Rock Star Kids!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kylie and me in St. Thomas, USVI.

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

Piper and me in Disneyland.

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Lider’s Bicentennial GWP

For those who are unfamiliar with the letters GWP, they stand for “gift with purchase” and as it sounds, it’s usually a little trinket a buyer receives after buying something else. Usually, but not always, a company will do this type of promotion jointly with another company and together, they each have the opportunity to promote their product/brand. The best part is that the consumer generally wins because the GWPs tend to come with items one is already going to buy or is already willing to buy.

Lider, a (former) Chilean hipermarket purchased by the monster known as Walmart, is not one of my favorite places in the world and I rarely go there for my grocery needs. This is due in part to my great distaste for all things Walmart in general and also because Lider, as a place in existence to satisfy grocery needs, doesn’t speak to me at all. In fact, all it really says to me is “Andrea turn around and go to Jumbo.”

There’s one exception: the Lider Express located on Bilbao and Pedro de Valdivia, a few blocks from our apartment in Providencia. I won’t lie. This Lider Express has gotten us out of jams many a times and it’s the only Lider I’ve stepped foot in and actually purchased something since I moved here. That was the case this evening when G and I noted we didn’t have a single tomato in our apartment (crucial part of our weekly diet) or anything that could accompany the chicken we were thinking of bbq-ing for dinner. Enter Lider Express to save the day.

As we walked in, G said to me “Did you see their promotion?” What promotion? “If you spend $15,000 pesos (about US$30) you get a free Chilean Recipes Cookbook.” Cool.

I didn’t think much of it until G went to claim the GWP with our receipt of over $15,000 pesos spent. But once I saw it, I swooooooned!! Give or take, 42 glossy pages of the yummiest of Chilean recipes I could ever lay my hands on FOR FREE (kind of.) Everything from Chilean drinks, to Chilean seafood recipes, soups, casseroles and desserts. Hello, 7th Heaven!

Front cover of the recipe book. Unabashed marketing of the Lider Express brand but who cares? I want to know how one makes that empanada!

This is followed by pages and pages of images of typical Chilean dishes and their corresponding step by step instructions for do-it-yourself brilliance!

Almejas en Salsa Verde & Sopa de Choritos con Verduras (Clams in Green Salsa & Mussel soup with vegetables.)

Porotos granados con Pilco & Porotos con Choricillos (Typical Chilean beans with corn and Beans with Chorizo)

Sopaipillas con Pebre & Ajiaco (Sopaipillas that are generally salty rather than sweet, with a type of Chilean pico de gallo & Ajiaco – a type of potato and beef soup with A WHOLE LOTTA garlic. Nothing short of fabulous.)

Pastel de Jaiba (Crab casserole? Hello, lovely!)

Pastel de Choclo – the quintessential Chilean dish, following the empanada. (Corn casserole that contains meat, chicken, olives and onions. Delish!)

And much, much more!

I’m quite impressed with this marketing initiative on behalf of Lider Express and at home, we’re really excited to hop-to on many of these recipes. I love the small packaging, glossy photos and simple, yet delicious recipes that make up this GWP.

By far worth the minimum of $15,000 pesos Lider wants you to spend in their stores. At least in my book.

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Thanks Tom

When living in a foreign country, sometimes it seems that the planets are aligning against you and you begin to wonder what the hell you’re doing there. If you decide you have enough reasons for being there (like I do here) then you begin to wonder how you’ll not only keep your head above water but actually start treading it and then walking on said water.

That’s where I am right now, this very second, today. And because of that, I have to imagine that Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers are speaking directly to me …

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Chile, 100 years ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have you.

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

Other interesting tidbits about the article include:

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

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

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

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It’s time to stop playing dumb

In June, when G and I decided to get Obi neutered, I wrote a blog about the constant reactions I received from MANY (and I mean almost ALL) Chileans with whom we shared our decision to neuter. I surrendered to the fact that my role as a responsible pet owner was once again more proof to Chileans that I was a “bicho raro” (odd duck) and that my poor proper Chilean husband must be the “pobrecito” (poor guy) who had no choice but to let his gringa wife have her way with their little pooch. (Incidentally, this is just one of many examples of gringa wife = bicho raro, Chilean husband = probrecito.) I must have given the speech about the benefits of sterilization dozens and dozens of times and of course, this was met with resistant, then skeptical eyes. In the end I always found myself frustrated and concluding “It’s what we do where I’m from.” It seems that was the only acceptable response that Chileans would accept. “Oooooh, right. It’s a Gringo thing. You crazy, Gringos.” The fact of the matter is that Obi was neutered, yeah it hurt and he was uncomfortable, but almost three months post-op he’s fine! Here’s proof, my dear skeptical Chileans:

Obi lounging in the sun 3 weeks post-surgery.

Obi next to his BFF, Toyotomi, 4 weeks post surgery.

Obi playing in Parque Bicentenario 5 weeks post-surgery.

Obi two weeks ago displaying his deep appreciation for his new toy from Brazil.

