Top 11 Chilean Cultural Quirks (I Couldn’t Pick Just 10)

The theme of this week was very similar to that of last week—learning to deal with challenges. I bought another ticket to Mendoza and again, the trip was cancelled due to bad weather in the mountains. I enjoyed a spontaneous weekend in Santiago with no plans. I wandered the streets and found some new restaurants, new barrios (neighborhoods), and watched one of the biggest soccer games of the season in an American themed bar.
Since I have not accumulated any funny stories from the weekend, I decided I would write this blog about some of the interesting things I have come to notice about Chilean culture, things that you would only be able to notice if you weren’t from Chile but had still lived here for a significant amount of time. I would call these things cultural quirks. They don’t necessarily reveal a profound history or cultural influence of Chile, but I find them funny and refreshing.
Here goes.
Cultural Quirk #1: I’ve talked about this before, but Chileans have no shame in staring. Especially when it comes to checking out the gringa with blonde hair walking down the street (aka ME). They will look out the window of a car and whistle. They will look behind their shoulder as you pass. They’ll put their entire face against a window just to get a better look at you. I’m serious. None of these are exaggerations. I really have had guys press their faces against a car window, like they’re kids in a candy shop, and stare at me for an uncomfortable amount of time.
Cultural Quirk #2: Chileans love their little white dogs. I’ve noticed that the majority of Chileans that own a dog, first of all have a very small dog, and second of all, the dog is always white.
Cultural Quirk #3: They have a rhyme here that is the equivalent of “Eenie Meenie Minie Mo” but in Spanish. It has the same concept as our rhyme where they point to multiple objects as they chant the words and at the end when their finger lands on the last object, this is the one they pick. What’s interesting though is that the rhyme talks about God and the Virgin Mary and doing what they would want you to do. A little deeper and profound than “Catch a tiger by its toe.”
Cultural Quirk #4: They also play “Rock, Papers, Scissors” here but instead of pounding the different symbols on your fists, they put their hands behind their head and then at one time reveal which symbol they have chosen. Same rules, just different in how they reveal their choice of rock, paper, or scissors.
Cultural Quirk #5: PDA is definitely a thing here. Chileans are not embarrassed to publicly make-out with their pololo (boyfriend). Whether it be tongues out in the metro, mounting each other in the park, or kissing each others necks on the street corner, PDA is a daily occurrence here. I have seen it all when it comes to relations here. Not even kidding, I’ve seen a couple licking each other up and down their arms and necks in the middle of the dance floor. Too much? Apparently not here.
Cultural Quirk #6: La comida de Chile. The diet of Chileans is probably the thing I have had to adjust to the most. They have avocado and tomatoes with everything. Hamburgers, hotdogs, bread, spaghetti. Not kidding, I’ve eaten spaghetti with avocado and tomatoes; and I thought it was good. On the weekends instead of dinner, my family has a meal called once that consists of bread, avocado, and usually tomatoes. Bread is a huge staple here. I think my host mom must eat 15 pieces of bread a day. And the bread here is not like the sliced bread in the States. I would describe it as a French baguette in miniature. It’s a hearty bread and with pretty much every meal it is served and expected that you have at least one piece. While I have enjoyed the food here, I would not constitute it as having much flavor. Chileans are quite honestly a bunch of pansies when it comes to spice. The tiniest amount of flavor they would say is too spicy. But even when a dish has no flavor or taste to even talk about, they will still mutter between each breath, “Qué rico,” which means, “how delicious.” I quite honestly could write an entire blog solely on the food here, and maybe I will sometime. But these are just a couple of the interesting quirks of their diet.
Cultural Quirk #7: Another thing about the food—there is no such thing as finger food here. Everything is eaten with a knife and fork. French fries—you better not use your fingers. Fruit—don’t you dare put it in your hand and go straight for your mouth. My host mom gives me a knife with every piece of fruit I eat, assuming I will cut a slice before putting into my mouth. Whether it be a pear, a kiwi, a peach, I have to eat it with a knife. Even an orange, yes an orange, I will get a knife to cut it with. What am I going to do with an orange and a knife?! I’ve skipped the knife with the orange simply because I don’t understand the logistics.
Cultural Quirk #8: Guys here have no game. That is, when it comes to dating. They don’t believe in leading you on or playing hard to get. They simply ask you out if they like you. I’ve had guys call me “Qué preciosa” (How precious) after about 5 minutes of dancing with them, sometimes even sooner. I’ve been asked to go out from guys I’ve literally never seen in my life. Seriously, the first words they say to me are: “¿Quieres salir conmigo alguna vez?” (Do you want to go out with me sometime?) Really? We haven’t even exchanged two words yet and already you want to spend an entire night with me? There’s no such thing as having a “thing” here. Dates are on the table within the first 10 minutes of meeting a guy. There’s no messing around.
Cultural Quirk #9: Chileans think every kind of weather is cold. Everyday my host mom comes home from dropping my host brother off at school and says, “Hace frío” (It’s cold). Literally, its 70 degrees outside. They keep telling me it’s winter and as I walk down the streets I see that everyone is in winter jackets with boots, scarves, and gloves. But literally, it is 70 degrees outside. I’ll get stares if I wear a short sleeve shirt with no jacket. But come on! It’s 70 degrees outside. I would say this still constitutes summer, or at least a warm fall. Then when we do have the occasional cold day, my host family will complain how cold it is in the house, but yet they have ALL the windows open. The door to patio, the bedroom windows, the window to the kitchen, all open. I don’t know if they don’t know they’re open or what’s going on but it’s only logical to me that by closing them, it would make the house warmer. I’m just saying.
Cultural Quirk #10: Go to the supermarket here and everything is in a bag. You name it, it probably comes in a bag. Ketchup. Mayonnaise. Jam. Soap. Shampoo. Yogurt. Yes, all in a bag. It’s sometimes an interesting feat to pour my yogurt each morning out of a hole in bag and when it gets to the end, I still haven’t figured out how to squeeze every last drop out because that bag of yogurt stays in the fridge long after I think it’s all gone.
Cultural Quirk #11: Nothing is on time here. They’re on Chilean time, and the Chileans will recognize it. The other night I asked how long the halves for our games were, since I’m playing in a league here. The girls said they were 22 minutes. Twenty-two minutes? Why not 25, or 20, or even 30? Why 22? They answered me that this allowed time for people to be late, for the game to start late, and for there to be a longer half time and still not go over an hour. It’s for Chilean time, they said.

So there you have it. Chilean culture in a nutshell. I have one last story to tell you all before we part for the week. This didn’t quite fit into my list but it still goes along with the theme of learning about Chilean culture in a comical way.
I was wearing a Puget Sound t-shirt one day with the initials P and S on the front with an axe in between them. A typical Puget Sound shirt that I didn’t think anything about. When I sat down for dinner that night, my host mom asked what the letters meant. I told her they were for my school. As soon as I gave my answer, she started laughing. “I thought the letters stood for Partido Socialista,” she admitted. “And the symbol in the middle looks like the Communist anchor. I thought you were a Communist.” Oh God! So now my Puget Sound shirt can be mistaken for a Communist campaign. “No, no, no,” I assured her. “It’s just the symbol for my school.” So now if I ever go running out with that t-shirt I’ll know that everywhere I go people will think I’m a communist. Puget Sound represent.

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