>Gringo Watching

>I have always been a people watcher. I inherited this from my Dad who inherited it from my Grandma. This is why I can be happy for hours waiting in an airport, because I watch the people around me and make up stories about them. In fact, when I was waiting for my flight to Santiago in Toronto, I listened to this entire conversation between these three people. One woman had some sort of accent (French? but not French Canadian…or perhaps Eastern Europe…I’m bad with accents) and the other two were a married couple from Canada. It was obvious that they had traveled a lot together and also that they had LOTS of money. So I made up this whole story about how the lady with the accent was the only daughter of some millionaire and had inherited all of his money. She met this couple on a cruise and had an affair with the husband and became best friends with the woman without the her ever finding out that she was sleeping with her husband. From then on they always went traveling together to exotic places.

So anyway, I like to watch people and yesterday I had some time during lunch so I sat on a bench on Hernando de Aguirre right outside English First and people watched. It’s fairly common to see gringos near Tobalaba because there are lots of English institutes there. So I decided to make my people watching a little more interactive and see how many gringos I could spot.

F. and I have talked extensively about how one can spot a gringo here in Santiago. There are obvious things such as having blond hair and blue eyes, but that is more of a stereotype as there are many gringos with brown hair and brown eyes (i.e. me). So besides hair color, what else is there to look for? I think most importantly: shoes. Although flipflops are coming more popular here, the Reef style still hasn’t caught on. Neither have Birkenstocks. So I found one gringa yesterday because she was wearing Birkenstocks. Then I looked down and realized I was too…haha. Chileans (especially women) wear heels all the time. And if they aren’t wearing heels, they wear fancier flats or flip flops.

Second of all: the type of backpack. Almost all Chileans have either Head or XTreme backpacks. I would say the two most common gringo brands are NorthFace or LLBean. Also, Chileans usually carry their backpacks on one shoulder or out in front, while some gringos are still so naive that they carry them on both shoulders. In fact, on the way to the metro this afternoon I saw a whole group of them (probably exchange students) come out of the metro with their NorthFace backpacks on both shoulders.

After that comes a trickier one: clothes. Apart from the groups of older tourists who flock the city with their safari hats and cargo shorts, there is some typical gringo apparel. For example, hooded sweatshirts, especially if they have the name of a university on them, are a dead giveaway. Also, I have a pair of shorts I call my “gringo shorts”…they are khaki and come down to my knee. I used to think that ribbed tank tops were pretty gringa, but I’ve seen a lot of them lately, both in the stores and on Chilenas. Chilean men usually don’t wear shorts unless they’re relaxing around the house or at the beach, so shorts on a man walking down the street usually means gringo.

Anyone else have ideas about how to spot gringos in Santiago? Or maybe I’m the only one who finds this entertaining…

Full disclosure: I wear Reef flip flops and as I mentioned have gringo shorts and Birkenstocks, so please don’t take offense to my comments if you are a gringo. Maybe someday you will gringo spot me!


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