Chilenismos and Culture Shock

Culture shock.

The name sounds like it happens suddenly, like a strike of lightening. But not here. In Chile, it sneaks up on you. It’s a slow realization, that after many weeks, something feels off.

Sopaipilla stands are everywhere. There’s no spicy food in Chile, so just add a lot of aji sauce to give it some kick.

Living with a host family and working with Chilean colleagues has thrown me head first into total immersion, and it’s been an eye-opening experience.

Chileans are some of the most considerate and warm people I’ve met. I’m constantly amazed by the generosity of strangers and their quiet, reserved nature.

Here are some thoughts and observations from the past several months…

Spicy Food. There isn’t any. (Save for their great aji sauce.) I truly, truly miss this. I’d kill for some Indian or Mexican food right now. The south of Chile loves fish, stews, meats and potatos, thanks to the strong German influence down here. And while we’re on food, never eat with your hands.  Always use utensils. (Even with french fries.)

Making ’empanadas de mariscos’, a typical Chilean dish

“Once”. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day here. If you’re waiting around for another meal after 2pm, you’re  going to have to cross the border to Argentina. Most Chileans don’t eat dinner. Instead, you have “once” around 6-7pm. It’s a snack of bread, palta (avocado), cheese, jam, and coffee or tea.  I’ve been trying to figure out why they call it “once”, the word for “eleven”, but nobody seems to know. Hmmm…

Coffee. Getting your hands on a real cup of joe here is rare.  Instant Nescafe is pretty much the common drink.

Water. I’ve never seen a Chilean drink water. I remember people asking me, “Tienes caña?”, when I was sipping from my water bottle. (“Caña” means hangover.) I told them I was just thirsty, and got puzzled looks. Whenever I see people with water bottles on buses, it’s a dead giveaway that they’re not from this country.

Superstision. If you pass the salt to someone, it means you’ll fight with them. Don’t pass the salt directly to someone, but put it on the table when passing.

Toilet paper. Never flush it down the toilet. The pipes are very narrow, so people always throw it in a wastepaper basket next to the toilet.

Central Heating. Doesn’t exist. If you’re visiting Southern Chile in the winter, get ready for real cold.  I’ve spent a winter in Denmark, and even though Denmark is colder, their houses have insulation. In Southern Chile, it’s harder to get a break from the outside temperatures because buildings and houses aren’t really insulated.  Bring your fleece and under-armor!

Greetings. Chile is a country “de la piel”, or, “of the skin.” They hug, they kiss on the cheek, and they touch arms in conversation. In the US, we merely shake hands when meeting someone, and sometimes hug.

In Chile, you always give one kiss on the right cheek when saying hello and goodbye, or when being introduced to someone (Men always shake hands.) Even in the classroom, many of my students will line up to do this when they’re coming and going.

Family comes first. I’m the first exchange student my family has hosted. It’s been an incredible experience for both of us, because I’m the first North American they’ve experienced. This also means big cultural divides. In Chile, it’s common for guys and girls to live at home long into their late 20s. The family may not be used to your independence. I once told them I was traveling alone on a bus to Argentina and they were shocked. Communicate your plans, tell them when you’re missing lunch, and just be considerate to their way of life.

It’s also rude to close your door to your room. At home in the states, I would debrief in my room with music, but in Chile, I try not to do that as much.  Chileans spend a lot of time together, and it’s not normal to isolate yourself.

Elsa, my awesome host grandmother, and host brother Rudy.

Fernando checks out what the gringos are making for breakfast.

You won’t speak Spanish. You will speak Chilean.

There’s even a book called “How to Survive in the Chilean Jungle.

Chileans speak extremely fast. To make decoding more difficult, they drop the “s” and “d” from their words. So “Mas o menos” sounds like, “Mao Meno”.   “Pescado” (fish) sounds like “Pekao.”

And once you think you’ve mastered the sounds, you’ll then realize there’s a whole new set of vocabulary to learn. They’re called “Chilenismos.” Here are some of the most common…

Cachai? ” You put it at the end of sentences as a way of saying, “Do you get it? You know?” If you spend 10 minutes in Chile, you’re bound to hear this.

• “Po”. This is the quintessential Chilean word. It doesn’t mean anything, but they add it to every sentence. “Si po!”, “no po!”, and “Ya po!” are common. Use it emphasize what you’re saying or to contradict what someone else said. Or just use it whenever you feel like it and you’re instantly Chilean.

Al tiro (Right now/ Right away.)

Pololo/Polola (Boyfriend or girlfriend)

• Never ever say “adios” in Chile. It’s always “ciao” when you say goodbye. When you get out of a taxi or leave a store you’ll hear, “Gracias, chaao, chaaao!”

Weon. It’s an insulting and rude word, except when you use it with friends. “#PreguntasWeonas”was trending on Twitter recently. It means “stupid-ass questions”. It can be a noun or adjective, and it’s uniquely Chilean.

• “Te echo de menos”  I miss you

Cuico. Use it to describe something rich or of the upper social classes. Vina del Mar es muy cuico.

Fome. If something is boring or lame. Eso-es super fome!

Ok, now I’m off to catch a bus to Púcon. Hasta luego!

