Pondering some cultural differences

I have been in Chile for 10 months, 2 days continuously, not counting the 6 1/2 months I studied abroad or the month I spent doing research for my thesis. So in total, I’ve spent 17 1/2 months here in Chile. That’s almost a year and a half!

I have to say that I think I’m pretty well adjusted. There are things that bother me sometimes, like inefficiency, long lines, or bad customer service, but all in all, I like living in Santiago and for now, I don’t want to change a thing.

Most of the time I don’t think about what would be okay or not to do or say in the US, because I’ve been here for so long that sometimes I forget that I ever lived in a different way. I just live and follow the societal rules of Chilean culture the best I can, and so far I haven’t committed any major snafus.

However, there comes some moments when something happens and it hits me: that would never be okay in the U.S. For example, the other day I met with one of my bosses so he could pay me for my classes. He was in a hurry so he drove by my apartment, I got in his car, we drove around the block and he handed me my check. Kind of sketchy and drug-deal-ish, but that’s not what I’m getting at. As I got into the car he says to me, “Hola, preciosa.” (Hello, beautiful.) People here are very open with their terms of endearment. The man at the bookstore where I buy pens and get photocopies calls me “linda” (pretty), kind of similar to how some store clerks in the US will call you “darling” or “hun”. Some of the secretaries at the Institute call me “mi reina” (my queen) but mostly they are women, so it doesn’t bother me. But this man is my boss. While I can justify the storeclerk or the secretaries, I can’t ever think of a situation in the US where a boss could call an employee “beautiful” without worrying about a sexual harrassment suit.

Another thing is the schedules. Everything functions later here. The fact that I work until either 9:00 or 10:00pm four nights a week should tell you something. On the weekends, people don’t even think about going out until around midnight, or maybe even later. Last night I was waiting for a promised phone call, a phone call that was promised at 1:00pm to be in “un ratito” (a little while). What time did this phone call arrive? At 12:09am. Yes, ELEVEN HOURS LATER. And at midnight. Would this fly in the US? Well, waiting for someone to call is pretty universal and transcends cultures, especially when it’s a woman waiting for a man to call. But calling at midnight? Unless this was college and the other person knew the person waiting for the call was out partying or up late studying, I don’t think calling at midnight would ever be a valid choice. But here in Chile, midnight on a weekend is like 9:00pm on a weekend in the US. I suppose. Although I do give the phone call props for ever arriving at all. In the US I would probably still be waiting.

I guess it’s a good thing I live in Chile, or else I’d have a sexual harrassment suit to deal with while I wait patiently for a phone call that may or may not arrive.

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