Landing a job in Chile

We all need our lessons in humility; it’s good for the soul and puts hair on our chest. Though I’ve never been the kind of person who’s too big for her britches (in fact, I generally need a dose of self confidence more often than not) there are some aspects of my life that I tend to regard with a level of self assurance. In the past this has namely involved my career and my professional accomplishments. I generally felt secure in what I could do and what I could offer and never doubted for a minute that I could keep accomplishing one thing after another.

This outlook was immediately readjusted when I began looking for a job here in Chile in May of this year and I have since then learned a great deal about the job search process in my new home, all the while learning to reassess my strengths and weaknesses in relation to my career objectives. This year has already been chalk full of lessons in humility and picking myself back up again, rejection after rejection.

Let me rewind and clarify that during this process I’ve been fortunate enough to continue working for the company that employed me back in California, something I’ve referenced on a few occasions in this blog. I’ll always maintain that I am beyond grateful to this company for the opportunities they extended to me, including the possibility to work remotely when I moved to a foreign land (i.e. Chile) so that I could marry and be with the love of my life. I’m sure this sentiment of gratitude will not waver. What unfortunately did waver back in May was my sense of stability when, due to the economic downturn and other reasons I’m sure I’m not familiar with, the company I work for downsized. Suddenly I was in the dark and had no idea if I had a job, who was left at the company or even who would be my new boss (sadly, my former boss was let go.) Ultimately following the massive changes that took place, a level of normalcy was once again reached and I learned that I indeed continued to have a job, (thank God). However that feeling of uncertainty didn’t waver. In fact it began to consume me – how much longer would I have a job? What if the business in Latin America doesn’t grow? What if this market becomes completely incapable of generating income? What if they move the management of the territories in-house? In plain English I realized just how fragile my situation was and though I had years of experience working with the Latin American teams, I realized that in the blink of an eye, anything and everything could change, JUST AS IT HAD FOR MY COWORKERS WHO WERE NO LONGER THERE.

There is no sure-fire way to guarantee job security. G and I discussed that his situation was just as fragile as anyone else’s and he’s fortunate enough to head a department at his company. True, no matter the situation, I could never be guaranteed a job for an unlimited amount of time. However, I rationalized that I could help the cause by securing a job here in Chile. That way, should the worst case scenario someday catch up with me (i.e. unemployment) I would at least have Chilean work experience under my belt. So it was decided and the Chilean job search began.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I was going to face when looking for a job here in Chile.

I’ve used this anecdote on various occasions when describing the general process here in Chile. Take, for example, a fruit stand in search for a tomato seller (yes, someone who sells tomatoes.) The fruit stand will post an ad that specifically asks for candidates with tomato selling experience. They will ask that this candidate have a degree in Botany, specifically with emphasis in Pomology. They will stress the importance of having graduated from X, Y or Z university and they will punctuate their need for someone with experience selling in fruit stands. As a candidate, you will be overlooked if you don’t have experience with tomatoes. Yes, you may have experience with lettuce but hello moron – a lettuce is NOT a tomato! And forget about applying with experience in bananas – banana’s aren’t even ROUND! How could the two possibly translate? How could you know ANYTHING about selling round products when your bag of tricks only contains banana experience? You also need not apply if you happen to fill the tomato selling requirement but have only done so in supermarkets. What part of fruit stand did you NOT understand? Oh you have a degree in Pedology? Yeah, that won’t do.

[I have a real life example to offer you in lieu of this fictional anecdote: G and I were passing by a Chinese restaurant the other day and outside, there were various “wanted” posts offering employment with the said restaurant. One of the posts read “Looking for a server with experience waiting tables. Must have experience in Chinese restaurants.” Chinese restaurant. Not Italian, not French, not Japanese. Chinese. Otherwise, move along.]

Once you are able to find something that somewhat fits your work experience (tomatoes!!) and education, the next step involves the Headhunter. This is the team (or person) that places the ad for the company and proceeds to do the narrowing down of candidates. Narrowing down means calling you in (once your resume and experience has been screened, of course) and asking you the typical questions one expects of a job interview. The frustrating part is that the Headhunter doesn’t work at the company you’re applying with and usually has a very top-line idea of what the position involves and demands. Further, many times the Headhunter won’t even tell you what company you’re being reviewed for until your 2nd meeting with them. It’s happened to me on various occasions that I’ve gone in, met with the Headhunter, didn’t satisfy and to this day I have no idea who the companies were that were looking to hire! In the off chance that you pass the Headhunters screening and you make it to the actual company for interviews, expect a series of interviews (something like 2-4). Also expect, in many cases, having to prepare a case study related to the position you’re applying for (as was my case with the searches I was involved in.) One thing is certain: of all the resumes the Headhunter receives for any particular opening, in general, only 3 candidates pass on to the company itself for further interviewing. So if you make it to that, congrats! You at least beat out a plethora of candidates before you! Note that if you’re a woman, you’ll most likely the ONLY woman passing on to the next level. Rarely have I found myself in the top 3 with another female.

During the interviews, they want to know everything – literally EVERYTHING – about what you did, what you’ve done, what you want to do and how you do it. They want to know about your significant other and they want to know what you do in your free time. They want to know where you see yourself in five years and they want to know what your supervisor would say about you and your working style. They want you to take them through your typical day at work and they want to hear about a time when you faced confrontation and how you approached it. In my case they’ve wanted to know how I would feel working with a team, outside my home, adhering to “office hours.” They also wanted to be sure that I was here to stay and not about to hop a plane back to CA at the drop of a hat. And finally, one of the most shocking things they want to know about you as a woman is if you’re thinking of popping out any kids some time soon … if so, that could immediately disqualify you as a potential candidate.