Winter begins

Everyone warned me about the winter here. With no central heating anywhere, I was told to pack like I was going to Antarctica. This morning was pretty cold in the school…

Class with my 8th graders this morning @ 8am. We’re stocked up on blankets.

But even though it’s cold, the last few days have been gorgeous and sunny. I usually walk past the local market (“feria”) after classes, down on the Calle-Calle River. Here are some photos from this freezing cold morning…

It’s just like Pier 39 in SF.

Valdivia’s waterfront.

Pancakes & Puerto Varas

It’s been a while since the last update. All is well in the Southern Hemisphere. A few weeks ago, major culture shock hit, my language-learning plateaued, and now I’m just re-adjusting to this new phase of life in Chile. (Next post all about that coming later this week!)

The days are freezing, or “helado”, as Chileans describe it, which literally means,” ice-cream.” It’s weird seeing bare trees and short days in June. I feel like I should be getting ready for Thanksgiving.

These past few weekends I’ve been going to Puerto Varas, a lakeside town about three hours south of Valdivia in Northern Patagonia. It’s right on Lake Llanquihue, one of Chile’s largest lakes.

Last weekend I stayed with Elise and her host family in Osorno, another town south of Valdivia. We went out with her Chilean friends, and then cooked her family a North American brunch the next day. Pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, and avocados filled my life on Sunday.

Elise’s host daughter Dani invited some friends over to take part in our massive gringo brunch. It was epic.

The Chileans were amused.

getting fancy.

A masterpiece.

Post-North American breakfast with Elise’s host family.

Elise and her host sister, Dani.

Lake Llanquihue with volcano Osorno.

Puerto Varas

Puerto Varas. Couldn’t see the three volcanos in the distance today…

30 days later…

I’m one month into teaching.

All I have to say is hats off to middle school teachers. Teaching adolescents has been a demanding, but rewarding experience.

Every morning at 8am, I need to gather the energy to lead a class of teenagers. Not just teach them English…(that’s the easy part)…but make them engaged. Unlike teaching ESL to kids, teenagers are a tough crowd. Getting them to speak in a second language feels impossible on some days. Shyness, insecurity in front of their peers, drama, 17-year-old boys who couldn’t be bothered- all kinds of issues, personalities, and family backgrounds come into my classroom every day. My mind is constantly adapting to these various attention spans, attitudes, and English skills.

In Chile, I go through plan A, B, C, D, E, ( and F ) every day. It’s almost guaranteed that the first two plans are not going to go how they’re played out in my mind. Nope. Actually, when stuff does go exactly as planned,  I start to feel skeptical- like the fates are messing with me. (This is Chile, isn’t it!?)

IV medios (seniors)

Classes have overall been going well. My students are pretty behaved compared to other schools. (My friend ended up kicking out his entire class a few weeks ago because they wouldn’t listen to him.)

As the weeks go on, I’ve learned that altering my lessons slightly for each group is the key to a smooth class. One particular class of 4 medios loves learning about world news, so I always try and bring in a video or current event  to start the day. Last week I showed them the video of Obama’s speech saying gay couples should be allowed to marry. For the rest of the class, they worked on their dialogues for a video we’re making about Chile.  The Red Hot Chili Peppers played in the background. (There are two boys in this class who rarely speak, but they knew every word to “Californication”, and sang along perfectly.)

After the bell rang, I was erasing the whiteboard and amidst the shuffle of students leaving, I heard one girl call me. “Meees….” I turned around and she smiled, “Your classes are fun.” You have no idea how much that sentence made my day. After a long week, it felt all worth it just to hear that.

And another sweet surprise: Last week,  in my III medio class, one of my student’s asked me out of nowhere, “Meees….Do you know Berkeley?” Berkeley!? It was the last city I was expecting my students to ask me about. Apparently, she read a book by Isabelle Allende, and the characters were in Berkeley. Now she wants to go visit. That’s where I was living and working before moving to Chile. Some of my family still lives there, and it will always be my home. Hearing my student ask me about it made me smile.

I have so many stories to tell from my classes, but that post will be for another day. Right now it’s Friday, and I’m heading to Northern Patagonia in a few hours. Next up: volcanos and lakeside towns.

My III medios. Host sister’s in the middle!

My II medio student wrote a biography of himself. Dreams include: marrying Megan Fox and having many kids.

Niebla Sunset

Except for when I’m teaching,  I only speak English on the weekends. All of us foreign teachers live in different towns, so when Friday rolls around, there’s always a massive migration to Valdivia to meet up.  (Speaking our native language over a beer has become one of life’s little pleasures.) 

Even though winter’s approaching, Saturday was gorgeous, and Fred, Sophie and I spent the afternoon in Niebla, a small coastal town 20 minutes from Valdivia. The drive there reminds me of Northern California’s winding, coastal highways. The road passes by local breweries, lush forests, and fishing boats and bays. We bought empanadas from the market and just chilled out the entire afternoon. Dusk set, and people began showing up with blankets and ice chests to watch the sunset. It reminded me of a lazy sunday evening at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

I can be anywhere in the world and feel at home with the ocean.

That’s right.

Niebla totally reminds me of Baker Beach. (Sans GG Bridge)

Pacific Ocean, te amo.

It’s fall down here in the southern hemisphere, and the sun sets at 6 pm.

The path to our Niebla Beach.