Saturday, 13 May 2017

The little things you will miss once you leave Chile

I wrote this a while ago and never published... some thoughts after returning to Australia.

I've been back in Australia for about four months now. I'm back in my home town, back into a routine of work, socialising and everything else. Since I left Chile in December I have been craving certain food, wanting to hear Latino music, and for Chilean specific situations to occur. No country is perfect but damn I could really go for a completo right now (always).

I've started using Spotify on my morning bus ride to work since internet plans for mobile phones in Australia now allow you to function online while out and about! My favourites so far are Shania Twain (blast from the past I know), some playlists with names relating to top 40 hits, and any Reggaeton I can remember and find! That uneven beat is just different and fun. I'm so glad I discovered/was introduced to Farruko, Daddy Yankee, Nicky Jam, Joey Montana, and all those others. Whenever I hear an originally Spanish language song changed into English I cringe. Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias are notorious for this.

I've also had to change my eating habits quite a bit. The ability to stuff my face and feel good and proud about it, is no longer allowed. People are quite health conscious in Australia. Even my nephews and nieces don't like chocolate or are gluten free.

(BTW Gluten free is a massive trend right now. Obviously some people suffer when eating gluten, however others are very keen to jump on the band wagon with no real reason.)

Foods I miss from Chile: Seafood. Particularly pastel de jaiba. Street Food. Completo italiano. The meat! Ok this needs more explanation. It's not that the meat quality is that different (honestly I can never tell) but its the thickness of the cuts and the way it's cooked. Chile wins when comparing the taste of coal barbecued thick chunks of beef marinated with salt (simple yet effective) to gas barbecued thin Australian steaks. In terms of taste...buena la carne wacho!

In daily life I have tried to mix the best of Chilean habits with Australian habits. I don't plan far ahead, a week at the most - Chile. I stay up late on the weekends - Chile. I embrace spontaneity - Chile.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

What’s with all the family?

From what I have experienced of Chilean and Argentinian culture, which may be similar to the rest of Latin America, is that family is super important.

So important that every weekend has dedicated family time and often plans with friends will be canceled for family meet-ups. A positive of this is that family’s are really close and are more like friends than relatives.

But one thing I don’t get is the common occurrence of inserting an outsider into your family for an afternoon or an evening. I realise that the gesture is saying that you want the new person to get to know you in a closer way and feel comfortable within your family setting. But it doesn’t make sense to me.

(I must note that I am referring to friend friends, not boyfriends and girlfriends which of course need to spend more time with the family of their partner.)

Families have years, decades of history together. Stuff that you can never understand, thousands of stories that you need to learn, stuff that is intense and personal and cannot be understood from the outside. And bringing an outsider into that circle is exposing them as exactly that, an outsider. It’s obvious. They don’t know about Uncle Jo’s surgery or that time when little kristy went missing, they don’t know anything about this family. Why? Because its not their family.

Its great to chat with a friend’s parents, to see their background, to see where the similarities lie, but is it really necessary to introduce friends to your entire family and expect them to enjoy spending an extended amount of time together?

First of all its awkward, the outsider just listens to all the conversation without having anything much to contribute except “Oh, I went to Pucon too! Its beautiful!”...

Secondly, the friend, the outsider has made a connection with you because you have something in common or you get along well. But with your family they have nothing in common! Except you. If you want to spend time with your friend, you’d think you’d be with them and sharing about your lives, not listening to them and their aunty gossip about your cousin’s new boyfriend.

It might be possessive but I’d rather just spend time with the person I became friends with and keep it at that, try to develop a friendship with that person, rather than being distracted with random family members and expected to form bonds with everyone sharing my friend’s DNA.

I would much rather meet a bunch of someone’s friends, than their family. Maybe because they will be more similar to the person I first became friends with. I think it comes down to different ideas about family and friends. Lines drawn and cultural rules put in place.

Anyway, from my point of view, the family circle is a strange place to be as the outsider. I always appreciate the invitation and try as hard as I can, but its like being on a date with 10 people, all of which demand a good first impression!

