Beware the Gringo Collectors

There is a certain phenomenon that I’ve observed here in Santiago, Chile. There are some Chileans that are just fascinated by gringos. That in and of itself is fine, I suppose. I mean, being one myself I have to admit that we’re pretty awesome. And on a more serious note, I’m sure it has to do with the newness of it all, the cultural differences, the fact that most of the time gringos meet Chilean’s standards of physical attractiveness, the fact that to have traveled outside of South America to gringolandia or to be friends with gringos gives a certain level of status. I think it’s great that Chileans want to be friends with gringos. I wholeheartedly encourage it.

However, and that’s a big however, I don’t think it’s okay to be friends with gringos just because they are gringos. And that, my friends, is what a gringo collector does.

Definition of a gringo collector: a Chilean man or woman who becomes friends with or starts a romantic relationship with (a) gringo(s) temporarily living in Chile (i.e. exchange students) simply because they are gringos.

I have a problem with this for many reasons. First of all, I am a strong believer in that you should be friends with someone because you genuinely like them as a person, not because they are gringos and you like saying that you have gringo friends. It’s like being friends with a black person because you want to have a black friend. It’s dumb and completely ridiculous. For me  it makes me feel sucky to be liked because of my country of origin and not for my personality, intelligence, sense of humor, sensitivity, etc. Hello! I’m a person underneath all my gringa-ness.

Second of all, gringo collectors are known for collecting gringos that are here in Santiago for a short period of time. They are usually either a) exchange students or b) English teachers here for one year maximum. As soon as one batch of gringos leaves, the Gringo collectors just dust off and collect another batch.

How can you spot a gringo collector? One, they will talk non-stop about all of their gringo friends and/or exes. Even if you have lived here for an extended period of time, they will explain things to you like what El Mercurio is and speak to you in Spanglish. They will also laugh when you say words like “chuta” or “weon” and ask you where you learned them. If they are feeling really feisty, they might ask you to say a list of all the chileanismos you know, and then laugh at your pronunciation.

Personal Examples:

1. When I was a study abroad student, the student who was living with my host family before me added me on Facebook and sent me some messages. I couldn’t help but notice that his wall was full of posts from a certain Chilean guy (first red flag: back then, Chileans didn’t have Facebook. I joined the “Chile Network” and there were like 100 people, tops, most of them exchange students). When I arrived in Chile, the same Chilean guy messaged me asking me if I wanted to hang out. I talked to my friends about it, and many of them had received messages too. Our director overheard us and basically told us that this certain guy tried to befriend anyone and everyone that came through our study abroad program. Classic Gringo Collector.

2. When I was working as an English teacher, a lot of my fellow foreign teachers were here for a year tops. At the beginning of my time working, I went out to California Cantina and saw a table full of gringo teachers from my institute with some Chileans. Nothing too out of the ordinary. About a year later, I went back with a friend, and she commented, “Ugh, those guys are such gringo collectors.” And sure enough, it was a table full of the same Chileans, with a new batch of gringos.

Personally, I want to be friends with people who like and respect me for who I am. Yes, a big part of who I am is being a gringa simply due to the fact that I am a foreigner living in Chile. However, I don’t want that to be the only reasons you are friends with me or want to date me. I want you to be friends with me because I’m a good listener, or because I make you laugh, or because you know you can call me at 1:00 in the morning if you need to, or because I’m loyal.

But if you can’t get past my light hair, light skin, silly accent and strange habits to see who I really am, inquire elsewhere for gringo friends.

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29 thoughts on “Beware the Gringo Collectors

  1. I don’t know if this comment went through. Nice new blog by the way.

    I know you are loyal! And I have called you at 1 AM, or close to.

    Agreed. The collectors suck. I met a few. Sometimes they are asymptomatic or present sypmtoms at a later progression. Source: Experience.

    • True. Those are the ones you really have to look out for! I think this is your first comment, so I had to approve you as a commenter, that’s why the first one didn’t appear right away. 🙂 And you’re welcome to call me at any hour Sara!

  2. I agree completely – they’re annoying.

    Have you ever looked on compartodepto.com? There are so many men who say they only want to rent out a bedroom in their apartment to a female from the U.S. I think that’s their new Facebook…gross

  3. As a single girl traveling Latin America I have noticed this a lot. But in Peru it was so apparent there is a term called Brichero/a which essentially is a gringo/a hunter.

    The phenomena isn’t solely in Latin America. When I lived in the Philippines people would come up to me ask to be my friend and when I said yes they’d thank me and leave. Bizarre.

    When I was in Hong Kong I had people ask me to take their photos with me. I would expect this if I were a tall Scandanavian blond but never as a short Canafian brunette.

    I guess we’re all exotic somewhere in the world.

  4. Loved this post!

    I came across a “gringa collector” a while back. We hung out a few times, but when I made it clear that I just wanted to be friends, he disappeared…and resurfaced on Facebook a few weeks later with a gringa girlfriend. It made me wonder if he’d ever been truly interested in getting to know me as a person.

    I don’t think gring@s should be automatically suspicious of Chileans who want to hang out with them; some Chileans have told me that they seek out opportunities to get to know foreigners because they want to learn about other cultures / experience different styles of social interaction, which I think is perfectly legit. However, I think there’s a big difference between someone who wants to broaden his/her social horizons and someone (Chilean, Statesian, Nepalese, whatever) who dates people just because of their nationality.

