Study Abroad

One World, Different Cultures

Upon arriving in Chile, I had a certain expectation that I would not experience culture shock since I have already traveled to a Spanish speaking country in the past. My expectations were wrong. My first week here in Chile was rocky, as I am fighting off a nasty cold that I seemed to have contracted probably from the planes and the cold, rainy, fall weather here in Santiago. I have been going along with my day and silently complaining about minuscule things. It actually hit me like a brick yesterday after I was complaining to my mom on Face Time about how dirty the streets are and how people are always in your face trying to sell you something. This is culture shock – when you feel disoriented and almost angry about how things aren’t done like they would be at home. I have noticed that most people from the United States feel entitled and that is the stereotype that Chileans have about us. That we are all rich, entitled white people. I want to disrupt this stereotype while I am here, because I know that all Americans do not fall into this category. Americans will no longer feel entitled if they travel to a foreign country, especially Chile. It makes you take a step back and appreciate the things you do have and the opportunities that are presented to you. The world is so much bigger than ourselves and the material things we own.

With that being said, below I will outline some of the key cultural differences that I have noticed in Chile, and how they differ from Spain.

Santiago, Chile:

  • They do not throw toilet paper or other items in the toilet and flush. There are waste baskets next to all the toilets and basically you wipe, and throw your paper in the waste basket to avoid clogging the toilet.
  • Chileans place a large emphasis on greetings. When meeting with someone or saying goodbye, you kiss once on the right cheek.
  • There are stray dogs everywhere. There is no law to prevent the dogs from being in the streets.
  • Cigarette smoking is common. As is having red or purple hair.
  • “Onces” is what they call tea time right before eating dinner. The meal schedule here is pretty similar to that in Spain.
  • Chileans wear their shoes in the house at all times. My host mom laughed at me when I walked around the house in my socks.
  • There are people who sell items such as clothes, food, and stuffed animals that are usually knock-off brands in the streets. They are called callejeros and it is illegal in Chile. They are EVERYWHERE.
  • Streets are generally dirty and and a little smelly.
  • Abortion is illegal here and so is recreational marijuana. Although I did see a callejero a couple of days ago selling weed and chocolate?
  • Everybody has a very good sense of fashion and they all wear scarves. It is Fall right now, so the weather has been a bit nippy. We are right next to the Andes mountains, and yesterday it snowed up there!
  • Chileans beat around the bush. They won’t give you a straight answer or confront issues right away. They also tend to run late and will never be on time to an event.
  • People do not understand the concept of personal space. They will get very close to you even if they don’t have to.
  • On the metro, people will sing and sell candy bars to make extra cash. It is not allowed for people to give them money, but it happens anyway.
  • Machismo is a social norm here. This means that it is normal for the woman to perform all of the house duties and provide food and cleaning for the husbands.
  • It is common for children in their 20’s and 30’s to live at home with their parents. My host parents have three grown children and two of them live in the house. One is married and has a 4 year old daughter who also lives in the house. One big family!
  • The Chilean Spanish accent is extremely fast. Sometimes, I cannot understand a word they say. They also use different slang than Spain Spanish.
  • Grape juice is green.

Bilbao, Spain

  • Toilet paper is okay to put in the toilet and flush.
  • When greeting someone in Spain, you kiss on both cheeks. It is not necessary to do so when saying goodbye.
  • No stray dogs. There were a TON of dogs in Spain, but they were all domesticated.
  • Cigarette smoking was also very common in Spain.
  • Instead of “onces,” the Basque culture has pinxtos which translate to “appetizers.” Pinxtos were a common lunch menu item.
  • It was okay to not wear shoes in the house.
  • In Bilbao, callejeros were not as common. I remember seeing them on one specific street and the police was always there to catch them. It is illegal in Spain as well.
  • The streets in Bilbao were always impeccably clean. They had garbage trucks and street cleaners running three times a day.
  • Abortions in Spain are legal under some circumstances. Like Chile, recreational marijuana is also illegal in Spain.
  • Great sense of fashion! I think that’s just a European thing though.
  • Spaniards also tend to beat around the bush. They will not give you a distinct “yes” or “no.” Running late is also common.
  • My personal space was invaded a lot in Spain, but I got used to it.
  • There were never people on the metro asking for money in Bilbao. I think Santiago has a fairly poor population which is why these types of actions are common. Bilbao/Getxo was a wealthier area.
  • From what I saw in Spain, machismo did not exist. I noticed the male playing a larger role in helping care for the wife and kids. The male was always the one pushing the stroller and carrying the bags.
  • In Spain, it is also common for children to live at home during their 20’s.
  • Spain Spanish is pretty basic, but in Bilbao there was a large Basque population meaning the accent was slightly different. Chilean Spanish is a whole language in itself. Everyday I am learning new vocabulary and trying to blend in as a local. I think there are more people in Chile that speak English than in Spain. Most everyone I have encountered speaks some English.
  • In both Chile and Spain, breakfast is small and sometimes nonexistent. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day and lasts from 1-3pm. Dinner is then served around 8-9pm. My host mom in Spain and here in Chile both stay up until about midnight and wake up very late in the morning. They do not have a set schedule.

While Spain and Chile have a ton of similarities, they also have some key differences that have taken some getting used to on my part. Each day I learn something new, whether it be a new Spanish word, or a new cultural norm. My routine for each day starts with me waking up at 9am and making my breakfast. I usually make two fried eggs, yogurt, toast with butter or cheese, fruit (apple, orange, avocado), and of course, tea. I get ready for school and head to the metro around 11:30am to meet with some friends for lunch near the school. My commute to school takes about 45 minutes, which isn’t too bad. Very similar to my commute in Spain. My Advanced Spanish class starts at 1:30pm and ends at 4:20pm. Afterwards, we either find a snack to eat before walking around for our next adventure, or like yesterday we go to dance class from 6-8pm. Yesterday, we learned salsa and bachata! Probably the highlight of my trip so far. The days are long, but each day brings something new and this weekend I will be doing much more exploring if the weather permits. Looking forward to sharing more experiences with you all! Ciao!

2 thoughts on “One World, Different Cultures

  1. I enjoy reading your blog & hearing about your experiences. Enjoy your time there & stay safe! Love, Aunt Maureen


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s