When you travel, you can prepare yourself in many ways. You google the location, you talk to people that have been there, you buy a travel guide, you learn some words in the local language. So when you move abroad, basically you do this tenfold and plan long term.
- I took Spanish classes. Okay so I admit this is decades ago so I downloaded an app to revive my limited and long lost skills.
- I spent hours on google. And if you know me, you know that when I say hours, I mean hours – but hey, that is how I found my apartment.
- I bought a Lonely Planet. I love my Kindle but not for a travel guide.
- I am a member of an expat-site. Always an ambiguous one: it is handy to learn from them but you of course want to meet locals and not live in a bubble.
- I read about the weather – and thus I bought a coat.
- I have a currency converter on my phone and I am getting used to the money.
But what one can never really prepare for is culture.
First surprise: a normal greeting is accompanied by a kiss. And even though it is a very kind and warm gesture, it takes some getting used to. Especially when it is a pediatrician or someone else you have little connection with. And yes, the French speaking part of Belgium has the same custom. I am sure many countries do. But I am just not used to it. I have to stress that Chilean people are genuinely warm and welcoming, so the kiss just adds to that I guess. In Tanzania, some people had the habit of giving you a handshake and during the entire conversation they do not let go. That was always odd. But no, I never pulled my hand back in case you are wondering (some conversations can be very long though, especially when you have to go through the customary list of 12 greetings). And in a group of expat friends, it has always been a gamble whether to kiss once, twice or 3 times. I go for 3. Greedy me. But with friends I expect to be forgiven.
Second observation: Chileans speak quickly, swallow half of the word and use slang. So basically I could have studied Spanish beforehand until I was blue in the face, I need to learn it here, in the street, in the shop, at home, with real people. (Or so I tell myself when I feel bad that the language thing is going so sloooooow and is frustrating me.) I am waiting for the moment that I am in another country and someone comments that I sound Chilean. That would be success. (A girl needs to set goals for herself. I´ll keep you posted.)
The Mediterranean lifestyle. I have heard the remark once – from an American – that I am so European because I eat late. If it were up to him, we would have had dinner at 6h00. Now, I do not think you can generalize this anyway but I do not eat at 6h, but then again, I also do not want to eat at 22h. Belgians do not take a siesta during the day, and anno 2018, I think less and less countries or people do? Now, when I was in secondary school, I think we had our lunchbreak at 12h. So eating at 13h in Tanzania was already a small adjustment. But since it was a warm country, it didn´t bother me all that much. I have noticed in Chile that most people eat at 14h, and some even only at 15h. By that time, I am starving. Especially because it has been winter, my body needs to warm up and I definitely need to burn some food to do so. But I have horrible eating habits so I realize I am not a reference. But it goes way beyond meal times. I was very surprised to read in a school document that parties usually run from 23h to 3-4am. Like seriously? I felt really ancient, and just – but barely – bit my tongue when I wanted to say ‘what about 20h to midnight’ to another parent. I mean, I went out and partied my fair share when I was a teenager but this was a school pamphlet. I am also always the first one in the office. So I guess I just have to switch my biological clock to start doing everything 2 hours later?
People are animal friendly. I was surprised to see so many street dogs but in the beginning I actually often wondered if they really were street dogs. They all seem healthy and fed. When I think of street dogs, another image comes to mind, in Africa I always said to the girls they were not allowed to touch them, and since they moved around in packs, I stayed away from them with a fair amount of fear. But here, I have the feeling the dogs are taken care of. By random people. On top of that, many people live in an apartment and have a pet. Which means they have to walk it more than daily, which they do. Heartwarming. Overall, I feel there is a lot of respect for animals, even the government pours oodles of money in conservation and pioneering initiatives. I was happy to read that a billion dollar deal to drill for oil was rejected in order to protect the habitat and breeding place of the penguins. Bless.
Santiago is of course a city city. I share these streets that I walk daily with 7 million other people so I should and cannot generalize too much really. I shared a flat with a Colombian lady, work with an Argentine girl, had dinner with a Peruvian couple, had coffee and kuche with a (half) German family… But that is also Chilean culture: an interesting mix of people in a place full of contrast.