Maybe that’s it! The friend is testing you out to see if you are worth it....

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

My Happy Place

Santiago is full of fabulous places; Cafes, restaurants, bars, parks, plazas, soccer fields and more. But the place that I feel most happy, most calm and strangely at home, is at a big consumerist haven... the mall.

They are everywhere and as globalisation takes over, they are becoming very alike, no matter the location. Malls in Australia, China (in the big cities) and Chile are amazingly comparable. You can see the same brands of clothing, food, cafes, even architectural features are sometimes similar.

When mall crawling I find myself knowing where everything is, even though I haven't been there before. The whole routine of parking the car, window shopping, drinking a boost juice and generally taking in the hustle-bustle environment is unusually soothing.

I also enjoy time outside in nature, in a library, having dinner in a restaurant, but the mall really sticks out as my happy place here in Santiago, Chile. I don't generally buy anything on my mall visits either. I think I must be a child of mall culture, consumerism at its peak.  How odd.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Cultural identity and other things

Cultural identity and knowing someone through different ‘cultural lenses’.

Recently I have had the opportunity to observe Native English speakers using Spanish and native Spanish speakers using English. Watching these interactions has made me wonder about cultural identity and the expression of one's personality through different languages in different places.

First of all: Can you change your culture?

One's personality is formed in the context of their culture. This culture is different for everyone. Often its associated with a country; Australian culture, Chilean culture, Chinese culture. And so if you grow up in a certain place your personality will be formed in the context of that place's cultural practices and conventions, and therefore will be forever connected to that culture.

So if you go to a new place can you change your culture and be as a local?

My thinking is no. Although you may change certain expectations, social behaviour, diet and routine, you cannot be separated from your original culture. You are adapting and learning new ways of living, but you are not changing your personality. You are not changing your culture and so not changing your personality. Your personality cannot be separated from your cultural background as it was formed in that context. So your personality is the same, but expressed through the ‘lens’ of a different cultural context.

Consequently for those interacting with you it may SEEM like you are different, like your personality is different. As you can adapt well to a new culture, it may seem as if that is your own culture. Learning how to walk the walk and talk the talk can project a different you, a you that fits better, more harmoniously, with the current cultural environment. That is the whole point of cultural education anyway, understanding, communication and harmony between people. But the fact is, that the new projection of you is not 100% truly you because it lacks your original cultural context.

So, if I know you in one context, cultural, linguistic or circumstantial, will I know you in another?

This is where my observations of the English and Spanish speakers come in. When speaking a language it is impossible to be disconnected with the culture of that language. When someone is talking in a foreign language they inevitably use cultural content such as turns of phrase, comments, and even jokes that they wouldn't use in their own language. This means they can be seen to portray a different personality by others. Spanish speakers who I have observed speaking both English and Spanish come across quite differently in the two languages. I'm sure I also seem different when I speak Spanish or Chinese. And I think the reason is that I didn't grow up in a Spanish or Chinese cultural environment.

The concept of ‘knowing someone’ is hard to define. If I know your favourite food and movie does that mean I know you? If I know your deepest darkest secret does that mean I know you? Hard to say. If I know you speaking English when your native tongue is Russian, does that mean I know you? The real you? If I know you as my maths teacher does that mean I know you? Well...I know one version of you, the one I interact with in a specific context. But how could I know you in other contexts? You will vary slightly in all other contexts, and in those other contexts to me you will not be 100% of what I know as ‘you’.

What if I know you in a variety of contexts?

Knowing people in a variety of contexts can be confusing. These contexts could be different languages, countries, or simply in a different relationship context. For example, my room mate is also my friend, so I see that person through two different ‘context lenses’. Is this situation more complicated or does it show depth and strength in our relationship? Maybe it just means that when I talk to that person I have to deal with two different relationship contexts and keep my expectations and behaviour within the role of ‘friend’ or ‘room mate’ depending on the situation.

