Article by Alexandra Polič
Chile is special, in a wonderfully charming way. It is quite easy to fall in love with this country and its people. That is why I decided to stay in Santiago de Chile after eight months of traveling. But even after almost a year in South America, there is still a couple of things that surprise me or irritate me here in Chile. I wrote down some of them:
There is a Chilean version of almost every word
Even If you speak just a few words of Spanish, you will soon realize about one of the biggest surprises here, the language. Chileans might officially speak Spanish, but what you will hear in the streets is called Chileno. Even native speakers struggle understanding the words that form a sentence in between “Como estai?” (the Chilean version of “¿Cómo estás?”: “How are you?”), “weon” (could mean pretty much anything, but let’s go with something like “mate” for now) and “cachai?” (“Do you get me?”).
So, yes, it will cost you an effort to catch up with the Chileans, but it is also absolutely doable, if you surround yourself with natives and force you upon their language. Personally, I would say that I got used to it within a couple of weeks. The good news is: It does probably not get any worse than this. The better news is: Usually, they have a lot of patience when it comes to teaching you their most common expressions, which brings me to my next point.
People consider you a family member within a week
Of course you can never speak of a whole country and every single person, but to my experience, Chileans are “muy buena onda” how you would say here. Literally, that means that they send good vibes, and practically, they do. Chilean or South American people have a way of welcoming you, that is hardly seen in Europe. Within a couple of days, they will invite you to their houses, present you to their closest friends and help you with any possible issue. No matter if it is to go to a doctor’s appointment, call at the immigration office because you don’t understand anything on the phone or drop you off at the next tattoo parlor; they are there to help you to get around. And once everything is fixed, there is also a lot to see here.
Avocado comes with anything
If you want to do it the Chilean way, make sure to try palta (avocado). It seems to be an unwritten law here that palta goes with everything. No matter if it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner or the national food completo (kind of a hot dog) there is palta in and on it, but I have to admit that it also tastes delicious. Santiago has a lot of mercados (markets) where you can buy really cheap and awesome local food.
The queuing system is different
If you happen to go and get your food from a bakery instead, you will soon realize that the queuing system is a bit confusing. There is one queue to order your food, another one to pay for it and a last one for finally receiving what you have ordered in the first and paid in the second. In pharmacies or at meat counters on the other side, you draw numbers to expect your turn.
The mountains are as close as the beach
For me as an Austrian, it is honestly still confusing to see palm trees and the Cordillera at the same time when I am on the streets in Santiago. If you rather feel like going to the seaside, perfect! Valparaiso and Vina del Mar are super close and can be reached by public transport within two hours. And that is only a very small of Chile’s diversity. Atacama desert in the North of Chile has the most beautiful night sky to see and in the South, Patagonia with its incredible landscapes and nature, is still one of the most popular destinations to go.
While you can easily go there by plane, you could also try the more Chilean (or traveler like) version and take a bus. It is usually cheap and you will soon get used to 14 hour bus rides, but it goes without saying that you will need a big lunch bag for those kind of travels.
There is someone trying to sell you something in every corner
While you will get used to the queuing system once you’ve experienced it, there is another thing. Wandering around, you will see lots of people selling stuff in the streets or on the subway. Even though it is officially illegal to do that, the vendors will literally scream for your attention. In this country, honestly everything seems to happen passionately and if you are lucky enough, the street sellers will be at least accompanied by a passionate musician. Because in some of the metro stations there are various artists, partly even whole bands, performing all kind of genres live.
Time can be interpreted differently
So, imagine you were distracted by all those impressions in the metro station, that you totally forgot the time so you rush to your coffee date and all that, just to realize, your chilean friend is not there yet. I am not trying to say that Chileans are not punctual at all, but if you, for example, invite someone over for dinner for Saturday night, do mind to calculate an extra hour, simply because everything here starts late. But attention: That is neither valid for your business appointments nor for your Spanish classes: They do start on time.