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:
- Clare at Clare Says: First Impressions (of Chile) (arrived in Rancagua, 1996)
- Vicki at Futalandia: Chile September 2006- First Impressions (Santiago and Chile’s deep south, 2006)
- Lydia at Just Smile and Nod: First Impressions of Chile (Santiago and Valparaíso)
- Abby at Abby’s Line: Thoughts on my First Day in Chile (Santiago, January 2007)
- Eileen at bearshapedsphere: Pucha I don’t speak Cellphone! (Santiago, April 2004)
- Emily at Don’t Call Me Gringa: First Impressions (arrived in Santiago, June 2005)
- Sara at La Gringuita Diaries: First Impressions of Chile (August 2006, Concepción)
- Emily at Chilemily: First Impressions (July 2001, Viña & Copiapó)