Peacing out of this joint

I’m sure that expats everywhere have those days when you all of sudden TRULY wonder just what the hell you’re doing in your host country. Any backwards, freaky, scary or frustrating experience can trigger it and though I have days when I am pretty convinced everyone in this country has got it all wrong, last Wednesday I hit a limit with Chile and was about one online purchase away from hopping the first one-way flight back to SFO, bulldog in tow (naturally).

I’ll spare you the details and play-by-play’s of what happened that consequently pushed me over the edge, but suffice it to say that it entailed Chileans and their oh-so-wonderful ways behind the wheel and on the road. I made detailed references to some examples of their bad habits back in June but on Wednesday it was so bad, so rude, so frustrating and so unfair that I couldn’t imagine living another day in this country, with these people who apparently go out of their way to make you feel bad. Mind you, this is how it felt on Wednesday when it was literally happening just like that: some guy going out of his way to make me feel bad for something that wasn’t my fault. Do people like him really exist out there and why is it that I have to have the misfortune of crossing paths with them? To make matters worse, it would seem that about 85% of the men in this country are convinced that women are hands down horrible drivers. So you can imagine my horror, my raw, irrational frustration with this guy who not only wanted to make me feel bad but who also went wild insulting my gender!

Of course there are all kinds of drivers and the term “bad driver” is also really relative. I happen to think that someone who manages to maneuver around cars in order to cross a recently-turned-red light is a pretty bad driver. Maybe some idiot guy would think that’s a “capo” (capable) driver. Po-tay-toe, Po-tah-toe. Back home I happened to think anyone could fall into the bad driver category: me, you, women, men, African Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Malaysian, Greek, Jews, Italians – and so on. I was an equal opportunity labeler of bad drivers and gave no regard to sex, religion, race or political party. The problem in Chile then is that it’s SUCH A HOMOGENEOUS country they can only categorize and label based on sex: man = good driver; woman = bad driver. This annoying belief which happens to be embedded into the psyche of the general male population here is what truly had me at the point of packing my bags less than a week ago.

When I lived back home, I remember meeting expats from Chile who had relocated in California because of jobs, schools or in general, in an attempt to better themselves one way or another. Many of them found California, the Bay Area, to be really backwards. Gringos were considered “cold” and “too busy” to bother with each other. We were the type who seemed to only care about money and our jobs and didn’t take time to be with family or with our neighbors. Many were surprised to realize that they would never really know if they had neighbors in their U.S. apartment buildings or not. They were also taken aback by how restrictive California seemed: last call at bars at 1:30 a.m., no smoking anywhere and don’t even THINK about littering or jay walking or a ticket would surely slap you silly across the face (in fact, my mom got a ticket for jay walking once, after having lived there more than 20 years). “Que cuaticos son los gringos!” or basically that we make mountains out of mole hills and dramatize even the smallest of things. So we were square, workaholics who didn’t like to really party, who cared more about our environment (and dogs) than we did about forming bonds with the newly arrived Chileans who were calling California their home. In fact, I remember many Chileans I had met going back home to Chile only to later find out from one of their family members that he or she “just couldn’t adapt to the U.S. way of life.”

Aside from the horrible way Chileans drive and the despicable view on women drivers, my problem with Chile is that I don’t quite get their priorities. What makes them work? What’s really important (and of course I mean besides faith and family because I realize that’s a given here.) In the Bay Area I can tell you it’s about being the most successful, the healthiest, the most giving and socially conscious you can be, the customer is (almost) always right … all that and of course vacations are a big deal to Californians too, whether fancy or simple camping. Many other things are important but these are some examples. What’s a big deal here in Chile? … it’s so bizarre what people will truly give you a hard time about and THAT’S what makes living here so hard sometimes.

Why is it that at Starbucks they make a fuss about giving you a sleeve for your coffee, stating that only customers who order drinks “extra hot” are entitled to said sleeve? What part of their brains makes saying “no” to a customer whose hand is burning such a priority? And what part of their brains justifies offering a whole cup to put under the original cup as the solution? Don’t they know that a cup is much more expensive to the company than the sleeve? What’s the priority there? Who are they making the priority? Why spend the 15 minutes arguing about this when handing a sleeve is all it would take to make the customer happy and to get him out of the employee’s face STAT?

Why is it that when I run on the path designated for bikes (for all of a few seconds so I can run around others who are in the way of my regular path), twice already I’ve had people yell at me to get off since it’s “for bikes only.” Why do they care? Since when are rules so respected here that I need to get yelled at repeatedly for making my way around those who are going a tad slower than me?

Are Chilean societal priorities like restricción vehicular? [In Santiago there is a system known as “restricción vehicular” where private vehicles may not be driven on certain days, defined by the final digit of their license plates. Failure to comply with this restriction is punishable by fines.] See, if I had the legend to when certain things are enforced and when they are disregarded here, I would probably have less and less “F-U Chile, I’m peacing out” moments. In fact, it would make adapting here a much smoother process for expats like me and trust me, it would make us less “weird” to everyone else. If cars have a legend that tells them when they can and can’t be driven depending on the day of the week, I’m sure we can come up with something similar so that I can go about my daily life in a much more relaxed manner.

