Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hace MUCHO calor.

Summer is in full swing down here and it is HOT. Despite the high temps, I have been enjoying the weather. Although I must admit, I still haven’t quite mastered my understanding of the Celsius scale. The hottest day yet this Chilean summer reached a whopping 35 degrees Celsius, which I believe is in the low 90s on the Fahrenheit scale. Thankfully, it is a dry heat. There is always a nice breeze during the day, and at night it cools down quite a bit. One thing that Chile could use, though, is some aire acondicionado! Most of the time, it is cooler outdoors than it is inside buildings. And don’t even get me started on the Metro. With temperatures on the rise, my appreciation of the subway system here has decreased; the stuffy train rides have gotten to be almost unbearable.

The increased heat has brought with it some interesting Chilean revelations. When I learned Spanish, I was taught that the word “hot” translated to “caliente.” Speaking in terms of temperature, it seemed likely to say “caliente.” However, if you are working up a sweat on the dance floor at a club and you feel your body temp rising, I advise you not to say, “estoy caliente” or “I am hot” unless you want all the guys to keep infringing on your personal space. In this sense, “caliente” translates to “horny.” Luckily my friends warned me about this upon my arrival, but I since have had to correct some other gringos using this phrase so they too can avoid a language misunderstanding. If referring to the temperature outside, you say “hace calor,” which means, “it’s hot.” If you are hot, the correct thing to say is, “tengo calor.” It quite literally translates to “I have heat.” And let me tell you, unlike those of you in the Midwest, nosotros estamos en Chile ahora, tenemos mucho calor.

The other funny thing I have noticed here is the Chilean beverage of choice. With the dryness of the area, it is imperative that you keep yourself hydrated. I’ve never been one to drink my 8 glasses of water a day and I certainly do not drink nearly enough water here. I literally have to force myself to drink as much as I can and even then, it’s not enough. The amazing thing about Santiaguinos, though, is that despite the dryness and the heat, no one drinks water! They all drink soda. If they do drink water, they drink carbonated water. It never ceases to amaze me. I seriously have no idea how these people keep hydrated because I primarily only drink water all day long and I am dying! They don’t even give you complimentary glasses of water when dining at a restaurant like they do in States as soon as you sit down at the table. Here, if you want tap water, you have to ask for it specifically. If you just say you want water, they ask if you want it “con gas” or “sin gas” (with or without gas) and assume you mean bottled water.

The thing that truly amazes me about this weather, however, is its consistency. It is sunny every day and on the rare occasion that it looks like it might rain, it never does. It’s always a bit cool early in the mornings on my way to work and of course, again in the evenings. The heat seems to reach it’s peak temperature about mid-afternoon between the hours of 2:00pm and 4:00pm. I’m so used to checking the weather every morning before I get up to determine my outfit for the day, but here, I don’t have to do that! Especially after a most unusual summer weather-wise my last summer while living in NYC, this is a nice change of pace!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


I live in Providencia, a nice, more suburban area just outside the center of the city. It’s not quite as “quico” (aka rich) as the neighboring comuna of Las Condes, but still nice nonetheless. It’s quiet, safe, and residential; very familial, inhabited by young and old alike. It’s complete with schools, shopping, restaurants, parks and TRANSVESTITES, or to which I more simply refer to as trannies.

One of the first times I really took notice of these trannies, was when a Chilean friend of mine was driving me home after a night of karaoke. His English is not so great, but as we passed them, he giggled and proclaimed, “not women.”

When I first began living here, there were only two or three that would strut their stuff every night just a mere block and a half away from my apartment. They have since grown in numbers, and I swear there is like 10 that now hang out every night on the corner. They usually start showing up around 10:00 pm and I’ve seen them still out there as late as 4:00 am or 5:00 am, though usually they seem to have gotten picked up sometime before 2:00 am. They have long hair, deep voices, short skirts, stomach-baring tops, and are never without heels. I’ve even seen a few who literally wear thongs with the kind of display that would most definitely be cited for indecent exposure in the States. And damn, some of them have nicer legs than me!

Riddle me this: Why do they hang out a block and a half north of my apartment, a building inhabited by young children and senior citizens in a residential neighborhood consisting mainly of middle class people? It boggles my mind every time I see them. Providencia could be compared to where I grew up in Wauwatosa and let me tell you, never once did I see a tranny hanging out on the corners in Tosa. Trannies to me seem like they are better suited for the grimy, grungy areas of town, not amongst the impeccably green lawns and gated apartment buildings that inhabit all of Providencia.

