Every country has its nuances and annoyances and Chile, even though it has a lot of cultural similarities to what I know in the UK and the western world, there are a number of common themes that I’ve noticed in my time travelling here.
Eating like a Roman
I think it’s fair to say that Chilean people aren’t exactly the slimmest people on earth, and this can be put down to their passion for both sugar and large portions.
At every opportunity you will see people trying to add extra spoons of sugar to things that really don’t need it.
Unless you want to get immediate diabetes then I’d stay clear of the fruit juices in particular, where I’ve seen vendors adding 5 or more spoons of sugar to a single juice.
There’s really no need for this as the fruit is amazingly sweet and delicious anyway, and you’ll get a few strange looks if you ask for ‘sin azucar‘
This level of indulgence is also seen in most restaurants where portion sizes are super sized all around, and most of the food doesn’t appear to be too healthy.
Most popular seems to be meat (usually barbequed) accompanied with a massive portion of chips and usually an egg on top as well.
A lot of the time it’s common to share your food so on the menu you’ll often find portions for 2 people.
BE CAREFUL, however, as this isn’t always clearly marked and you can easily end up with a plate of 2 supersized portions for yourself.
No Beer in Public
As an Englishman who likes his beer served up at any time of day in all kinds of places, I’ve been struggling a few times over here to keep myself suitably oiled.
In particular the beach location seem to be missing a trick or too. Along the beachfronts you’ll find enless shacks and stands selling helados, churros (a kind of waffle-like stick) and chocolate, sweet popcorn and sickly sweet juices, but can you find anywhere selling a nice cold, refreshing beer on a sunny day? No, No and No!!!
Generally the attitude to alcohol in Chile is that it should be consumed in moderate portions (unlike the food) and public displays of drunkenness are frowned upon (the polar opposite of the UK!).
It’s not legal to drink in public spaces, although we’ve seen a few people taking sneaky sips of beer in the park, and I’m guessing that there’s a law prohibiting the sale of alcohol on the ‘costanera’ or sea front.
I was thinking of drafting a letter to the Governor of Chile, to let him know about the benefits of mass alcohol consumption in the sunshine… then I remembered the scenes of drunken yobs with burned red faces rolling around the beaches of the UK on a hot day and thought that maybe they’ve got the better idea!
Walking like a Roadblock
OK, I have to admit it, but coming from London, I’m used to walking fast and often suffer from pedestrian rage.
Most of the time in London, the streets are busy and people generally move out of the way if you’re in a hurry, unless they’re bimbling along zoning out in a zombified state on their iPhones.
However, Chile is a completely different ball game. Even in Santiago you’ll find that people will at a push saunter along, but generally will walk at a sub-snail’s pace.
In itself, this doesn’t bother me. I understand that it’s hot out and the pressure on time isn’t quite as intense. However, if you’re going to limp along the streets at a sloths pace, then don’t block the whole pavememt so that no one can get passed you.
And if you notice that someone is behind you, surely you’d make way for them and let them pass wouldn’t you???
No, No, No, not here. They’ll keep on slothassing their way along the street until the sun comes down. OK, I’m ranting, I know I should adapt and slow down, blah, blah, blah, but sometimes you just want to get somewhere in a bit of a hurry.
The Coolest, Cutest Dogs
In most countries that I’ve visited street dogs can be a pain in the ass. In the worst case they can be agressive, especially late at night when they like to gang up on you, and in the best case, just annoying as they beg for food at your table. In Chile, however, they seem to be completely chilled out, friendly and actually just enjoy being around humans.
I think actually, it’s because they’re super clever and have realised that ‘cold’ begging for food isn’t the best way to get results. They’ve notched it up a gear and have figured out that first of all they should befriend the humans to get their trust, chill out with them for a bit and sooner or later the humans will need to eat, and will generally want to give you some of their food!
There’s also a programme here in Chile where all street dogs have to be chipped, and the different ‘barrios’ or neighbourhood all have their own set of dogs that they look after.