Somewhere along the lines, either before making it to the company itself for interviews or shortly thereafter, comes the biggest twist of all when it comes to interviewing for jobs here: the psychological assessment. Otherwise known as the “B*tch-better-not-be-crazy” test. I’ve been scrutinized, analyzed and prodded with inkblots (“tell me what you see here, first thing that comes to mind”); color selection (“of these eight options what’s your favorite color? Next favorite? After that? Next favorite? What’s your least favorite?”); drawings (“draw a picture of a person in the rain”); handwriting analysis (“write a letter about anything you want”) and finally, S.A.T. style logic tests that serve to give an indication of your math and problem-solving skills. Needless to say, in the last six months I’ve become a guru of psychological tests.

The verdict is still out on whether or not I’m crazy. However, I’m happy to share that despite the difficult selection process, the daunting psychological exams, the torturous waiting game and the devastation of defeat, I’ve finally landed a job here in Chile – after six months of searching. It’s actually more than a job – it’s definitely a career builder and an important stepping stone to whatever lies ahead for me professionally.

I’ve never been through so many series of frustrating events in my life. I’ve never worked so hard to make something happen for myself and I’ve never learned more about adaptation than I have with the experiences of the last few months. I’ve learned humility and patience as well. It took me SIX MONTHS to find something, with a few near hits along the way that ultimately didn’t pan out. I had to learn how things are done in this system and I had to mold myself to fit into their processes. After all, I’m looking for a job in their market – who am I to parade around thinking that just because I’m American they should be chomping at the bits to hire me? The fact is that they aren’t chomping at the bits to hire me just because I speak fluent English. Chileans are better prepared in universities than we are back home and if you add post-graduation work experience to that, they are BY FAR better candidates than many of us out there. Of course circumstances vary. One could be a recent college graduate, looking for an entry level position and entry level pay and that person may very well have a much easier time than I did. If that’s the case for anyone, awesome!

Ultimately though I think that this experience taught me to truly define what it is I wanted to do with myself professionally, where I want to be now and where I want to be 5, 10 or 15 years from now. It also made me slow down and truly think about the kinds of companies I’d be best suited to work for. Where would I excel and where would my skill set be most valued? I think the wait was worth it because I learned a LOT. I’m excited about this new career opportunity, the company itself, my future role in the company and the compensation offered. Yeah I’ve been dragged through the mud in this process but then again, keeping my eyes on the prize turned out to be the best strategy I could have possibly adopted.

Did you like this? Share it:

25 Random Things

In March 2009, I was tagged in one of those Facebook Notes entitled “25 Random Things.” I thought it was pretty cool and so I did one myself and tagged 25 friends with whom I wanted to share my own version of the list. Over a year later (tonight), since I happen to be the biggest of winners (take a gander at my previous blog entry to understand my history of uncool), I decided to clean up my Facebook page a little and once again came across my list. I’m both pleased and surprised at how true all points continue to ring, despite the time, distance and life that has marched on in the past 17 months since I first wrote them.

And so I thought I’d put them on my blog, share them with you and personally marinate in 25 random thoughts that continue to describe me and/or how I see the world around me. [Note that in this blog version, I did add a few clarifications below as noted in brackets … ]

25 random things by Andrea Gonzalez on Friday, March 13, 2009 at 1:55am

1. 95% of people either bore me to tears or annoy me. If you’re tagged, you fall within the 5% that I actually dig and feel bring some measure to this world. Nicely done.

2. I have an obsession with purses.

3. Of all my travels, by far the best food I’ve ever eaten has been in Tokyo.

4. I loathe the Dirty 30…my SF peeps, you KNOW WHAT I MEAN. [Bus line that runs through Downtown and Chinatown in San Francisco.]

5. I really enjoy making cupcakes. I even have a secret method. Truly, they are amazing. I might open a shop called Dre’s Cupcakes (per Lauren’s suggestion).

6. I hate The Gap. I kind of want to throw eggs at it. It baffles me when foreigners obsess over that dumb ass store.

7. I like 80s glam rock bands… Poison, Def Leppard, Motley Crue, Bon Jovi…you get the picture. I’m pretty sure these bands make up half my iTunes playlist.

8. US Weekly is THE BEST MAGAZINE EVER. And Time. I like that one too.

9. I never leave the house without makeup. That’s just all kinds of not ok.

10. I believe my boyfriend has the best facial profile ever. If you see him, ask him to turn his head – you’ll totally agree me. [Still 100% true except that this said boyfriend is now my husband.]

11. I find that watching Back to the Future over and over again is quite therapeutic.

12. I think porn is really funny.

13. In college I was known as the “grandma” among my friends. Actually this might still be the case, I’m not sure. They’ve gotten a lot nicer about pointing out my “Golden Girls” ways…

14. I sleep with socks on every night (per point #13)

15. I’m obsessed with Shiloh Jolie Pitt.

16. Anything romantic makes me want to laugh out loud…like setting the mood with rose petals and David Gray. Nothing is funnier than people trying too hard.

17. When I’m ready to retire, instead of knitting or playing with grandkids, I want a Harley so I can go ride with my husband. Seriously.

18. I’m getting married in a short wedding dress and red heels. [I didn’t end up doing this but looking back, I should have totally stuck to this idea.]

19. I hate mainstream anything. If everyone is doing it, I want nothing to do with it. Peace out. [This holds true EXCEPT when we’re talking social media.]

20. I’m obsessed with Mexican food, drinks, people… and beaches. Mexico might be close to the most perfect place on Earth.

21. I’ve kept a diary since I was 7 years old. I had some MAJOR problems back then. Grade school is a dog-eat-dog world…especially that one time my best friend stole my Hello Kitty pencil case. Biiiiitch.

22. I’m supposed to wear glasses everyday but I never do (have you seen me with them on? No. I rest my case.)

23. I can watch movies over and over again and never get bored. When I watch Back to the Future, I’m always stressed out that Marty won’t make it back in time!! [Continues to get me every time.]

