Cultural Differences: Getting Used to the New Normal

In addition to the differences of life in a small desert town like Maria Elena that I mentioned before, there are some cultural differences in Chile that I want to talk about. Fortunately, none of them are troubling, but it takes some getting used to.

Language. Of course, I did not move to Chile expecting everyone to speak English all the time. But Chilean Spanish is difficult. It’s rapid. They swallow letters (for example, gracias becomes “gracia” and “por fa” instead of por favor). And then there are all the chilenismos. I am making a study of flaite, fome, bacán, monitos, po, and the other slang they use here. Luckily I came speaking some Spanish, and I hope to improve while I am here – but I still have a long way to go. Hopefully I can report more on this later. Assuming, of course, that I learn to effectively use the keyboard on my school laptop. It is just different enough that my typing doesn’t always flow smoothly. And forget about all the shortcuts I used to use in MS Word – they are all different in Spanish Word.

The epitome of “bacán” or “cool”

Daily Schedules. If you know me, you know I’m an early bird. I come from a family where 7:00 am is considered “sleeping in” – even on the weekend. I like to get up early and get things done, and it is normal for me to go to bed by 10. For my Chilean family, 9 or 10 (or later) is dinner time. They regularly go to bed at midnight or later, even during the week. On the weekends, an asado or fiesta (or night at the casino) can easily last until 5 am. I can’t remember the last time I was awake until 5 am. Much of this late-night revelry is fueled by the fact that Chile has a culture of siesta. At 2, everyone goes home to have lunch with their families and take a nap. The work/school day resumes around 4. As someone who has not had much success with napping (and believe me, I’ve tried) this schedule is difficult for me.

Lack of Internet Access. I have absolutely zero access to wifi. My host family does not have internet in their home, and there appears to be no wifi I can access in any public location – although I have a cable I can connect to my laptop to access internet in the school. For me, this is a big change because I am so used to sitting on my couch or in bed on my laptop either doing work, chatting with friends, or planning travels. Fortunately, data is cheap here so I’ve been using it to check facebook and listen to podcasts. But the tiny phone screen and lack of a keyboard is not great for lesson planning or writing anything of length. So if you are wondering why it is taking me so long to blog, and why it is so irregular… this is why.

PANTOUFLES! I have no idea why, but apparently the thought of walking around your house in bare or sock feet is incomprehensible here. I’m not sure if it is seen as offensive (although if you are in your own house, I am not sure who you would be offending) or just weird. So naturally everyone has a pair of really dope slippers (pantoufles) here. Lucky for me, my host mom has let me borrow an old pair of her daughter’s 😊

my borrowed pantoufles
My borrowed pantoufles

And then there is All.The.Kissing. Chileans greet each other with a kiss on the right cheek (like many other cultures, of course). This norm is sweet and warm and I usually don’t mind it too much. But it feels a little strange, and can be a little time consuming, when a line of students want to kiss you goodbye. Nevertheless, these delightful differences are all part of my cultural education!


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