On most streeets when it’s a hot day you’ll see bowls of water that have been left for the street dogs and generally, people are really nice to the dogs here.
They are fairly well groomed, and look in good health, which is probably why they’re so relaxed and happy.
Maybe I’ve just been unlucky with this one, but never have I been to a country before where I’ve had so many problems opening and locking doors.
Most guesthouses seem to have a completely different and unfathomable locking system on your door and most of them seem virtually impossible to do the one thing they were designed for… to lock the freakin’ door.
My top tip would be to ask the host at the guesthouse to show you exactly how they lock and unlock the door whilst they are there with you, and then give it a go yourself to save you hours of pain and embarrassment later on.
There is actually a reason behind this madness as well… because the night and day temperatures are so extreme the wood on the doors expands and contracts a lot causing the lock to become misaligned. Another big factor for this is the next topic …. earthquakes
In Chile earthquakes are as common as colds and due to the overactive teutonic plates the country experiences almost daily earthquakes of different sizes.
In recent years there have been huge earthquakes across Chile including the strongest earthquake in history which was recorded at 9.5 on the Richter scale in Valdivia in 1960, which is why you’ll find a lot of houses made from wood across most of Chile as well as Tsunami evacuation routes flagged up in most coastal towns and cities.
A local guide told us that if you here a slight tremor then most Chileans won’t even react to this, if the tables start moving then they may slightly raise an eyebrow. The key is to watch for their reaction, so if they fling themselves to the floor and start praying, then you should probably follow suit.
Earthquakes are so much part of Chilean culture that they even named a cocktail after an earthquake, which was made out of the only things left on the shelf in a Santiago bar after a big earthquake. Try a few of these and your legs really will be shaking!
In most towns and cities in Chile you will find graffiti, murals and street art adorning a large percentage of the walls and open spaces. In fact in some Cities, especially Valparaiso, a clean unpainted wall is a much rarer beast and hardly ever seen.
Whilst street art may not be to everyone’s taste, in Chile it seems to be given space to breed and give local artists a voice.
I think partly this may be due to Chile’s repressive past where freedom of speech and expression were supressed during the Pinochet years.
Deep in the collective consciousness of Chileans is the military coup that happened in 1973, which ended up with the death of Salvador Allende and the start of the Pinochet regime, where countless people ‘disappeared’ and a military dictatorship was in power for over 17 years.
Most of contempary films, literature and music seem to focus on this era and you’ll still see graffiti on the streets saying things like ‘Allende’s spirit lives on’.
If you need to pay for anything in Chile then you’ll likely to use your credit card and the first question you’ll be asked is whether you’d like to pay ‘sin’ or ‘con’ quotas.
I’m not 100% sure how this works but my understanding is that you have the choice to pay either the amount in full or in installments, which is a unique question to be asked if you’re only buying a loaf of bread.
For any meal that you buy in Chile you’ll be asked whether you’d like to pay sin or con ‘propina’, which is a 10% tip that is added to every bill.
In one respect I really like this system as it means you don’t have to figure out how big a tip you’d like to give if the service was good, however, on the flip side if the service wasn’t particularly great, it’s hard not to give a tip when the waiter is staring at you asking if you’d like to give him a tip or not!
All over Chile you will, and particularly on roadsides, you will see shrines that are dedicated to people who have died.
However, if you look closely you will see that some of these shrines are more decorated and full of offerings and thanks than others.
Usually these will be the shrines of people who have died in a particularly tragic way like Carmencita in the Santiago Cemeterio, or the particularly sad case of Julita y Luisita in Valparaiso. In this case a lady was pregnant and as her husband drove her to hospital in a mad rush, he crashed into a wall killing both mother and child, whilst he survived!
In these sad cases people will often come to the shrines and ask for blessings and good luck and you will find notes thanking the animita for helping them. For example in the Santiago cemetery there was a lovely sign from a mother thanking Carmencita for making her son become a surgeon!!!
Whether you believe in it or not these are powerful symbols that you’ll find all over Chile and are worth spending a few minutes to look over.
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