I only got yelled at once but just about every minute there was a new victim!!!

    Loved your post. Besos.

  2. Boy oh boy! I so often think of moving back to Chile and retire there. After reading some of these posts I really doubt whether I'll be able to adjust or not. Mind you, if and when that happens, I will not have much dealing with Santiago, bureaucrats and the like. Our dream is to own a beautiful peace of land south of San Fernando and as far south as Chillan. We would build an energy efficient small home, grow our own veggies, buy eggs from the farmer next door and enjoy nature.
    Is it doable? I think it is. Now that I am a more mature I have learned to accept other’s shortcomings a lot better. The best thing I have been able to get out of living in Chile and then move to North America is that it has made a better person; wiser, more tolerant, more genuinely interested in people, and perhaps a better husband and father. That’s not too bad.

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