The carabineros (police) are aware of the problem. However, according to my roommate, despite the many complaints from the neighborhood, they refuse to take any action against it.

I was scared of them at first. I always walked on the other side of the street coming home, eyes to the ground. But they are like a train wreck, you know you shouldn’t look, but you cannot seem to peel your eyes away. They’ve become more of a permanent fixture to me on my walks home, much like a lamppost, or a bush. I look, but never engage in conversation. And they don’t scare me anymore; mostly because they don’t even look at me twice, but rather heckle and cat call those without breasts.

While I can’t quite figure out why they choose such a place like Providencia, it never ceases to intrigue me. Maybe one day the mystery will be solved as to why the corner of Holanda and Providencia is such a hot spot for these ladies…er, men.

Sealed with a kiss.

One my most favorite parts of the Chilean culture is the beso or kiss. People here kiss each other when they meet, when they greet, and when they say goodbye. Never on the lips, always on the cheek. And unlike other cultures, it is common practice here to kiss the person’s left cheek only, not lay one on each cheek. Of course, this is while the person is simultaneously doing the same to you. Some will actually kiss your cheek while others will touch cheeks and air kiss. Some will go all out and grab your face while planting one on you. I guess it all depends on the person and maybe how intimate you want to be.

As an American, my natural instinct is to offer my hand as a form of greeting or meeting someone and give them a firm handshake. For the first few weeks I was here, I instinctively did such an act, which always resulted in a face-hand tug-of-war. I would hold out my hand, while the other person would lean in for the kiss. Then, I would draw back my hand and lean in for the kiss, while the other person would draw back their face and extend their hand. Some people gave me weird looks, but most just chalked it up to me being a gringa. Either way, it was a bit awkward and slightly embarrassing on my part. But after all those years of practice, it’s a tough habit to break. Plus, I always prided myself on having a firm, solid handshake, at least for a girl.

I knew I was becoming more chilena when I stopped holding out my hand, and without thinking would kiss someone. Sure, it may get annoying at those times when you just want to leave someplace, yet have to go around to kiss and say good-bye to each and every person before you can depart; but on the whole, I think it’s a lovely gesture. It’s personal and intimate. It provides more of a sense of welcoming and inclusiveness that you may not find with Americans. It immediately establishes a personal connection among people, and among strangers at that. Since I am an affectionate person, I feel it quite suits my personality.

It also serves as a form of signing off when sending messages and the like. People always sign off with “besos” or x’s. I love when someone says, “un beso,” because you give kisses to everyone, but for some reason, the idea of just a single kiss gives more of a special, more intimate vibe.

Beware friends and family, I am determined to bring this back with me upon my return to the States. Or at the very least, will have become so accustomed to the beso, that I will instinctively do that instead of handshakes. Either way, don’t be scared, just embrace it.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My newfound appreciation for teachers.

Most of you are probably wondering what exactly it is that I do here in Santiago, what exactly my teaching entails. Well, let me tell you…

When I applied to Instituto Chileno Norteamericano, I was specifically recruited to be part of a program sponsored by Corfo. A government agency in Chile, Corfo works to improve the economic development of the nation. They think the tourism industry is one of the top areas to stimulate growth here and recognize the need for people who work in these areas to be able to communicate in English, as many foreign visitors to this country are native English speakers. So, they offered a scholarship for those who work in this industry to take English classes at the Institute.

The program itself was an intense, six and a half week program in which students attended class three hours a day, Monday through Saturday. That was in conjunction with their pre-existing jobs and the fact that it is busy season for travel in Chile right now. To say they were a hard-working, dedicated bunch would be a complete understatement and I have only the utmost admiration for each and every one of them.

The class centered around a book that catered only to the hotel industry, which for some, proved to be very useful, but for others, not so much. My classes were composed of those that not only worked in hotels, but that worked for airlines, travel agencies, tour groups or who worked as tour guides, hiking guides, and the like. Not only was the book limited in its content, but it was also at a much lower level than my very high-level English learning students. All of them had studied English before stepping into my classroom. They knew basic vocabulary and grammatical structures, so the real necessity for them was getting a better handle on colloquial expressions and practice in conversation and natural discourse. Of course, you will always have students at different levels with different strengths, some that are better at writing, others that are better at speaking. However, as a whole, both of my classes were very proficient in the English language. This can be a blessing and a curse, because while it makes communication with them very easy, it also means that they bore quickly. Luckily, the Institute recognized that the book was not enough and thus provided weekly electives in which students spent part of the time with the book and then rest of the time learning about specific lessons centered on tourism in Chile. This helped alleviate some of the monotony of the book activities and weariness on part of the students.