24. A glass of white wine with my boyfriend is my ideal way to end a day. [Again, my then-boyfriend is now my husband.]

25. My youngest nephew’s name is Guillermo (we call him Memo sometimes) but I decided it would be funny to just call him Juanito. And will you believe that the six year old actually calls me Juanita back?? We’re totally related.

Did you like this? Share it:

The weirdo

I can’t remember where it was I read that one of the key elements to writing a ‘tween or young adult book was to make sure you had an awkward, relatively weird, outsider kind of protagonist. This made sense to me since teenagers, especially pre-teens, are all kinds of awkward. In fact, today we needn’t think any further than Twilight and its leading lady, Bella Swan, who embodies clumsy, awkward and weird all in one package. When I was younger, I used to be drawn to these kinds of characters as well. Deenie, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Blubber, Ramona Quimby, Age 8, and of course, Anne of Green Gables, were all books that I adored when I was younger. I’d go to the library, check them out, read them, re-read them, take them back and repeat the process the following week all over again. I loved them because each protagonist was, in a word, weird. Since I considered myself to be weird too, reading about kids who were awkward and totally different from the norm allowed me to believe that I had a posse of like martians ready to hang out with me at any given notice. Books were my escape and my entertainment, more so than television or anything else available to me (which, let’s face it, was very limited). I was constantly fighting against being different and desperately tried to be “normal” like everybody else.

When we first arrived in San Francisco, I can safely say that I didn’t notice that I was different. My classmates were all different too. Some were Chinese, some were Korean, some where Russian, others Italian. I had a Mexican friend and a Filipino friend and I sat behind a red-headed boy named Billy in class who was probably of Irish-decent or something. We all attended Catholic school and as such, wore uniforms to school everyday. Because of this, no one noticed if someone had “cooler” clothes and the concept of “designer” anything just wasn’t our reality due to our age and our different backgrounds. Then of course there was the ONE thing many of us had in common besides this: being the first generation “Americans” growing up in a major city. When we went home, yes, some of the kids spoke English with their parents and siblings, but many of us went home and spoke a completely different language! You’d see the influences of our parents’ heritage in our packed lunches which ranged from PB&J to sushi to some kind of Chinese soup that was heavy on the cabbage. Sometimes you’d go over to a friend’s house and notice the traditions there: removal of shoes before walking in, eccentric, colorful art hanging on the walls, spicy cooking and the rich smells associated with it and multi-generational households that included the grandmother and sometimes even the great-grandmother! We lived in a city so many of us took the bus to school and as is the norm living in a city, many of us lived in apartments or flats, not always houses. And you know what? Because of this, I don’t recall any of my school mates and/or friends having pets.

To me, all of the above foster great memories of my childhood. I wasn’t weird because we were all “weird.” I wasn’t any different than my Korean classmate who removed her shoes before going inside her apartment and who brought sushi for lunch. Whereas I went home and spoke Spanish with my mom and ate “lentejas” for dinner, my Chinese, Mexican and Italian friends had their own traditions and day-to-day at home that greatly differed from my own. Such was the melting pot of my early years that soon took a nasty turn to dullsville Suburbia when I turned 14. It was at this age that we left San Francisco and moved to the Peninsula, 30 minutes south of the city. With this move came a change of school and a new chapter of my life that took an eternity to shake myself out of: weirdo martian from another country chapter.

From the time I was 14 to oh, about age 28 or 29, it was a constant battle to be considered part of the crowd and “normal.” I moved to Edward Scissorhands town and realized that the melting pot that had been my home for as long as I could remember, was no more. I found myself in a place, in a school, in a town, where every single person was “normal” and even those of a different ethnicity were, to the naked eye, diluted. I became self conscious of the fact that my mom didn’t speak English fluently. I was anguished like only a teenager can be over the fact that we didn’t live in a house like everyone else did. I didn’t grow up playing soccer so I immediately signed up for AYSO soccer and made a fool of myself trying to perform with non-existent skills. At 14 I had never shaved my legs because my mom never told me about it (in Chile people wax and she grew up always waxing, something she obviously thought I would do too once I was old enough.) All of a sudden I was the brown, hairy girl who moved from SF! No I didn’t have Guess jeans but realized soon enough that if I was going to be anybody at the new school, I NEEDED GUESS JEANS (is 14 too young to be sporting $80 jeans, anyone, anyone?) I didn’t even know about the GAP until I moved to this said Edward Scissorhand town and apparently, by the time I hit high school, it was the only option for my wardrobe. That and Eddie Bauer’s flannel shirts, what with the grunge thing in full effect.

I looked around and realized something that rang true in high school, college and some time after college as well. To be popular, interesting, solicited and listened to meant that you had to somewhat blend in and only stand out in the most traditional of ways. In high school this meant that I had to be in student government (all the cool kids were in student government.) It also meant that I had to be in drama but this only lasted through my freshman year and I gladly gave it up in lieu of the school newspaper (which incidentally, wasn’t “cool” by any means.) So I ran for Student Body Secretary my senior year in high school and lost to one of my classmates who was (and continues to be) Ms. Overachiever (actually now she’s Dr. Overachiever). That was a blow but thankfully, since I ran for a “big” office, I was given a pity prize and co-chaired something that had to do with school clubs (my co-chair was another popular girl, known more for her work in dance and performance arts.) I didn’t wear the right clothes, didn’t run with the right crowd (though GOD KNOWS it wasn’t for lack of trying!), didn’t play the right sports, I didn’t dance or do drama (which in my high school was the epitome of cool.) I did manage to break into Honors/Advanced English (again bc all the popular kids were in that class) and ONCE even pulled off the 2nd highest grade on a term paper (the highest grade went to Dr. Overachiever, I believe.) Still, I felt I had proved something to the “right” crowd.