If I then mix in a few different languages and a few different cultural backgrounds, the expectations and behaviours that I need to modify to suit each relationship context and each language/cultural context grow. Having a relationship with a number of cultural and language contexts is complicated, but if it survives, it also shows depth, flexibilty and strength of that relationship. Many people avoid interaction with others because of the complicated nature the relationship might have. Many won’t go out drinking with their bosses, because managing that relationship might be difficult. Many will avoid spending time with people who have different cultural backgrounds, because it could be hard to understand their opinions. Having relationships with one language, one culture and one relationship context can be easier for harmony to exist, but it doesn't always result in the most interesting or fulfilling relationships.

In the end, even if you know someone in 10 different contexts, you never know them 100%, and so trying to define them as “this type of person” or “that type of person” is impossible and helps no-one. I guess we should try to enjoy the surprises people reveal along the way, without them it’d be boring anyway, right?

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Witnessing Culture Shock

The other night I met a fellow Australian here in Santiago. Not in an expat bar, not doing anything touristy, but at a small birthday celebration in the suburb of Macul. Everyone apart from myself and this guy were Chileans, and I was intrigued as to how he fit into the scene.

Over the course of the evening I got to know him and his story intrigued me.

This guy, we’ll call him Pablo, was born in New Zealand and moved to Australia when he was a one year old. His parents were Chilean and this was his first trip to Chile at the age of 30. He was a mechanic by trade, lived in Adelaide and other than New Zealand he had never been outside Australia.

Compared to most other expats Pablo was completely fresh to his current situation: being away from home, traveling, mixing with people of another culture, etc. I found his observations and opinions, along with his level of enthusiasm when he was talking, priceless.

They included:
  • People are so different here. Everything is different.
  • People are super sensitive about gift giving in Chile. “One time I was wearing a hat and someone gave me another hat but I didn’t put it on because I already had one on. Then they got mad. I didn’t know I had done anything wrong but people told me later I should have swapped the hats.”
  • Alcohol is really cheap in Chile.
  • It’s frustrating and tiring having to speak something other than your mother tongue all the time. “Its so nice to speak English with you guys!”
  • He missed home a lot.
  • People are constantly offering him food and help with things. It’s too much. 
  • Portion sizes are bigger than Australia.
  • People are so touchy here.
  • Property is really cheap here.
Kiss or Handshake
Kiss or a Handshake (awkward)

Pablo was a typical aussie bloke. His slurred mumbling accent was perfect! It made me smile just listening to him talk about his rugby union team in Adelaide. (btw he thought Canberrans were super tough rugby-wise :) )

But the thing that was impressive about meeting this guy was realising that this experience was blowing his mind! He was going to remember every part of this trip. He’ll be telling his friends about it and how crazy it was for years to come.

Maybe coming to Chile could open his mind to other traveling opportunities, spark his curiosity about the world outside of Australia. How great would that be! Maybe he’ll be more open to engaging with the multicultural mix of people that live in Australia. More open to new Australians coming from other countries, because he has had a glimpse of what its like to be away from what you know and have to learn and adapt to a whole new way of life.

I am of the opinion (and I hope its not too far from the truth) that his experience outside of Australia will have a positive impact on his life in one way or another. He didn’t take the path of joining a tour group and seeing museums or backpacking and climbing mountains, he came with his mum to get to know where she came from by living in her old suburb, buying empanadas from the shop she used to and hanging out with his grandpa. Respect.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Time without action is useless

While waiting for my Chilean working visa to be approved over the last four months (It has now been approved! Yaaay!), I have had a huge amount of time on my hands and I have decided that I do not like it one bit!

When a person has nothing to do, no obligations, no structure, no schedule of any kind, just waiting for an undefined deadline they become very stagnant and inactive - mentally, its like they aren’t a real person with a real life anymore.

What’s more, when you don’t do much, you have nothing to talk about. No stories involving drama and suspense. The only thing you can talk about is how bored you are or other similar yet uninteresting topics, the weather for example.

Without planning that involves a time frame there is no progress, or at least it can feel that way. Also true if the time fame is just way too big. Having small time related goals/demands help keep a mind on track. That’s why all those little obligations you have are so great!