I taught one semester before coming down here when I was still in Madison, but that was for one hour, two days a week and with a co-teacher. Teaching for three hours every single day and keeping students engaged the entire time, while still adhering to the provided curriculum is a lot more challenging than I originally anticipated. Teachers always have to be on the ball, and function more as an entertainer than anything else, which can be downright exhausting at times. As a teacher, you always have to be on your game, it’s hard to have a bad day when you are at the forefront of the classroom, all attention focused on you. It also requires a great deal of patience and energy to appropriately address all the needs and questions your students may have. At that, you are always being scrutinized for what you do or do not do. I spent a great deal of time outside the classroom organizing activities apart from the book to keep interest, stimulate conversation and most of all, provide them a template for practice. Lastly, as a teacher you want to have all the answers, and sometimes there is that underlying expectation on part of your students that you do, in fact, have all the answers. There are moments, though, when someone throws you a curveball question in which you are standing there dumbfounded, with no answer. As a perfectionist, I hated these moments.

My class ended this past week, and it was a wonderful experience. It was as much of a learning experience for me as it was for my students. If there’s one thing that I’ve taken away from my first class here, though, it’s that I did not nearly appreciate my teachers as much as I should have in all my years of schooling. I have nothing but respect for those that make an entire, lifelong career of it and can only hope to have given to my students what my teachers gave to me.

My classes:

Sunday, November 29, 2009

It’s beginning to look a lot like…summer?

I’m not dreaming of white Christmas these days, nor am I looking to roast chestnuts on an open fire. In fact, I’m counting down the days ‘til the class I am currently teaching ends, and my friends and I pack up our things to head to the coast for some holiday, end of the year celebrations. No, this year I’m dreaming of a sandy, sunny Christmas and roasting on the endless beaches.

Christmas is by no means my favorite holiday. Sure, Christmas usually signifies a break from school and/or a job, a chance to see friends and family and a time to indulge in delicious food, but the heavily commercialized side of it overshadows all these great aspects. By the time December 25th actually rolls around, everyone is so sick of seeing tinsel and listening to Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, which has been playing on repeat since about mid-September.

In Chile, it hardly feels like Christmas, though. Just this past week did I finally see hints that it is actually right around the corner. Much in contrast to the spectacle of the States, Christmas trees, ornaments, tinsel, and lights only recently appeared in storefront windows and along Alameda/Providencia/Apoquindo, the main thoroughfare in town, did they just put up little Christmas tree lights on the lamp posts. Furthermore, I have yet to hear a single Christmas song playing anywhere.

The weather especially adds to the surreal notion that Christmas is now officially less than a month away. 80 degrees and sunny does not a winter make.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Chilean Way of Life.

I want to preface what I’m about to say in telling you that I absolutely love it here in Santiago, but, once again, I find myself comparing it to New York. It has come to my attention, over the course of the past three weeks, that things are done a bit differently around these parts.

A Midwestern girl at heart, I always say, “I’m sorry” when I bump into someone and “excuse me” to move through a group of people. I constantly smile and frequently greet strangers in passing with a friendly “hello.” You can imagine my surprise when I arrived in New York only to get elbowed or have someone throw his or her shoulder into me without so much as a glance back. I suppose with all the hustle and bustle of a city like New York, people just don’t have time for politeness and manners. And while I always maintained a courteous disposition, I grew to not expect the same in return from New Yorkers. It took a little while to adjust to that sort of brashness, but at the same time, I didn’t really mind. I loved the energy that courses through that city’s veins. It’s really unlike any other place and while everyone always seems to be in a hurry to get to their next destinations, I truly enjoyed the fast pace of the people there.

Santiago is unlike NYC in this particular sense. Even just the movement of pedestrians on the sidewalk stands in opposition to the streets of the Big Apple. People move as slow as molasses here. New York may be a bit strung out, but here, it’s as if they don’t have a care in the world, nowhere to be, nothing to do. Every day seems like a leisurely walk in the park. AND IT’S DRIVING ME CRAZY. Part of me wonders if I should stop teaching English and start teaching sidewalk etiquette, for Chileans have no mind for anyone around them. They don’t move to the side to let those with a faster pace pass. With friends, they take up the entire sidewalk and don’t move into a single file for anyone, whether following or striding towards them, to get through. Couples are so concerned with holding hands, kissing and hugging all at once while strolling down the street, they have no regard whatsoever if they are in someone else’s way. Some days, I wish the New York part of me could just barrel through these people to teach them a lesson, but the Midwestern part keeps me from doing so by politely walking around them when such opportunity arises.