By the time I got to college, I’d somewhat mastered the wardrobe mess I had when I first arrived at a public school and found my own style (or lack thereof). This wasn’t a major issue in college for me. The major issue was once again being the one “foreign” girl in a sea of … politely speaking, non-foreign boys and girls. Many grew up in suburbia, had a mom and a dad (dad was always a lawyer or some corporate executive and mom was most likely a school teacher) and I just had my mom. My mom who was a nanny, a great one at that, for a very successful, very wonderful family. No, there was no dad. No we didn’t take vacations to Tahoe every winter and summer. No, we’ve never owned an SUV. What was that? Was I going to Europe after graduating college? Um, no. I guess I could have done myself a favor and NOT gone out and join a sorority which only served to remind me how different, poor, weird, and non-mainstream I really was. Instead I DID join one, proceeded to binge drink to fit in, gain 15 pounds my first year at Davis, spend money I didn’t have on monthly sorority dues and pretty much drag myself through the mud trying to “be cool” and fit in with those I considered to be cool. That’s not to say or imply that people weren’t NICE. They were nice, actually. It’s just too bad that I was so awkward about being different that they couldn’t get to know me for me. It wasn’t their fault, it was mine. I assumed they thought I was weird and so I took that as fact and acted accordingly to try and fix it. The irony is that people who are NOW my good friends post-college are women who 1) weren’t in a sorority or 2) are the “cool” girls I wanted to impress who are more impressed with my weirdo foreignness than whoever it is I was pretending to be in college.

Life works in the kookiest of ways, really. Post-college it was through work, my career, travel and my accomplishments in the workplace that actually helped me shed all embarrassment for being different. I was given opportunities at a relatively young age that NO ONE my age had and that made me feel like a bad ass. I ended up working for a Japanese company and getting to know a culture that was a million times removed from both my own and actually LIKING and APPRECIATING it. It dawned on me that different was funky and I liked it. It also finally dawned on me that “normal” was so boring, I could die. Yawn. It helped that I was back in San Francisco (albeit for work only) and that I could once again be reminded that the melting pot existed and that I was a fabulous part of that.

The irony is this: I’m now living in Chile and again, I’m reminded with constant lucidity of how different I am. I’m a gringa in a Chilean world. I’m weird, I’m a foreigner and I’m not “normal” (what’s this about wearing open-toed shoes before October??!!! Owning a Bulldog? Not partaking in “once” and checking my blind spot when I drive?) That’s ok though. This time around in life I’m fine with it. I’m actually in the process of maintaining said weirdness, working off it and finding my place in this Chilean world. I’m sorry to tell you Chile, I don’t plan on playing the role I once did of fitting in. This is me, foreign and awkward, take it or leave it.

Did you like this? Share it:

2010, all eyes on Chile

When I lived back home, I don’t recall Chile ever being in the news (more so, editorials regarding wine and travel).

Yet in the span of one year – even less, really – Chile has been in the news twice: both reasons due to major events that catapulted us to the forefront of world news and updates.

An 8.8 earthquake and now the unprecedented rescue of 33 miners who have been trapped below ground since early August. With these two events, Chile has shown the world its strength, its integrity, its ingenuity and its perseverance.

From the bottom up, in both cases.

But this brief blog is to say, hello there Florencio. We’re happy to see you up top and we look forward to seeing all your fellow miners here soon as well. Thank you Chile. Thank you God. Thank you Minister of Mining, Laurence Golborne. Thank you U.S. for the help and equipment you provided from Day 1.

You all brought tears to my eyes tonight, one amazing and unprecedented image after another.
Who’s just as proud to be Chilean as she is to be American?

Did you like this? Share it:

Overdosing on nostalgia

There’s something that is quite evident between Chileans who live outside of Chile, something that I too used to share with enthusiastic vigor. There is a tendency to idealize this country and recall with a deep sense of nostalgia all the memories ever created during the time spent in this narrow land. It wouldn’t be fair to begin this blog immediately removing myself from this since in reality I spent the majority of my life in the exact same state of mind as those I now observe as quite nostalgic.

Growing up as “foreigners” wasn’t an easy feat in the San Francisco Bay Area, especially during the early 80s when being Latin wasn’t necessarily celebrated. Sure, it could have been worse (we could have been living in the middle of Kansas or Minnesota) but it took a bit before being Latin was actually celebrated. Even as I recall high school and certain “movements” by the Latino groups, this was mainly centered around Mexican-Americans, who, let’s face it, far outnumbered the Chileans. As such was the case, the small close-knit group of Chileans who lived in the Bay Area had a reduced network of neighbors and peers who “got” what it meant to be Chilean and who understood firsthand all the idiosyncrasies involved with being Chilean. My thought is that the likelihood of building and sustaining nostalgia bubbles involving all things Chilean was much, much greater because the real thing was much, much farther (it’s not like we could walk down the street and hit up a Chilean restaurant just like that.) Everyone who surrounded you felt the same distance, the same void, the same yearning to be closer, the same awe, the same patriotism and much, much more. The result was always the same when groups of Chileans got together: it was as if celebrating the 18th of September each and every time. Cuecas (Chile’s national dance), wine, “ensalada a la chilena,” a good asado produced our own little Chile no matter the occasion. – birthdays, anniversaries, marriages and even 4th of July resulted in the creation of a little Chile.

The fact that we were greatly outnumbered by Mexicans and Central Americans only perpetuated the nostalgia bubble. It was as if being the cheese that stands alone meant that it was our duty, our calling, our right, to show the world “We’re Chilean, dammit! Not Mexican! We don’t eat burritos!” (Actually, neither do Mexicans.) And in feeling this national pride, we tended to migrate towards others who shared like sentiments and who would join us in talking about how great Chile was or who would take the time to comment with us on the breathtaking, majestic beauty of the Andes Mountains. If we came across Chilean tourists it was if we’d been reunited with a long-lost sibling and we bombarded them with questions about “la patria” – now I realize that in acting this way, I’m sure that the visiting Chileans pretty much surrendered to the fact that Chileans who lived abroad were weirdos. We stopped at nothing, even inviting them to our homes for an “asado” because LORD KNOWS they must miss it, right? I mean, we did!

