A Few Facts About Santiago, Chile

By: Nicole Winjum, Foster Undergraduate

I have been working on this blog post for awhile, making note of differences and simple facts of life I have seen while living in Santiago, Chile. It’s certainly not a complete list, and I am sure I’m forgetting something, but here are a few of the things I’ve noticed.

PDA: There is a lot of it, and not just the hand-holding, brief kiss on the lips kind. I’m talking making out on the subway, literally lying on top of each other in the park, openly groping each other in the street kind. In the United States, PDA is usually frowned upon, and while you might see the occasional couple going at it, those sightings are few and far between. But not here. If you are young and in love in Santiago, you are all for displaying that love for everybody to see. Seeing couples being so touchy-feely in public has definitely taken some getting used to.

Dogs: They are everywhere. Not only does just about every Chilean family seem to own a dog or three, but there is an abundance of street dogs with no apparent home. You can always hear dogs barking at all hours of the day and night and everywhere you look there are dogs laying about in the sun. And the truly surprising thing is that, unlike the half-starved mangy dogs in Costa Rica, these dogs all seem to be fairly well fed.

Streets: Nobody cleans them. I mean, not every street is covered in stuff, but many are. This was most noticeable in Valparaiso, but it’s true in Santiago too. The other day when I was riding the Micro (that’s the bus system) we passed by a street that looked like an entire farmers market worth of vegetables got thrown about. It was crazy. And it isn’t just vegetables and pieces of plastic. Due to the abundance of dogs I mentioned earlier, there is dog crap everywhere. You have to constantly be on the lookout so you don’t accidentally step in something gross.

Bread: Eaten with every meal. Which is actually something I am quite thrilled with. I love bread and, due to my somewhat finicky eating habits, it is often the only food I can eat while traveling to foreign countries. But the Chileans eat bread as often as the French. It’s primarily sold in these funny little 4-roll loaves (see photo). For breakfast you might have one or two rolls slathered in butter and jam with a cup of tea. For lunch and dinner, you may use a roll to clean your plate or as an appetizer. For dessert, a little bit of manjar spread on some bread can not be beat. I was surprised by the sheer amount of bread consumed here, but I am not complaining!

Smoking: Everybody does it. I’m no stranger to smoking. My mom smokes, and I know a lot of people who might smoke a cigarette or two while drinking, but most of the people I know back home really do not smoke. Which is not that surprising considering the ad campaigns and research studies we are inundated with, telling us that smoking kills. But here it is as if nobody is getting those messages. I have heard about places like France having a lot of smokers, but I just was not really expecting it here. The most surprising is the number of younger Chileans that smoke, college age and even younger. In the US, it seems like the majority of smokers that I know are older, people who have been smoking before the health risks became so well known. But in any case, this has been one of the harder things to become accustomed too, since I really can’t stand the smoke.

Lemons: They love them. Seriously, I never knew people could like lemons so much; they put it on everything. You ordered a salad? Squeeze some lemon juice on it. You’re eating some fish? It’ll taste better with some lemon juice on it. You want a snack? Just snack on a lemon. I have literally seen people on the bus just sucking on a lemon. With dinner every night we usually have a side salad, which is iceberg lettuce with lemon juice, oil, and salt. Sometime we will have a carrot salad or a broccoli salad or a cauliflower salad. Which just involves said vegetable, lemon juice, oil, and salt. I believe I’m actually becoming quite fond of lemons. 🙂

A few other things to note…

  • The typical greeting is the one-cheek kiss, and it can get awkward if you go for the handshake and they go for your face.
  • They are big fans of avocado here, which surprised me for some reason, but I love avocado so it’s okay with me.
  • There is a sad lack of cheese here, and the few types they have are pretty expensive. I want to eat more or less like a local, so it isn’t so bad, but I am definitely missing cheese.
  • Names can get a bit confusing: In my 25-person Marketing class, there are 7 girls named Maria.
  • This isn’t the Spanish you have been learning in class. Yes the words are more or less the same, but their vocab is a little different and some phrases have different connotations. They also speak very fast here and sometimes drop the “s”. The youth say cachai? after almost every sentence which basically means “you know” “understand?”
  • Ciao is the customary goodbye around here. I know I lot of countries use Ciao as a goodbye, but I still associate it with Europe, so it caught me a bit off guard.