This sense of relaxation found in their sidewalk mentality is reflected in their general attitude about organization or rather lack of organization, as well. They are always running late. In regard to social activities, I truly believe that to make an entrance one must be fashionably late. Let’s be honest, no one wants to be the first one to a party. However, to meetings, work shifts, practices, games, classes and the like, one must always be punctual. As my brother learned from his soccer coach, “Early is on time, and on time is late.” Here, that idea is totally lost. Students showing up on time or even, heaven forbid, early for class is a rarity. If my class starts at 7:00, you can guarantee I won’t even begin to teach until 7:15 and even then only 50-80% of the students will be there.

The way everything operates seems to be slightly dysfunctional; some days, it’s amazing that anything gets accomplished here. For example, when I arrived at the Institute for my first day of work, I was told that my contract would be ready to sign two days later and someone would be in touch to tell me when to do so. A week passed and still no call or e-mail from the Institute on the matter. When I checked on the status of my contract, I was told it hadn’t been written because they were still waiting on me to give them a few documents; documents, mind you, that I had not only sent in three weeks prior, but that had also been confirmed as being received on the Institute's end. When I relayed this story to others, I was assured that these types of occurrences were quite characteristic of operations in Chile.

While this may suitable by Chilean standards, there is no way one would survive with these attitudes and behaviors in a place like New York. For this reason, the playing fields are leveled... NYC: 1 Santiago: 1.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Español de Chile o quizas, la falta de español en Chile.

Side note: So first off, let me apologize for being an absentee blogger as of late. I moved into my new apartment last weekend that is a bit lacking on the Internet factor (aka my lifeline). So my online activity has been mostly composed of quick e-mail checks at friends’ places and an occasional wifi session at Starbucks when I have time…like now. Never thought I would say this, but Gracias a Dios para Starbucks.

Back to the subject at hand...Español. My main motivation for coming to a place like Santiago is my desire to learn the language. Sure, I’ve studied it since I was in 3rd grade back at good ol’ St. Mary’s grade school all the way through high school and even majored in it at UW, but classroom Spanish can only teach you so much. In order to truly learn a language, you need to be fully immersed. No one can expect to spend an hour or two a day studying a foreign language only to spend the rest of his/her everyday life speaking his/her native tongue.

I can read and write Spanish a lot better than I can speak it, mostly because I find it to be very intimidating. Knowing I don’t speak well makes me more embarrassed than anything to make mistakes and sound stupid. Seeing as how I have to use Spanish everyday, I have quickly gotten over that. The only way I am going to learn and get better is to practice, right?

However, what you may not realize is that Chilean Spanish is a completely different language in and of itself. Most Chileans would not consider their language Spanish at all…just Chilean. They drop a lot of their endings, especially with words ending in ‘s.’ For example, there is a stop on the Metro called “Los Leones,” but when the conductor announces it on the speaker, it sounds like, “Lo Leone.”

Not sure how familiar you all are with Spanish conjugations, but the tú (you) present tense form always ends in an ‘s.’ Not only do they not pronounce the ‘s,’ but they change it so that the ending sounds like “ay.” For example, to say “How are you?” in Spanish, you would normally say, “¿Cómo estás?” but in Chilean you would say, “¿Cómo estái?”

Another interesting aspect to this language is its use of modismos or idioms. Words or phrases used here don’t even translate to other dialects of Spanish spoken elsewhere. The funniest one I’ve encountered is the use of the word “puta.” Puta, in any other sense of the word, means whore in Spanish. In Chile, however, puta is used much in the way that Americans use the word like…(in the Valley girl sense). When my friend first moved in with her Chilean roommate and he kept saying puta all the time, she wondered why he kept calling her a whore when he didn’t even know her! That issue quickly resolved itself as she discovered he was not, in fact, insinuating such a thing.

The jury is out on whether this is the best place to learn Spanish or quite possibly the worst, but I have been assured by multiple Chileans that if you can master the Chilean dialect, you can understand Spanish anywhere. Here’s hoping…