The distance between San Francisco and Santiago meant that when you took time off to vacation in Chile, you went for at least two weeks. Some people, like my mom, rarely went for less than one month. ONE MONTH of vacation, can you imagine? But people did this and no one thought anything of it. During that time, you jam packed your days traveling from north to south, to the coast and back again and made sure to visit each and every family member and friend who ever meant anything to you, even if that meant having back-to-back asados. It was great to visit, especially during summer in Chile, because the family would usually try to coordinate their vacations with yours. You can imagine the nonstop fun that resulted with a handful of people on vacation, ready to let loose, go to the beach and have themselves a whole heap of fun. You’d spend Christmas and New Year surrounded by family, enjoying the hot weather, eating, drinking, dancing and being merry. All of this was quickly compared to the cold, gray, desolate life you returned to when you went back home to the San Francisco Bay Area and of course, you quickly saw Chile as the only place in the world where you could possibly be happy.

Immediately returning from sunny, warm, family-oriented vacations, it was easy to recall the memories of a short time ago, when you were setting the table for “once” (tea time), going to the grocery store to pick out the meat for the asado in the evening, opening a bottle of red wine so that it could breathe or sitting down with a “pucho” (slang term for cigarette and no, I don’t smoke) ready to discuss the latest happenings with friends or friends of friends.

I was part of all this, an active part of all this. Nothing was better than Chile. Chilean wine was better, Chilean seafood was better, the Chilean way of life, the fact that people knew how to balance work and life, the proximity you had to others, the way people knew their neighbors … I would be in awe just standing in line at the supermarket, listening to the Chilean accents all around me. Each and every single vacation abroad was to Chile and when I returned, I’d immediately calculate when I could return again. Back home, I had an entire wall in my apartment dedicated to Chilean artisan crafts. I had a sticker on the back window of my Jetta with the Chilean flag on it. I had a notebook that I carried with me to all meetings, in SF or elsewhere, with a panoramic view of Santiago. In short, I was obsessed with my “patria” and made sure to say it loud, say it proud, every chance I had – “I’m Chilean!!!!!”

Then, I moved to Chile and began building my life here.

There are so many great things about this country, it would be unfair to say that I was completely wrong to idealize it when I lived back home. But it would also be unfair to not acknowledge that living here is considerably different than visiting. One of the first things I realized is that there really isn’t a work/life balance. People work a lot and they work constantly. Vacations are usually reserved for 1-2 weeks in February and a week in August – that’s it. It just so happened that when I would visit in December/January, family members would coordinate their vacations with mine. The food is good, but honestly, there is much more variety and richer tastes elsewhere – notably for me, in the U.S. Wine is amazing but then again, I miss not having the option of a California wine, New Zealand wine or Australian wine. It’s just Chilean, all.the.time. Also summer here is suffocatingly hot and most of the time, you have to endure it in Santiago because an escape to the beach is 1) expensive and 2) requires reservations far in advance during the peak summer months. Also, I don’t really see any difference in the way people live their lives here in that, most of the time, people go on their merry way, following the routine of their lives and rarely weaving in and out of other people’s lives. In short, it’s not all that neighborly as I once thought it to be. One more thing: we don’t do “once.” In fact, I don’t even LIKE “once.” There was once a time when I truly longed for it. Now I just find it utterly mundane to repeat breakfast a second time around. Finally, unfortunately enough, I take for granted the fact that my entire family is here and that, as such, I could pretty much see them more often than I ever could. If not more often, at least, much more easily than before. I’m as much of an “ingrata” (ungrateful or, in this case, absent) as everyone else in my family and because of this, we never see each other! And it’s a damn shame.

When it comes to Chile and the nostalgia it promotes in Chileans who live abroad, I’m on the other side of the looking glass now. I see them and I hear them talk about Chile with a sense of longing and a sense of pride that I no longer share. I see their pictures of the September 18th celebrations that were held back home, and they enjoy it with 100% more patriotism and passion than I’ve seen in the two dieciochos I’ve spent living here. Their Chi-chi-chi, le-le-le’s are louder and more heartfelt, especially compared to mine, which haven’t been uttered in well over a year. When I see these people on Facebook or in person, hear them over the line or in front of me, I no longer recognize those sentiments – ones that used to define me as a person! It’s like I’m looking at a picture of a great-great-great grandmother and trying desperately to find a nose-hair of resemblance.

I don’t recognize myself in them, or in their sentiments anymore, and I can no longer relate.

Did you like this? Share it:

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.

Did you like this? Share it:

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.)

Did you like this? Share it:

The Brady Bunch only exists without exes

I don’t consider myself to be a stepmom in any sort of way, even though I guess that yeah, the fact of the matter IS that I’m technically a stepmom, given that my husband has children from his previous marriage. But the whole idea behind the term “stepmom” is so cliché, I get nauseous at the mere thought of it. Just thinking of the typical image of the woman who has no children of her own, all of a sudden trying to be a mom, just makes me think of Baroness Schraeder playing ball with the Von Trapp kids (yes, one more of the million references to the movie “The Sound of Music” – so sue me.)

I won’t get into detailed specifics of the dynamics between my husband and his ex, nor will I get into exact specifics of my role either. Suffice it to say that the mother of my husband’s kids (also known as “b*tch face” in my small circle of me, myself and I) is equatable to a fascist dictator (according to me) and even if she isn’t physically with us on the weekends the kids do spend time in our home, trust me, she’s nevertheless omnipresent.

