La Primera Semana

Well, I’ve been living in Santiago for about a week now. And in that time, I’ve done and experienced enough things to write dozens of blog posts. I’ve been hiking, gone to multiple parks, found cozy coffee shops, visited a tiny town in the mountains, and attended two despedidas, or going-away parties. So, in order to be concise in my first post from Chile, here is a brief description of Santiago and then a list of ten things that I’ve seen/learned/etc this week. Here goes.

Santiago, firstly, is a gigantic, sprawling city of over seven million people. What’s best is that Santiago is incredibly beautiful. To the east loom the Andes, which can be seen from just about anywhere in the city. About an hour to the west is the Pacific Ocean. Santiago is made up of thirty largely independent neighborhoods called comunas, which are huge themselves. In the week that I’ve been here, I’ve only managed to explore parts of four of them. Each comuna has its own supermarkets, parks, malls, maintenance services…in essence, Santiago is a conglomerate of thirty different cities. It’s a cool place.

So, here are ten things for this first week:

  1. The tricky “Chilean accent” in Spanish that I was warned about isn’t really that bad – at least not in terms of pronunciation. The biggest difference in Chilean Spanish that I’ve noticed is word choice: quite a few of the words words which I’ve learned in classes up to now are worthless here. Instead of novio, Chileans say pololo. Instead of camiseta, Chileans say polera. And instead of frijoles, Chileans say porotos. The list goes on and on. So the language here isn’t THAT bad!
  2. Chileans have a lot more parks than we do, and they use them more than we do. They’re scattered every few blocks here, because each comuna has its own. There are a couple that have giant hills in the middle that you can hike and get a great view of the city.
  3. Coffee culture is really different here. For the most part, Chileans drink instant coffeee. In most restaurants, unless it’s specified to be cafe en filtro (filtered coffee), you’re getting the instant stuff. And so, after some online researching and asking around, I managed to find a specialty coffee shop like you can find in the states- one with multiple types of coffee, which has a definite focus on coffee. The place is called Original Green Roasters, and got started here because of coffee shops that the owners saw in Finland and Australia. It’s pretty cool. I’m actually sitting there, as I type this.
  4. Heavy metal is super popular here, apparently because when it first got popular in the US and Europe the Catholic churches in Chile suppressed the genre quite a bit. As a result, many people listened to the music out of spite. It’s really common to hear Metallica, Iron Maiden, and the like coming from headphones, bars, and vehicles all over Santiago.
  5. It gets a lot hotter here than I expected. It’s been like upper 80s to lower 90s every day, except they measure it in Celsius so I’m never actually positive. I went hiking yesterday in the middle of the heat with a Canadian and a Norwegian, and they seemed like they were about to die. The Carolinas have prepared me a lot more than I thought, apparently. The biggest difference in the climate here, though, is that it’s a dry heat. The air’s not quite as swampy as it gets in Columbia. PTL.
  6. They put mayonnaise on literally everything. Hot dogs, hamburgers, french fries, sometimes even just plain on bread. That’s one custom here I’m not too fond of.
  7. For the most part, Chileans are really friendly towards foreigners, and enjoy meeting and learning about us. They’re pretty shy in public though, and so they don’t really talk unless you make them. I’ve done that some. Sometimes they just ignore me.
  8. There is graffiti everywhere, and a lot of walls have murals on them. And most of the graffiti here doesn’t seem to have a negative connotation, like in the US. I’ve seen some graffiti writings that say things like, “make love, not war” and “I love Angela Reyes.” We carve trees with lovers’ initials, they paint buildings here I guess? Regardless, it makes for a really bright, vibrant city. It’s fun, but also a little overwhelming.
  9. Spiritually speaking, Santiago reminds me a lot of the Bible Belt. There is a good bit of cultural Christianity, and there are a ton of churches scattered throughout. The difference, of course, is that almost all of them down here are Roman Catholic. And, a lot like the US, there’s a pretty stark generational divide when it comes to faith. At least from what I’ve seen in my first week, the middle aged and older generations tend to be more spiritually active than Millenials.
  10. There’s no such thing as central AC or heating here. In the summer you just open the windows to get the breeze, and in the winter you close them and bundle up. A lot of homes have gas heaters in them, or a single-room unit in the bedrooms. So, that’s something to get used to. I’ve been sweating a lot.

Well, there you go, ten cultural insights into Chile. I got a bit more wordy than I intended, so I bolded the main idea from which one in case you’re feeling lazy.

Thanks for reading, y hasta luego!

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