Cultural Differences in Chile

Erin Orchard is a student at the University of Denver and an ISA Featured Blogger. Erin is currently studying abroad with ISA in Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, Chile.

Dog on beach
One of the many dogs on the beach! Photo by Nate Huey

There have been several times here in Chile when I think “that wouldn’t fly in the U.S.” or “you don’t see that everyday back home.”  I often laugh at these times thinking how different other cultures are, but yet how similar they can be as well. 

1. Strikes
In Chile if people aren’t happy with a current situation they go on strike. For example, the postal service was on strike all of September demanding higher wages. This meant no mail into the country (well the mail got dropped off in a big pile in Santiago) and no mail leaving the country. This seems to be acceptable here and happens multiple times a year. After the postal workers got their wages raised the Registro Civil (DMV, marriage license office, ID) went on strike. There’s no telling when these strikes end. You just have to wait them out.  Currently the trash men in Valparaíso are on strike so there is trash everywhere.  Students are often on strike as well demanding lower tuition at universities. One of my professors here said “If you students from the U.S. were Chilean you would not be going to college, but rather protesting because your tuition prices are outrageous in the States.” I suppose this is a good way for them to get what they demand, but creates an added adventure for citizens.  Don’t worry we had to sign a paper declaring we won’t participate in any protests while here.
2. Jugglers/street performers
You can make money here by performing your latest and greatest talent for drivers as they stop at a stoplight.  Anything from flame juggling, salsa dancing, unicycle riding and break dancing on your head will fly. At the university the other day someone was juggling four top hats in the middle of the common area. He was quite entertaining to watch.

juggler at school
Juggler at School

3. Fender Benders
Here it seems common to have a couple of door dings or dents your car. It adds character. I have seen countless fender benders where the drivers simply wave to one another and continue on their merry way. The other day on the bus to school we turned right and literally moved the car next to us as we scraped the side of it. Despite scaring the poor driver and moving her car several feet we continued driving.

4. Dogs Everywhere
You can find dogs everywhere — parks, restaurants, the beach. Petting the dogs results in a new best friend for you who follows your every move. The dogs chase cars like it is a game of tag. They get so close to the cars as to bite the rubber on the tires. Sometimes people leave food out for the dogs, other times they rummage through the trash. The dogs in Viña have all been given shots as to not spread disease. Sometimes a dog is fortunate enough to be taken and given a home.

5. Street Sweepers
You won’t find the big street sweeping trucks but rather workers with brooms. Many streets are swept by hand every single day.  That is real manual labor right there.

6. Buses with lax rules
Public transportation here is very common. A lot of families have no car or only one car, so public transportation is necessary. You can take buses all over the city and to other cities in Chile which is great, but be prepared for an adventure as you have to jump off the bus at your stop because the drivers rarely come to a complete stop. I also never really know how much the ride will cost. It could be anywhere from 300 pesos ($.60) to 500 pesos ($1USD) since the rate changes depending on what bus you take and at what time of the day you take it. Also, there are no bus schedules posted, so typically you just stand on the sidewalk and wait until you think you see a bus going near where you need to go.

7. Window washers
While at a stoplight you can have your windows washed by two guys who will use Coke bottles filled with water to squirt liquid on your car and then squeegee it off. You pay them what you see fit. While your car is parked on the street it is common to come back and see that someone is washing the whole car or at least the windows for you.

8. Lack of lines
Standing in line is not a common thing in Chile.  Getting on the bus each morning to school requires you to be a bit aggressive as you push through the crowd. At mass in the U.S. when receiving communion usually people get up row by row and walk orderly to the front of the church. This is not the case here where instead everywhere stands up at the same time and weasels their way in.

Keep in mind that these instances could occur in the U.S., but I don’t usually encounter them throughout my daily life at home. I’m comparing this experience to mine in the States because that’s what I know best. I love encountering new things every day that reinforce that I’m not in the U.S. anymore!

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