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.
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.