Here’s what I’m envisioning as regular, daily enforced priorities:

Monday
This is the day when customer service is put on the back burner. If you just paid US$30 for lip gloss, you’re absolutely not entitled to one-on-one service at the cash register and you are definitely not entitled to eye contact or to the asking of any questions. In fact, we aren’t sure why we’re the ones having to ring you up. This place better get self-serve registers pronto.
Tuesday
Today we’re focused on denying any requests for anything extra at restaurants or coffee shops. If you want a sleeve for that steaming cup of coffee that’s currently causing blisters on your palm, you’re going to want to ask for that little number “extra hot.” Said request on your part will undermine any rule we have regarding sleeves.

Wednesday
No matter what you do, today is the day Santiago has decided that you are the biggest moron it has driving around its streets. If you happen to be following transit laws to a tee, we’ve decided that you are supposed to have skipped the odd numbered pages on that guide so anything covered on those pages is currently disregarded today. If you violate this decision on our part then today also states that anyone, anywhere can yell at you and make you feel dumb. If you happen to be a woman, said badgering will happen for more than 5 minutes and we reserve the right to insult your entire gender.

Thursday
In any type of office or retail environment, today is the day we focus on telling you exactly the opposite of what we told you two days ago when you came in. If we told you that your pants were ready today, we actually meant Monday. If we told you that you didn’t owe money to the I.R.S. equivalent, actually we changed our minds and you do – double the amount previously thought. If you called and asked us if we had XYZ product/service before making the 40 minute trek to our store/office, we lied. Sorry!

Friday
Today is the day dedicated to random conversations and spontaneous sharing of too much information, sometimes by complete strangers. If you happen to be standing alone, or even if you’re with a friend, it’s more than likely someone will come up and start a conversation as if halfway through. Or you might run into your mom’s best friend’s great-aunt. Be sure to pay special attention and nod accordingly lest you offend the person sharing the story about the boil that developed right over his tailbone, which is now gone, thanks to the neighbor’s son who was visiting from the south where he goes to medical school. Upon concluding the random information sharing, the person may invite you over to his/her house for “once” (tea) but don’t worry, this is just his/her way of saying bye. For the LOVE OF PETE don’t actually confirm your attendance to said “once.” That would just be really weird of you.

Saturday & Sunday
Free-for-all, anything goes. Though note that these days there are always ample amounts of staring and bad customer service. Regardless of your reaction to anything on these days, note that 85% of the time we’re right and you’re wrong. However we’re happy to offer you the following: specifically on Sundays, we’re committed to making your driving experience in Santiago pleasant and accommodating. Since most of us aren’t out driving around OR we happen to already be at the mall, the streets will be pretty empty so LIVE IT UP out there! It’s our thanks to you for choosing Chile as your home.
We hope you enjoy your weekend with your family. God bless!

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7 thoughts on “Peacing out of this joint

  1. Girl, Spain is no bed of roses either. The driving is bad, the customer service is worse, and don't even get me started on their internet and telecommunications services (what is this thing you call the internet, silly American?).

    I feel your pain… lo siento!

    TTFN, J

  2. Love it love it love it. I'm sorry for the things that have happened to you to inspire this post. It sounds beyond frustrating, but Andrea, this post is genius, and makes me feel better knowing it's not only me. You're a great writer!

  3. With tomorrow being Tuesday and all, and probably my last trip to Starbucks on this side of the line, I'll snag an extra sleeve as I cash in my free 15 gold stars rewards card drink and toast to "no rules"!!!

  4. How is faith a given? EVERYONE I know in Chile claims to be Catholic. Almost no one I know in Chile goes to church (except for Sarah, but she's not Chilean. Well, I guess Pipe probably goes then too). They don't actually know anything about their religion, and most people barely even what they believe. They don't talk about their religion. They don't treat people better because of it or give money to charities because of it (well except the Teleton, but in my opinion that was just invented to give the big companies a way to show off and get good publicity for giving miniscule amounts of charity compared to the profit margin they get — if 50 million people come in to Lider today and buy one thing, we'll donate ONE HUNDRED dollars to the teleton — and we're supposed to be excited about that). I don't know, I definitely find Chile to be neither religious nor faithful.

    But that's just me always being argumentative 🙂 I'm sorry you're having such a rough Chile day/week/month. It gets easier, I promise.

  5. Pookie pants (Kyle) I guess faith is a given based on the people we know and their personal habits, which, believe it or not, includes Church every Sunday …

  6. Yup, I agree with Kyle on the faith issue, but apparently we just know different Chileans.

    I would say that to many people, at least in Santiago, power and success (or the appearance of both) are very important. That can mean that silly things can become huge issues as people try to prove something but also that if you show up dressed nicely and thinking "I'm a cuica, I WILL make this happen because things just work in my world" you can usually get things to go your way.

    All I can say is that I remember feeling like you sound in this post, and yet I can't remember the last time I felt that way. So hang in there – it gets better!

  7. I am sorry that Chilenos are giving you such a hard time. When I lived there I really believed that Chileans had a sort of split personality. The same person who gave you the finger and referred to your mother's body anatomy may turn out to be one of the nicest people you have ever met.
    I found the situation so bad that I left and moved to North America. Have I found heaven on earth here? I guess you already know the answer.

    Remember though that whatever unfair and rude behavior you receive, is NOT directed at you. I call them equal opportunity rude people. They give everyone the same rotten treatment.
    Of course none of this justifies their behavior, but it’s good to keep it in mind.
    And as other expats have told you, it does get better. Sheer up and don't take it personally.

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