I told you guys he’d be fine. And despite one of the RIDICULOUS reasons that many Chileans still hold on to as reasons for not sterilizing their pets, I don’t think he understands the notion that he’ll “never be a father” because, oh, he’s A DOG!

Anyway, the point of of this blog is this: after some researching and reading, I’ve come to learn that there are many entities and people in Chile who actually favor the notion of responsible pet ownership. And because of this, I’ve decided that anyone who gives me ridiculous reasons for not doing so (an example of said ridiculousness noted above), will automatically be labeled as ignorant in my book. Call me extreme, call me rude, call me intolerant. I disagree with all three because the fact of the matter is that Chile, whether behind the times or not, is actually well aware of the need to be responsible … it just seems that said knowledge needs to spread to the masses via communication and education.

Here are links to various interesting articles and websites regarding the topic of the stray animal population and the programs available to help dog owners be the best owners possible to their little furry family members:

  • Sterilization programs in various comunas of Santiago (link)
  • Article on the root of the stray animal over-population in Chile and why sterilization is better than elimination (link)
  • Article on the Canine Sterilization Center in Osorno, Chile (link)
  • Article on initiative to fine those who feed street animals in Valparaiso, Chile. Note that this initiative has since been suspended. (link)
  • Financial Statement and information on campaign to save animals post February’s earthquake “No los dejes atrás, ellos también son víctimas.” (link)
  • The rights granted to animals in Chile (link)

The fact of the matter is that right now the everyday reality I encounter in Chile shows that many people have got to get their act together on the topic of pets and the animal over-population in Chile’s streets. But I have hope for the younger generations because Chileans are a smart bunch, savvy in many ways, forward-thinkers and progressive. Yet in so many ways, also quite antiquated (believe me, G and I run into people OUR AGE who still view the concept of “me man, work – woman, home good) and responsible pet ownership is one of those concepts that continues to just float about without any real place in the culture.

Case in point: G and I took Obi and his kids to Parque Bicentenario last Sunday, where we found ourselves in the midst of the “tiki-tiki-ti” (Independence Day) celebrations and park bustling with stands, activities, rides for the kids and people everywhere. Inside the area designated for pets to run around without leashes, there was a woman who was there with her own bulldog for the first time. We got to talking and in the next five minutes, I about keeled over in astonishment realizing that:

  1. her bulldog was running around like crazy, something she thought was “great” since he spent so much time during the week indoors.
  2. she didn’t have water and because her bully was so thirsty, he was foaming at the mouth
  3. she didn’t have baggies to clean up after him, which was a problem when he suddenly stopped running to proceed to throw up due to over exertion.

Yeah this woman had a bulldog that had been gifted to her and yeah, she seemed to think he was great but the problem was apparent: she was pretty irresponsible as a bulldog owner. 1) bulldogs literally, physically cannot run around for long periods of times, even if they want to. There are many health reasons that back this up which I won’t get into here but any proper bulldog owner would know this even by simple means of something called the INTERNET. 2) Bulldogs are drastically (almost annoyingly) sensitive to the heat and sun, even if it’s not that hot. As a result, when outside, in the sun, an owner must ALWAYS have with him/her some water for the little piggy to drink. They get thirsty and they get thirsty fast. Obi can chug 2 liters of water like it’s nobody’s business on a typical park outing. 3) an owner of a dog (or cat) should be pretty aware of the cues that indicate that their pet is not doing well, in a similar fashion that a mother or father would be attuned to their kid all of a sudden feeling sick. At the very least, notice that you dog is not over exerted so that the poor little guy doesn’t throw up?

Needless to say I almost b*tch slapped the woman for being so dumb and for being so oblivious. I immediately took the opportunity to point all of this out to G’s daughter and told her the following “Having a pet is a responsibility and if you’re going to have a special breed like a bulldog, you need to make sure you know the dog’s limitations so that he can live a happy life.” Even G’s daughter, who is 8, understood that bulldogs can’t run around for extended periods of time.

I don’t know if it’s the culture or if it’s Chile’s obsessive focus on the children’s welfare that makes for the myopic view of topics regarding animals (and the environment, while we’re at it!) Maybe it’s neither and it’s just a geographic obstacle, in that Chile is literally so far away from so many other “developed” countries and that it’s surrounded by geographic barriers (Andes and Pacific Ocean) that the information and tendencies are delayed? Or perhaps it’s none of the above. In any case, if there are people as dumb as those who reprimand me for neutering Obi and people like the woman mentioned above who didn’t have the slightest idea of what it meant to be a bulldog owner, I believe that times are changing and Chile is evolving when it comes to animal rights and education to the masses on the responsibility of pet ownership. It’s time for the masses to stop playing dumb regarding the topic of responsible pet-ownership and the topic of the over-population of dogs and cats in the country. If parents-to-be educate themselves on all things involving children and newborns, if someone who’s about to buy a car will read every article and book about how to care for the car so as to assure it’s longevity, if people study the last financial statement of a company they are interviewing with in order to gain a competitive advantage in the interview process, what would it take for these same people to learn a bit more about the benefits of protecting and enriching the lives of animals?

I wonder.

Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. ~George Orwell, Animal Farm

Ever occur to you why some of us can be this much concerned with animals suffering? Because government is not. Why not? Animals don’t vote. ~Paul Harvey

Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar. ~Bradley Millar

Here’s an epilogue to ponder:
I never used to be so aware of animals and especially dogs. But ever since I moved to Chile and realized how animals are regarded, both the good and the bad, and became a pet owner myself, I have found that I am quite adamant on the topic of proper pet responsibility and education. In fact, I’m more adamant about pets than I am about children, as controversial as that may sound. I don’t have kids, I have a dog. And in Chile, as well as everywhere else, there about 100 times more people fighting for the rights of children than there are those remotely concerned about dogs and animals. Things will shift when I have kids, I’m sure. But that just means that my focus will then be balanced between kids and dogs and by no means, will that ever mean that my focus on dogs will falter.

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Chile – evolving!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The last name issue in Chile: another dilemma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Working from home when living in a foreign country

When I tell people that I work from home the usual response is “Wow, you’re so lucky. I wish I had that gig.” Or something of that nature.

True, working from home definitely has its high points. I don’t HAVE to wake up early, I don’t deal with rush hour traffic (and in Santiago it’s awful), I get to hang out with my dog all day long, even while I work and I never have to deal with sharing bathrooms with coworkers (and the discomfort and too-much-information THAT entails.) Among other things, of course.

I admit that when I told my company that I was moving to Chile, their response was better than what I had expected. “Work for us down in Chile.” Sweet! After all, my position with them requires me to manage the Latin American region so the fact that I was moving to Chile (where we also have partners) made more sense than if I were moving to, say, The Netherlands. It definitely allowed me to cross one thing off the “to-do” list upon arrival, which was “find a job and a way to earn a living so you don’t end up living in a van down by the river.”*

However, as awesome as working from home can be, when you move to a new country, working from home actually TAKES AWAY the much needed social connections you are forced to have with coworkers when you work outside your home. Since I didn’t have that on arrival, it took me much longer to make friends and, a year later and still working from home, I have friends of course but I’m sure I’d have a few more if I worked outside. Further, they’d probably be Chilean, something that’s definitely lacking in the friend department for me right now.

In any case, I could go on and on detailing the pros and the cons of working from home, especially when throwing the fact that I’m new to the country into the mix. But, don’t pictures speak louder than words? I was on Facebook last night and saw that a former colleague of mine in the U.S. posted a comic strip that accurately describes (visually, since it’s what we all like) the good and the bad of working from home. I have to share it because, at least in my case, it’s oh-so-true. Sweetly adorable, chocolate covered truth … Check it out here. (Thanks to the creator of The Oatmeal comic strip for this and to my former coworker for sharing it on FB.)

[* This reference to Chris Farley’s SNL character “Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker” will only make sense to those who 1) either appreciate all things SNL and therefore watch episodes regardless of date and time or 2) you watched SNL religiously during the late 90s, as I did. Here’s a YouTube link for your viewing enjoyment. ]
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"All 33 of us are fine in the shelter."

I’m not the kind of person who is moved to tears easily. Unless I’m watching a cheesy commercial then of course, all bets are off and the waterworks begin. However, this story about the miners and how they were found to be alive after 17 days trapped 2,300 feet below ground, under the San Jose mine near Copiapo Chile, moved me. Of course I cried.

I cried because these human beings, after living 17 days in a small area I’ve read is similar to a “small flat,” have genuine hope in their eyes. Putting myself in their position, in the faintest of ways, I’m sure I don’t come close to the relief they felt when the probe finally reached them and they had the first opportunity to communicate with the world above. And they did so with the note above which simply reads “All 33 of us are fine in the shelter.”

“Fine” is a relative term. They’re fine relative to what the other option could have been which is … a dreadful extreme. I always think logistics and really ridiculous details most of the time, though. In this case I wonder what it feels like for them to not shower, to not have a beer, to not watch soccer, to not smell freshly baked bread, to not drive … to not change underwear, to not brush their teeth, to not hug their wives/girlfriends. Now that this has happened, do they regret the decision to work in the mines? Is that even an option for these experienced miners or is it just their way of life, the way trains or “ferrocarriles” were a way of life for my grandfather.

They haven’t yet learned that it will take anywhere from 3-4 months to build a shaft wide enough to bring them up one by one. I was thinking that by the time this is finally accomplished, it will be Christmas time here … isn’t that perfect timing? Not for them though. I’m sure they wish they could be with their families for the upcoming Independence day celebrations (Chileans are a patriotic bunch, especially on the 18th of September and ESPECIALLY since this year marks 200 years since Chileans won their independence from Spain.) I’m sure they wish they could just have their own space, up top, right NOW.

How will they feel once they learn that they have to keep surviving, keep their sanity and keep each other going for at least three more months, probably four? Four months can fly but only with activity and experience. Four months ago it was April (the month I got married) and it definitely puts the length of four months into perspective.

When they pull the miners out one by one in December, flash forward to the future when you see those same images on a screen, reciting a story. This is for sure the story of a made-for-tv movie. Or a tell-all book. In the meantime, I hope the most basic of things for them right now – sanity and comradery.

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