In the beginning of this journey, I was rather accepting of the separation and distinction made between their mom, their dad, them and me. G lived a separate life, according to me back then, when they were around. While he made plans with them with hope of including me, I always politely declined, hiding behind the excuse “no, no, this is YOUR time with them.” Literally there would be weekends when we’d barely see each other and barely had conversations. A combination of demanding kids and impatient Wife #2 didn’t make for easily accessible family time for G. Back then, the ex was more of a b*tch face than I can honesty say she is now – mostly due to the fact that she apparently has a significant other to now love/torture and has withdrawn from loving/torturing my husband – so it was much easier to draw a clear line between “that’s you guys” and this is me. In correlated events, as the fascist mother of the kids has (presumably) been diverted by the sweet smell of love with someone else, she’s become less of a presence in our home with the kids here and less of a bother and anchor around the neck when the kids aren’t here.

As time marched on, as love blossomed for b.f., and as I spent more time with the kids, I got past seeing them as the “offspring” of a “mad love affair” between my husband and his ex. (The reality is that the term “mad” applies but not “love” nor does “affair”) and began seeing them as just them. Two kids with their own personalities. I remove the thought of their mom from our time spent together because it angers me to see how she holds the noose above their heads and how she must be so invasive, that the kids think twice about any move they make with me. It’s a little more seamless now but nonetheless apparent and it’s just sickening to think that a mother is that controlling. And to circle back to my first thought, this is the main reason I don’t feel like I’m a stepmom. The iron hand of the law has far reaches into the minds of its subjects and as such, there is no room for a third party to: 1) educate or offer insight 2) offer alternate thinking 3) lead by example. There is only room for a third party to offer fun. When I choose and when circumstances allow for it, that’s all I’m really, truly a part of – something fun (whether that be introducing them to Beyonce and Black Eyed Peas, introducing them to Monopoly, playing Wii or watching – you guessed it – “The Sound of Music.”)

Unfortunately there are times, like today, when I’m reminded how in reality, there IS a clear line dividing us. Sadly, when that division is apparent, I’m the cheese that stands alone. For some reason or another, the kids’ school doesn’t do their dieciocho celebrations in September when all the other schools do them. They do them in October. Specifically today. In traditional fashion, by class, kids dance typical Chilean dances in full costume for the parents of the entire student body. G, accompanied by his mother, took his kids and I’m of course, left behind. It’s an unspoken rule that shouts from the top of the Andes Mountains: I’m not to be involved or included in these types of things. It doesn’t help that the kids’ mom is actually a teacher at the school they attend but I’m pretty sure that even if she didn’t work there, I’d still have to stay behind the invisible line that divides “his family” from “our family.” I don’t think it will ever change. In fact, a close friend of mine who married into a similar situation finally stood her ground when the youngest of her husband’s sons graduated HIGH SCHOOL! From the time she met his son at the age of 6, she’d missed every single school event, every single performance, every important soccer game. Clearly forced to watch from behind the line. I give her props for standing her ground on his high school graduation. As she clearly stated “Si no le gusta que este, mala suerte.” (If she doesn’t like that I’m here, too bad.)

At what point does it really, truly become a blended family, I wonder? It’s obviously not when the stepmom decides and it could very well be difficult for the kids in between to decide. Does that only leave the option for the first marriage to decide? Can we discuss how unfair that sounds for the now-wife? Then I wonder if it’s about the ex-wife deciding because she happens to hold the reins. Or does the husband decide that it’s ok to include his wife, opting to literally show the ex that she can go straight to hell if she disagrees? I’m at a loss.

G argues that I wouldn’t want to go to their show anyway. True, I’d find it boring as most kid shows are to me. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be cute or, at the very least, entertaining to see their pint-sized selves dance typical Chilean dances. However it’s not an option for me either way. Which is the reason I’m sitting on this side of the dividing line, writing a blog, waiting for my dog’s trainer to arrive.

Did you like this? Share it:

When one movie sparked an existential crisis

Have any of you seen the movie “She’s Having a Baby?” It’s a random John Hughes movie that in typical JH style, speaks eloquent words of wisdom on coming of age. Except this coming of age movie is more about the coming of age into full-fledged, real adulthood, with marriage, mortgages, careers and babies, as opposed to his typical teenage passage à l’âge adulte films like “Sixteen Candles” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” The reviews I took a gander at speak of this film as being an “essay” by John Hughes and his most “serious” film ever.”

Yeah it’s serious but very typical John Hughes and as usual, there were certain parts of the movie that again spoke to me and reminded me just how relatable the main character’s sentiments are to my own. It’s a crossfire between emotion and finding (or maintaining) your true self. Last night as I was watching it, G sleeping next to me, two particular ideas from the following quote resonated with me:

“Why couldn’t I accept who I was, what I was and where I was? Why couldn’t I be like everyone else who rode the train? Were they mindless, anonymous drones, following the scent of money to a senseless, forgotten end or were they the bearers of some great secret that allowed them to rejoice in this life that I was so unwilling to embrace?”

It’s been quite difficult for me to adjust to living here in Chile and accept what my life now looks like compared to what it looked like when I was back home. What’s been most difficult has been the uncertainty about my future, especially my career. I have this familiar paranoia that continues to walk around with me in that I can’t decide if my inability to adjust is something about ME or if the circumstances I willingly chose to be a part of are making it difficult to progress.

Only two ideas from the lines above are ones that make me think:

1) are the women I know who have also made the leap to this strange land actually bearers of some kind of wisdom and secret that makes life here better and positive, a revelation I’ve yet to stumble across?

2) why am I so unwilling to embrace this life, what it looks like now and who I am as I live it?