    I was similarly peeved by the belittling “Do you know what ‘cachai’ means?” comments, although it strikes me that I might not have been if I’d just arrived in Chile and spoke very little Spanish.

    • I think you’re absolutely right, Leigh. There are many Chileans who simply want to broaden their horizons, but I think the difference is that they become friends with and/or date you as a person, and not your nationality! I suppose sometimes it’s hard to tell at first, but some gringo collectors are so sinverguenza you can tell right away. 😉

  5. Now I’m just sad that in all of my short-term-ness that no one has tried that hard to collect me. haha Funny that you post this, Ita and I had a nice long chat about the study abroad student collector just yesterday!

    • Umm, pretty sure that Friday night someone tried to collect you 😉 It was good you left early. Hahaha. Oh yeah, Ita knows all about him. She’s not a fan.

  6. I was a foreign collector on my campus in the ihouse.. it’s more exotic.. and more exciting.. and now look where I ended up.. in Chile with the foreigner i collected from ihouse one night.

    • Hmm, Lana. Hmmm!! But I think there are more reasons you love your bf than just the fact that he’s foreign, right? I agree that being foreign can be an initial attraction thing, but I think there are people who are able to get beyond that and know a person for who they are, and some people who unfortunately can’t get past it; they are superficial and have a relationship only on the surface.

  7. How very interesting. First time I’ve heard this term. Now I’m bummed I’ve never been collected! I’m assuming it’s probably because I look Chilena and usually hang out with my cousins and their friends? Hmmm….I’m gonna have to look out for this now.

    • So funny that people want to be collected! Be happy that you haven’t…it means people like you for who you are! I think it’s something you notice the most when you are around gringos a lot (like I am, working with them and all). And it’s not an official term… I think one of my friends used it once and it kind of stuck with me.

  8. Although I have never seen a gringo collector, I have seen this kind of behavior in many other places. In a way I think it is just human nature to feel curious about what it is unknown, and in extreme cases, it is the need to feel appreciated that make people “hang out with the cool kids” just to be seen doing that. Case in point, here in northern europe having dark hair is a sure way to be noticed and to have people around you. Extra points if you can dance salsa or merengue.
    Personally I feel sorry when I see people doing this kind of stuff. As you said earlier, it is annoying that people contact you just because you are different. Here I’m usually used as the “spanish speaking person”, just so some people can show off that they can speak spanish. Although to be completely honest, norwegians are quite shy, so the “collectors” are incredibly easy to spot.

  9. Abby! Good note, very funny to read.
    I didn’t know the term “gringo collector” hahah, but it doesn’t surprise me at all! I guess it must be annoying for you after so many years living in Chile. I haven’t met any “Chilean collector” in the UK yet. I will let you know if I meet one :p
    Cheers, and continue writing!!!

  10. I hate this phenomenon. But like others have said, it’s a natural tendency to be curious about people who are different from you. The problem comes when this fascination is only about having a trophy (aka the gring@s) to show off to friends. And then the trophy is disposable.
    I didn’t run into gring@ collectors in Guatemala as much. Most people there were too freaked out by me to say anything, or trying to figure out how my boyfriend “got” me, or they were my co-workers who spoke English fluently and/or traveled to the US and didn’t think I was anything special (just for being a gringa, but they thought I was awesome for being Kelly, obviously!).
    I would definitely love to hear if this type of thing happens in other countries.

    • The disposable part is another thing that really bothers me. What’s the point of having friends if they aren’t even going to miss you if/when you leave? For me, because I’m living here semi-permanently, I am especially wary of gringo collectors, because what if they get bored with me in 6 mos or a year and just find a new gringo friend?

  11. Nice post Abby–and great comments. I’m not so sure how to draw the line here… I think there are valid points being drawn on both sides-
    I mean, we as gringos came here, among other things, to meet people–Chilean people, to be precise. Does that make us Chilean collectors? (Probably! And many of us have established our own personal “Permanent Collection”!)
    And as others have pointed out, it’s a way for Chileans to get to know people from another culture, practice English, learn about other places and ways. It opens the door for an intercultural exchange… and that’s a good thing, right?
    So where does it take a turn toward the deep end? When it gets creepy… and you can find creeps on the fringes of any group…
    So, my point is that I wouldn’t be to hard on someone who wants to get to know some gringos (it would be a pretty lonely world for gringos here otherwise!), but just that foreigners in general need to keep their creep-guard up and decide if it’s a friendship worth pursuing or not…
    Does that make sense?

    • While I agree there is a fine line, I’m not talking about Chileans who want to be friends with Gringos because they like who they are as a person, or because they want to learn more about U.S. Culture, etc. That’s what friendship is all about. I’m talking about the Chileans who befriend group after group of exchange students semester after semester, or the chilen@ who has a different gringo boy/girlfriend every year. I’m in no way trying to alienate Chileans from being friends with gringos, I just know (partially from my job) that there are Chileans who are “friends” (aka surround themselves) with gringos to make themselves feel cool. The good thing is that the majority of Chileans are not like this, in my experience.

  12. Wher ar du frum? while eating a quick bite to eat…without any hesitation or sense of space: Gringo collector. And its not just Chilean guys…though they seem to be more aggressive..I’ve had friends that fell into the grips of a Chilena gringo collector. Though they weren’t complaining at first.

    And indeed we have the same thing in the states. Some people I’ve met in Latin America were Latina collectors that went to the source. Gotta find your flavor I suppose!

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