Friday, August 16, 2013

Santiago de Chile: First Impressions

The view of Santiago from Cerro Santa Lucia
It's amazing how much you can learn about a place in only a month, and how much your perspective can change in such a short amount of time. Coming to Santiago, Chile is like nothing I've ever done before; it's completely different from my experience of first arriving in Japan. In 2010 I arrived in Japan with so much knowledge about the culture, the language, the customs... of course, I still had a great deal to learn, but as I took in my new surroundings, I found so many things that I recognized from Japanese classes and books and movies.

In Chile, everything feels new to me. There's so little here that I recognize that everyday feels like an adventure. The first couple weeks especially so, when I was settling in and exploring the city and trying to understand what Chilean culture is. People would recommend things to me and say, "Oh, you have to try this, it's so Chilean!" and I would be completely mystified as to what made it unique to Chile.

The Terremoto, or "earthquake", a drink consisting of cheap wine, cheap liqueur and cheap ice cream. It's basically a nasty hangover in a plastic cup. For reasons yet unknown to me, it's meant to be "very Chilean".
But after a month in, I'm starting to put some of the puzzle pieces together. It's a slow process, but now I'm beginning to understand when someone says something is "Chilean." Here are some of my first impressions about the city and the culture:

  • Chileans are very warm people. My students and Chilean friends always greet me with a kiss on the cheek, even in my business English classes people aren't afraid to speak up or play games, and they definitely aren't shy. Sometimes Chileans are a little too warm: public displays of affection are commonplace and enthusiastic, making us gringas pretty uncomfortable.
  • Santiago is surrounded by stunning nature. Every time you turn a street corner in Santiago you're presented by gorgeous panoramas of the Andes. Sadly they're often hidden by the smog, but on clear days they're breath-taking.
  • The Spanish here is very interesting, even a beginner like me can tell its different. For example, people frequently drop the -s from the ends of words, so the entire class of verbs in Spanish that go with the pronoun tu are conjugated differently here.
  • The food is not at all what I was expecting. I came thinking it'd be a lot of beans and rice, like Mexican food, but in reality what I found was a lot of completos, or condiment heavy hot dogs, chili fries and meat pies called empanadas. If you take the time to find more traditional food, you can get gems like ceviche, marinated fish, or a meat and vegetable stew called cazuela. Most things are very mild and a lot of people seem pretty wary of spicy food.
  • Chilean apartments share many of the same bad qualities as Japanese apartments. In other words, they don't have central heating, there's a washing machine but no dryer, and it's very difficult for foreigners to get an apartment without a Chilean guarantor. Luckily Anna and I were able to find a studio in an awesome neighborhood with a great view of the Andes- so we're very happy here!
So far I really Santiago. I like the atmosphere and how colorful it is, how you can find old Spanish style buildings next to vibrant graffiti murals and outdoor markets. The nightlife has been fun and there are lots of interesting things to do around the city during the day as well. I'm really looking forward to taking some trips outside the city soon, especially out to the ocean-side city of Valparaiso. I'll write more about my travels and my new job soon!

PS- Sorry this post is so text heavy and lacking in photos, but my current internet connection is really crappy. I will try and come back to this post and add photos later!


  1. The Terremoto sounds terrible. I'm so glad you're able to tell us a little about where you are and what you're doing.

  2. Wish I could be updating more, but the internet connection really sucks at the moment. I'll definitely try and make up for that later, there's so much more about Santiago and Chile that I want to post about.

  3. The Apoquindo Waterfall is a waterfall in Waters of Ramon Natural Park on the east side of Santiago, Chile. We can visit here on our holiday or vacation. Find out more or transport related problem you can lease a car from any of the car rental dealer.