What is it that I see in other women here that makes me think my reality is so grossly different from theirs? In fact, I’ve spoken to many of them who have told me that they too had a difficult time adjusting to living in Chile at first, and when they hear me complain or see me wanting to bang my head against the wall over the idiosyncrasy of the Chilean culture, I know I’m generally preaching to the choir. There’s nothing I’m currently going through, or have gone through in the last 14 months, that they have not also experienced and ultimately accepted or overcome. In fact, even this past Friday as we were all out celebrating a Gringa friend’s birthday, I was sitting there talking to the birthday girl and she said to me, “Do you ever look around and think ‘wait, what am I doing here? How and when did I end up living in Chile?'” Um, yes, that notions sounds vaguely familiar to me. But it got me thinking: she, like other gringa friends, have been here much longer than I have, yet for the most part, if not completely, they live happy lives here. But even so, just as my friend made me realize with her rhetorical question, they too must stop every once and a while and think, “how did I get here?”

The devil’s advocate in me (or the pessimistic, masochistic side of me – your choice) then remembers that most of the women I’m friends with here aren’t really, truly here for the long-term. Eventually, as their plans unfold, they’ll make their way back home, husbands in tow. They’ll carry with them the adventure they had of living in another country, surviving and excelling in said country (in this case, Chile of course) and all the bad memories and experiences of adapting will become examples, anecdotes or memories of how living abroad shaped their current and/or future plans and selves. I compare that to my reality and realize, I don’t have that luxury. I made the decision to leave everything I’ve ever known, everything that ever meant anything to me, every last memory and experience I was ever a part of, and start my life literally ALL OVER AGAIN, in a foreign country. And the thing is, there is no going back. At least, not in a way that I would willingly choose.

And in my head I wonder, over and over again, would Chile seem so difficult if I knew that at some point down the line, I’d be back home again, better than ever because I’d be with my husband, the person I adore most in this world? I don’t have the answer, nor can I pretend to know what it’s like for others…but from this perspective I think that would be an important secret to embracing life in a different country. I don’t know what it’s like for my friends here, what it’s been like or what other people experience here and I’m not saying that what I write here is the truth. Really, it’s just a thought.

As for point #2 above, I began to really, truly analyze: what makes my life so uncomfortable here that I am so far removed from accepting who I am and where I am now that I live here? I still can’t put a name on it but I can describe it as this: I feel like I’m redoing the period of my life post-college graduation, when I had no idea where I was going, what would become of me or why it seemed that my peers had their sh*t together and I didn’t. In short, I feel like I’m experiencing my quarter-life crisis all over again, meanwhile I’m actually heading into my mid-30s! Wikipedia lists a variety of characteristics of this social and cultural phenomenon we know as the quarter-life crisis and you can see them all here. However in my case, I can call out the following as relevant:

* confronting their own mortality [i.e. realizing that I’m not getting any younger and I have a list of accomplishments that seem to just be sitting there, not transforming themselves into reality.]
* insecurity regarding the fact that their actions are meaningless [This might have more to do with a certain quest I’m on that so far, has proved fruitless. Also, school.]
* insecurity regarding present accomplishments
* disappointment with one’s job
* nostalgia for university, college, high school or elementary school life [except in my case it’s the life I left back in California]
* tendency to hold stronger opinions [fighting the power here really makes me quite obnoxious. And it’s not like I’m happy with being that way.]
* loss of closeness to high school and college friends [missing one of my good friend’s wedding this past weekend and not even KNOWING my best friend’s boyfriend = sucks.]
* financially-rooted stress [as I’ve gotten older, I have more financial responsibilities and I’m still not at the point of being able to save for, say, a home? Plus school and the final wedding payments have killed me in the last few months.]
* desire to have children [or the simple to desire to be at a place in my life where it’s a viable and intelligent option to start a family. Guess who’s not getting any younger?]
* a sense that everyone is, somehow, doing better than oneself
* frustration with social skills [it’s not that I’m awkward – I don’t think – but I do tend to have my weirdo moments in everyday Chilean encounters.]

I remember feeling many of these things and more, immediately after college. Then my career and life began to take shape and one by one, these sentiments became irrelevant. Of course, 10 points were replaced by ONE HUGE point, that being: “Waaaaaaaaaa! I want someone to love!! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaa I’ll never find THE ONE!” And the like. Now I have the latter fantastically filled but upon moving to Chile, all of the points above made their way back into my life (como Pedro por su casa) at a time when I had completely forgotten ever feeling that way at all! Of course I wouldn’t trade what I have in my personal life right now – the fulfillment I have with the person I’ve chosen to live my life with and the relationship we have together – for more time in California, not in a million years. I accept Round 2 of the quarter-life crisis because I figure, I survived it once before (and alone at that). After all, now, I should be better equipped to give all the points above a good kick in the b*lls anyway. At some point soon, I’ll have hurdled it all and I’ll look back, wave goodbye and say “thanks for playing.”

…Geez. Had I known that my seemingly innocent choice over which DVD to watch prior to falling asleep last night would spark such an existential crisis (and consequently, a ridiculously long blog post) I would have opted for “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” instead …

Did you like this? Share it:

Chilean companies & their employees – unproductive?

Sometimes the things that my classmates and teachers talk about surprise me and not at all in a negative way. Rather, I’m enlightened and many times struck by a ray of hope for the evolution of the average Chilean. Meaning my classmates and teachers seem to be, in my experience, not your everyday average Chileans and definitely not the Chileans that perhaps our parents once were (or still are.) Though there are many times when they talk about things I have no clue on (mainly knowledge one would have if he/she grew up here), there are other times when they talk about things I never expected, offering insight and opinions that shed some light on the changing profile of young executives in this country.

This was the case yesterday in class when we began deviating from the topic of the day. To offer a quick background, we were discussing how a company can be more than just a company but a brand in and of itself. The main requirement for this, in short, is to make sure that your internal client, i.e. employees, are happy. Happy employees will feel an affinity to the company’s brand. I was enjoying the discussion when all of a sudden the professor, a man between 45-50, professional and educated both here and in Spain, says to the class “Officially and on record, it’s been shown that Chile is the least productive country in regards to time management of employees and efficiency in the workplace.”

Scratch record, silence music, stop the presses.

