First Impressions of Chile

Margaret at Cachando Chile wrote a great piece on her first experiences in Chile. She’s been here for 18 years now. Since she invited others to share their impressions, I thought it would be a good opportunity to write a less structured post than I usually write. Perhaps a more open post since I’m typically not a candid writer on the blog. These were my thoughts in the first month in Chile after arriving at the end of December, 2008.


E. and I arrived in Santiago after crossing the Andes by bus. About the moment we crossed into the Chilean side of the mountains, I started experiencing post nasal drip which by the time we arrived in Santiago turned into a full blown sinus infection. I knew to expect more pollution in Santiago, but I wasn’t expecting to get sick so quickly! (I have to admit to inheriting a poor excuse for sinuses.)

The first couple months, my lungs hurt certain days. This has stopped, which is probably a bad sign. My body has succumbed to the pollution.


Every day has the same forecast–sunny with a few clouds. Now that we’ve hit June it is sunny with a few clouds and cold. Have you ever wanted it to rain just for a change of pace? (Actually to see the surrounding mountains!)


After studying Spanish for a year in Argentina, I was dishearted not to understand many people. Chilean Spanish is really fast and fluid, and I’ve found that people don’t alter the pronounciation for foreigners’ comprehension. The faster people talk seems like a source of pride. An informal phrasing also adds an “ai” at the end of “you” verbs, so Como Estas turns into Como Estai?

I have turned into a much better listener here because I have to focus on the fluid construction to pick out words. Our apartment doorman once asked me if we were receiving “gatos” (cats) in our apartment. I soberly assured him that, no, no we don’t have any gatos. He had to repeat himself five times before I understood that he was asking if we receive the “gastos” (bills). I think he hated me for a couple weeks.


Arriving in summer, cheap and ripe avocados were everywhere. And ripe tomatoes too. I miss those.

Treatment of Peruvians

A lot of people warned us about Peruvians in Plaza de Armas. I thought this was rather odd because I didn’t see the reason for such alarm. Actually, at first I thought people were saying beware of the Paraguayos, and I really did not understand what Paraguayans would be living in Santiago, but then I understood–Peruvians. Peruvian immigrants tend to hang out in Plaza de Armas, but I have never had a bad experience in Plaza de Armas or with Peruvians. I find the city to be incredibly safe.

Police (Carabineros) Presence

I noticed that the police are an intimidating force here rather than a comforting force. On one particular day people were gathering downtown to protest, and rows of armored police with machine guns were standing on the corner. Green armored tanks were cruising the street that looked like trucks out of Star Wars–huge green boxes meant to hold people. There were no windows, and they looked ready to ram if necessary. A Chilean told me that these trucks are called “guanacos” after a llama-like highland animal that spits hard spitballs at predators. The guanaco truck sprays dirty water at unruly protestors. This sort of intimidation and force surprised me.

Other Expat Impressions

Here are other first impressions of Chile:


Filed under Chile, City Center, New to Town, Santiago

7 responses to “First Impressions of Chile

  1. I like that you wrote more openly about your impressions of the country, but I couldn’t help but notice that your list seemed overwhelmingly negative. Do you feel like you and Chile haven’t clicked?

    I do like Chile, but Santiago is not a romantic place to write about. My happiest times are walking in the mountains outside the city.

  2. I didn’t realize you had been here such a short time, so you are practically writing in “real time”!! Funny how I’ve gotten so used to the guanacos and police presence that it doesn’t even strike me as odd anymore (guess I HAVE been here a long time!)

    I had to laugh about the “gatos”… especially when I thought about the idea of having to “pay the gatos”!!

    And as I’m sure you’ve discovered, this lack of rain this time of year is NOT at all usual! (The smog, unfortunately, is a carved-in-stone fact of Santiago life).

    I’ll never get over the “gatos.” 😉

  3. Pingback: First Impressions of Santiago Chile-18 years on « Cachando Chile: Reflections on Chilean Culture

  4. I just found your blog through Cachando Chile and I think it’s great. I’m about to make the opposite move that you did – from Stgo to BsAs!

  5. Hey man, whatever pays the gatos.


  6. I’m still laughing at your “no we are’t receiving any gatos”. That is something I would say. Is it just me, or do the doormen and the colectivo drivers go to school to be LESS coherent. Jeez!!!

  7. Interesting that you brought up the Peruvian issue. I understand that immigration can cause a lot of problems (feeling like immigrants are taking jobs/resources, contributing to crime, abusing welfare programs among others) but I do know that that Chile in general is particularly close-minded. It’s understandable – until recently there weren’t really any immigrants! I think it’s a problem that will become more of an issue in the next few years as immigration continues to increase.

    And yes, the post-nasal drip…it’s lovely, isn’t it?!

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