Chilean food, customs, etc.

Santiago Travel Blog

 › entry 8 of 12 › view all entries
Since I've already been here for two weeks, and get many of the same questions from people back home, I thought I might discuss for a bit what I've learned about the Chilean culture, food, dress, and anything else.

One of the very first things I noticed about Santiago, aside from the oppressive cold (do NOT visit in July!) is that there are virtually no overweight people here. This could be, as Lindsay (a girl in my class) noted about our teacher Rodrigo, "he's like the Latin American version of Harry Potter, only ten years older and on drugs." Not that everyone here is on drugs (I think I would have to go to a seedy club to see that; it wouldn't be out on the streets where I am), but that nearly everyone, including their grandmothers, smokes. Sure, smoking destroys taste bids and curbs appetite, but I figured that couldn't be the only reason. After all, obviously not everyone smokes in Chile, yet the majority of them are slim as well. So what's their secret? What are people in the States not doing? In class a few days ago, our teacher asked us to talk about what it is like driving in our countries: what it means to have a driver's license, what it means to be 25 and not have one, etc. For both "sets" of Americans (the 3 of us from Phoenix, AZ, and the 3 from Aberdeen, South Dakota (I hope that's how it's spelled), it was unanimous: to not have a car is be a) a burden and b) in some cases, a pariah. Now I know this is probably an exaggeration: after all, practically no one in New York City or any other big cities with good public transportation drives because it is too cost-prohibitive. However, the German students and our Chilean teacher answered the same way: it's too expensive to have a car (it costs $2000 in Germany just to get your license/tags/whatever else), parking is expensive and hard to find, and public transportation is decent. Plus, they're all just accostomed to walking. And since being here, it's true: I've never walked so much in my life before, but I've also never felt better. It may be difficult to implement in the States, but I think they are on to something down here!

With regards to smoking, you cannot go out on the street anywhere in Santiago and not encounter people smoking: smoking while they walk to work, briefcase in one hand and cigarette in the other, smoking while listening to their iPod, smoking while carrying groceries, even smoking and kissing in public (not at the same time, of course, although I'm sure they would if they could). I've become a lot better while down here about conserving my clothes; I already wore jeans more than once, as they don't get dirty as quickly as anything else, and I tried for the first week to wear shirts more than one time, but sometimes it's inavoidable that I will only wear a shirt once and come home and after to put it in the hamper. I usually think to myself, "what?? I only walked around, went to school, took the metro... oh, the metro!" Not that people smoke on the metro (smoking in the tunnel and on the train itself is prohibited), but since most people smoke and then get on the metro, and how being in a bubble is impossible, I do end up smelling like smoke. Mostly I just suck it up and re-use the shirt anyway, as no one here would be able to tell (they all smell themselves, regardless of whether they smoke a lot). In general, the smoking doesn't bother me: I'm only here a month, after all!

Okay, now for the good stuff: Chilean food! Wow, what can I say. It's winter here, right? So I obviously had lower standards when I arrived, as food in Phoenix doesn't tend to be as flavorful in the winter as it is in the summer. Boy, was I wrong! Everything, no joke, I've had here is good. The fruit is absolutely delicious. I am a big fan of bananas, and my host family is always stocking the fruit bowl with bananas. Apparently, they're pretty cheap, which is amazing for me. The vegetables are also colorful and tasty; the beans/corn/squash, excellent. Also, Chile is a big producer of avocados, and they put avocados on EVERYTHING here. In the salad, as a side, as a spread instead of mayo: anything you could possibly do with avocados, I'm sure they do it. I bet if you wanted an avocado ice cream, you could probably get it. They're big on tomatoes here too, or at least our host family is, so we also generally have tomatoes with every meal. In restaurants and here at home, fresh-squeezed juices of all types are popular. In restaurants, even before offering you Coke, they will ask if you want 'jugo natural'-- natural juice. They make anything into juice: banana, watermelon, papaya (one of my faves), mango, carrot, I think maybe even strawberries... the waiters and waitresses all have a giant list of fruit in their heads which, I swear, they just rattle off.

Another great thing about Chile (for me, anyway): they LOVE bread. There is a bread store on every street: as much as Starbucks is everywhere in the States, there are bread stores here. They have so many different types of bread here, I can't even describe them. Obviously they have the regular white loaves (wheat, too), and French bread, but our family also buys this type of bread called "pancitos"-- somewhat like biscuits, only bigger and flatter. Interesting! You will never run out of starch while you're down here in Chile, and for this you'll be glad Santiago is a walking city to burn off those calories!

More to come about Chilean "postres" (desserts) and sweets, and also about the way Chileans dress/act in public. It's time for breakfast right now!
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photo by: Bluetraveler