Did my Chilean professor just say that in front of my Chilean peers and classmates?

Granted it’s something I’ve experienced, seen, heard about and witnessed in the past six years I’ve worked with Latin Americans but never in a million years did I expect to hear that from a Chilean in a room with other Chileans. Even more so, I never expected the majority of the Chilean classmates I have to actually AGREE with the statement.

What ensued was a series of examples and reasons as to WHY, from their perspective, Chileans weren’t productive. Words and phrases thrown out were (note that this was discussed in a general sense, in the “we” context, in the context of the work/labor force and delivered by Chileans. I.e. the foreigners, including myself, did not offer opinions):

  1. Chileans, as a general group, are lazy.
  2. Chileans lack motivation.
  3. Chileans lack good leadership.
  4. Chileans lack education.
  5. Even college graduates are unprofessional.
  6. Chileans are unreliable.
  7. There are fewer opportunities in Chile.

Other examples where offered but what I found to be more interesting were the anecdotes that followed each example of why Chileans were unproductive and inefficient in the workplace. For instance, one classmate shared with us that when it was time for her yearly review, her supervisor told her that she was “too anxious” because she consistently followed up with people on to-do’s and next steps. She stated that she had to be that way because following up once, twice and up to four times didn’t automatically make things happen. And for being proactive, she was labeled as “anxious” by her superior.

Another example (given by a classmate) is how Chileans will work until 7 or 8 p.m. when in comparison, Brazilians (in her example) will work until 6 pm. If she’s talking to a distributor for her company in Brazil and the line is disconnected, she stated that the Brazilians immediately call back. Whereas it was her experience that the same incident will happen with a Chilean and the Chilean will not only NOT return the call, but when she tries to call, the line rings and rings or it goes straight to voicemail. Upon locating the same Chilean distributor another day, the Chilean distributor will proclaim “Oh, I thought you were going to call ME back.” I did. “Oh yeah but it was 6:30 pm, I left of course.” In the middle of our pending phone conversation? Yes.

My contribution to the discussion did not involve bashing how Chileans work nor did it involve criticizing Chileans in any way. In fact, I offered this morsel of insight, valuable or not: I stated that in the U.S. most people learn proper business conduct and etiquette from the companies that hire them. We can study the most “random” things in college (English Literature, History, Anthropology, etc) and still find ourselves working in a financial firm, venture capital, branding or consumer products company. The point being that in the U.S., GENERALLY, we are taught the proper business culture when already in that culture. And I stated that from what I observed, Chileans were more preoccupied with making sure that one is the proper Ingeniero Comercial with the adequate amount of excel and economics and marketing courses necessary but with no aspect of how to properly function inside an organization.

I thought about it too. When I started my current job, I had zero experience in licensing. I had worked at a software company during the dot.com craze of the late 90s and when I was laid off due to lack of funding, I worked at a private wealth management firm. I was hired at my current company because I had the college education, I had the basic, fundamental skills needed and I had the drive and knowledge to learn a new business. Further, I had NO experience working with Japanese businesses nor did I have any idea how to conduct myself in a meeting or in negotiations with the Japanese. In fact, given that I was hired to work on the international side of the business, I didn’t have any idea how to do business with ANYONE who wasn’t American! Obviously it took a few months, but I learned all of that and I feel that I have even come to excel in some aspects of it. In the same situation, a Chilean company will try to find a candidate with the exact same business experience (or at least 80% of what’s required for the position) because to them, that’s what’s fundamental – past experience doing the exact same thing. But does that mean they’re hiring the most efficient person out there? Someone who may help increase productivity? If what our professor told us yesterday is true, then I think Chilean companies need to rethink how they do their hiring. That is, if they care about having productive employees.

The best example given yesterday (in my opinion) was by the women who work at Lider, one of the major supermarket/hipermarket chains here in Chile. Lider is now owned by Walmart and as such, we were given a top-line example of how the business culture at Lider changed when Walmart came with their team to implement the new procedures and spark the Walmart culture of “Save Money. Live Better.” Though we weren’t offered major specifics, the examples offered clearly demonstrated how Walmart, with its American business culture, spent time observing how corporate and retail Lider worked and implemented changes that would increase productivity and efficiency across the board. It’s a work-in-progress we were told, but already changes were apparent.

Then I got to thinking of the comment thrown out about professionalism and how many Chilean executives and professionals lack this fundamental quality in the workplace. I recalled stories I’ve heard about (mainly) women who go into their bosses offices here, only to sit down and literally start bawling. I’ve heard this more than once, with different women in different companies for different reasons. Regardless of the reason, I’m always taken aback by this. What kind of executive allows her superiors, even her peers, to see her break down in the office? Whether right or wrong, to do so only promotes the quick labeling of her (us) as weak or fragile and not someone who can carry a burden of responsibility. The UBER female in me wants to ask these women “Helllooooooo did you not see the episode of Sex and the City when Samantha and Charlotte talked about the effects of crying the workplace? Do I need to do a PSA about this for all those out there who feel the overwhelming need to bawl and ruin the reputation of the rest of us?” Because I would if I could. This is just one example of the unprofessional nature of some executives here in Chile, but I can add to the mix those who take their half hour cigarette breaks, those who go out for 2+ hour lunches, those women who abuse their maternity leave and tack on days that become weeks that turn into months outside the office because their baby spits up milk or whatever lame excuse is used…

I can’t say that the United States is the most productive or most efficient business capital of the world, nor can I attest that our workers don’t slack off. I’ve seen many who do, hiding behind the guise of a Senior This-or-That title and taking credit for work done by those working under them. I’ve seen those who stroll into work at 10 am and leave at 4 pm everyday. And I’ve seen those who sit at their computers watching YouTube all day long instead of working.

But in light of the fact that I live in Chile now, I wonder, if what our professor told us is true, what’s the real reason behind it? Further, how can it be changed?

Did you like this? Share it: