Let me set the scene for you, readers. It is 3:22 p.m. in Santiago, Chile (that’s right, the time is different; as of last Saturday night, Chile is one hour ahead of South Carolina time). I am sitting in front of my computer with a bottle of water and a giant Hershey bar, listening to a non-stop playlist of Counting Crows, Santana, and Ed Sheeran, and sitting in my new favorite study spot – the Spacio Uno gas station two blocks from my house. Yeah, I said it—a gas station. It seems weird, but really, it’s the best place to study. Gas stations here are a lot different than in the States; they are like what you would get if you mixed a Starbucks with a Wendy’s with a…well, a gas station. Plus this particular one has free wi-fi, so, you know, it’s pretty much heaven.
I realize it seems a bit strange, hanging out in a gas station, but to be honest, a lot of the stuff that’s happened to me in the last six and a half weeks has been a little strange. Since I don’t have anything specific to talk about today, I think I’ll just ramble on about my strange Chilean experiences. Close encounters of the foreign kind, I’ll call it.
(Note: I would be embarrassed about all of this if it happened in the United States, but it’s Chile. I’m a foreigner for the first time in my life, and I’m enjoying every bit of it!)
Story #1: The Bus
After class on Thursday, I went to Kirsten’s house to do homework (which, unfortunately, means “to eat an entire bag of Doritos and sit on Facebook for three hours”). Since she lives in a different comuna than I do, I have to take a bus to get home. I leave her house at 9:00, and of course, get lost on my way to the bus stop…but no worries, my natural sense of direction (ha, ha) kicks in after a few minutes and I walk up to the bus stop—only to watch three of my buses surge past. Slightly annoyed (but more resigned to the fact that the Chilean micro system will ALWAYS get the better of me), I sit down on the bench and waitefor the next bus.
After ten or fifteen minutes of waiting (in a safe area, fortunately), I get on the bus, and, to my relief, there is a seat available on the bus. It’s not that I really need to sit down; it’s more like I feel bad when I stand up and inevitably smack everyone on the bus with my enormous backpack. Plus the backpack throws off my balance, when I’m already convinced that Santiago bus drivers set a quota for how many people they can send flying per bus ride (the best was when the bus driver slammed on the gas as I bent over to pick up my dropped phone…first legitimate somersault I’ve ever done).
I’m sitting on the bus when a friend notices me and comes over to talk to me (let me first say that he probably saw me bouncing my head and singing along to “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z before he said hello), and we exchange the usual pleasantries. As we’re talking, I notice a man with clown makeup board the bus. I think nothing of it; it’s completely normal in Santiago for performers to hop on buses and try to collect tip money from travelers (Kirsten and I have decided that we’re going to start singing on the bus to avoid paying bus fare…videos coming never).
That is, I think nothing of it until he starts talking to me. That’s when I look around and realize I’m the only gringa on the bus. I try to tell the clown I’m Chilean so he’ll leave me alone, but he is having none of that (eh, it was worth a shot). He tells me he is a maricón (rude word for a homosexual), then decides to compare our tastes in men. He asks me how I’m liking Chilean men, asks me if I prefer my men older or younger, and asks me when I’m getting myself a Chilean boyfriend. At this point, everyone is staring at me and smirking, my face is BRIGHT red, and I’m desperately looking out the window and praying that my stop is coming soon. Once I see the white building that means my stop is coming up, I mash the orange button (the button that tells the bus driver to stop…because if you don’t push it, you’re not getting off the bus!), and run off the bus, barely saying goodbye to my friend. For a socially awkward person like me, having a bus full of people stare at you is hell on earth—and my cheeks were on fire to prove it.
Well, as it turns out, I only have one really good story in me today. Here are some other completely random observations/happenings though!
1. Sometimes I feel like men here have never seen a white girl. They act like we’re aliens! When Kirsten and I walk down the street together, it’s not uncommon for men to stare at us or whistle at us. However, what WAS uncommon was the group of men who gave us a standing ovation on the street…and the men who came up to us at a restaurant and demanded that we take pictures with them…and the other men who took pictures of us without our knowledge/permission at a club.
2. Although my Spanish is starting to get better now (to the point where I saw a movie in Spanish yesterday and actually understood it), at first I would just smile and nod whenever I didn’t understand something. This got me into some uncomfortable situations…believe it or not, not every question is a yes/no question! (I also accidentally told somebody that I do drugs…then spent the next hour trying to explain to him that I’m not a druggie…I’m just so bad at Spanish that I didn’t understand the question.)
3. I discovered that the best food in Chile can’t be found in supermarkets or restaurants—it’s in carts on the side of the road! Best find so far? A cart where, for one US dollar, you buy a large helping of meat on a stick. In theory, it’s gross, but in practice…well, it’s still pretty gross. But it’s delicious!
4. Speaking of food, the best part of having Chilean friends with apartments is that they let us cook for them whenever we want—as long as they get to eat too! The other night, Kirsten and I made a typical American breakfast: pancakes, scrambled eggs, and bacon (I actually cooked a significant portion of it myself, if you can believe it). We thought it was delicious, especially when we put chocolate chips in the pancakes—but I’m not sure our friends felt the same. They complained that it’s weird to have salty food (bacon) with sweet food (chocolate chips). We told them to shut their mouths and broaden their horizons, though, so we didn’t hear any complaints after that!
5. Today at lunch, I found out that Elvis isn’t dead. He’s actually alive and well, living one country over, in Argentina! Amazing, the things you learn in a foreign country.
6. One of my favorite parts about being friends with Kirsten is her host family. Her host parents have a 3 year old granddaughter named Matilde (“Mati”), who is just adorable. She’s too afraid to talk to me—which is just as well, because I have no idea how to talk to a child in Spanish. Seeing her really makes me miss coaching and my swim team kids though!
7. I think I finally stopped looking completely out of place—sometimes, people even come up to me and ask me for directions! Unfortunately, even though I don’t look it, I always FEEL completely out of place, so usually I just say “No sé” or (my preferred way of handling it) point in a random direction and giggle to myself as they walk off.
I think that’s all I have for today. I’m sorry this blog post was kind of all over the place—I’m just not in the right mood to focus on any one subject…plus I’m all out of chocolate! But, before I leave, some Chilean Spanish lessons:
“pololo/polola”: The Chilean word for boyfriend/girlfriend. “But, Ashleigh, we learned in Spanish class that the word for boyfriend is ‘novio’!” I know, I know. But here, a “novio” is a fiancé. “Pololo” is a little less serious, but still a defined relationship, perfectly appropriate to change your Facebook relationship status for. “Pololear” is the verb form of it, meaning to date somebody.
Example: Most people who’ve been to Chile say the best way to improve your Spanish is to find a Chilean pololo!
“fome”: Pronounced “foe-may,” this is a word for something that’s really boring. Classes are fome, writing essays about the Chilean healthcare system is fome (guess what I’m doing later?), and this blog post is probably very fome.
Example: I have to write an essay about the Chilean healthcare system… ¡Qué fome!