I never thought I’d say this, but all those things that you have to do, but don’t want to, are saving your life! Favours for random relatives, work dinners, family traditions, PTA meetings (I don’t have kids, but PTA meetings are boring, right?), basically all that extra stuff outside of work and stuff you want to do. Could even include work I suppose. (As shown in the diagram below).

Be thankful for all those conversations that finish with “I’m sorry to leave but I have to go and ...” Unless you’re lying, they mean that you have stuff in your life, important stuff. Because let’s be honest, if it wasn’t that important you would take advantage of free will and choose not to do it.

That extra stuff shows character, depth, and human connection.

You can’t create it out of thin air either. You can’t instantly be expected to pick up some guy’s kid from after school care every Tuesday afternoon. Those obligations come from people trusting you, needing you and even loving you. From having meaningful relationships with others.

Enjoy your obligations!

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

A Little Bit of the South

Chile is a really long country, (over 4000 kilometres!) and as a result there are many differing landscapes and climates one can experience without crossing any international boarders. The flora and fauna also change dramatically throughout the 15 regions. After hearing so many positive reviews of the South of Chile I was pretty excited to be part of an eight person group trip to a little town called 'Puelo' a few hours away from Puerto Montt. 
Cabins in Chile
Cabalgatas Rio Puelo
After flying for two hours, driving for 30 minutes, taking a three hour bus followed by a 45 minute ferry and a mini-van ride, the group was only just maintaining its cheery disposition. It definitely helped that on arrival to our new home we were greeted by a warm rustic cabin and a barbeque!

South of Chile Barbeque
Cordero en palo
Cooking a ram, or cordero (not to be confused with a ewe, or oveja) is a traditional activity of the South of Chile and everyone was pretty enthusiastic to take part in this special tradition. It took more than four hours to cook, but it was well worth the wait. In the meantime there was ample opportunity for everyone to have a chat around a big fire in the quincho (a room with a barbequing area in the centre, the roof above is designed to let smoke out without letting rain in). Once the meat had been turned over and over for four hours, using the wooden poles that skewer the animal, it was ready for our hungry mouths. The meat tasted very differently than your standard lamb chops and it looked a white colour, almost like chicken. Delicious and tender.

Hiking Chile
The Start of the Hike
Hiking was a highlight. The track was amazingly entertaining. I found it similar to a choose your own adventure book. Will I trudge through the dense mud, will I follow a trail up onto a high walkway or will I swing on trees and jump from rock to rock until I reach that wooden bridge ahead? So many options, and all lead to a sense of childish freedom and delight.

Hiking in Chile
Entertaining Tracks

Cows Chile
Cows around Refugio La Junta
The campsite was a welcoming resting place after six hours of uphill hiking (climbing, more like). The cows hung around until the sun went down, then we were left to enjoy our evening by the fire. Wood collecting teams were sent out, fire builders were put to work and soon we had warmth and something to cook on. Nothing better than building your own fire.
Campsite Chile
The humidity and generally cool temperatures of the South of Chile are aparent as soon as you step off the plane. One perk of all the rain is that everything is super green and luscious. I was amazed at the amount of water around and the life that it supported. Every rock had fluro moss or lichen growing on it, every tree trunk was home to seven other plants, every vine was covered, it was stunning.

Hiking in Chile
Growth Everywhere
Rivers run constantly down from high mountain tops, filled with crystal clean water. I drank it without any issues and it tasted great. River beds were mainly filled with beautifully light coloured granite rocks and icey water.

Also staying at the Cabalgata Rio Puelo site was a middle aged Swiss man and a young Hungarian man. One interested in the fishing prospects of the South of Chile, the other working through Helpx and learning Spanish. The vibe was very relaxed, as a tiny town in the middle of mountains and rivers should be.

Over all it was great to get acquainted with another part of Chile. It was nice to know that all those people who rave on about the South of Chile were right. Definitely worth a visit.

Check out the Photos page for more shots of Puelo.

Puelo, Chile