Monday, July 28, 2008

A divided country

So basically one of the first things many gringos ask about when or before we get to Chile is Pinocho. It's a taboo subject among the natives because talking about El General is pretty much guaranteed to lead to the same old tired argument that has two positions: he was good for Chile, he was bad for Chile. There is no, "well, things sucked with Allende, so perhaps a cous de etat was necessary, but maybe Pinocho & co. se fue en la volada killing innocent people, etc." Seventeen years is a hell-ass long freaking time to have had him as dictator/general of this country and people have strong opinions about him...basically they love him or they hate him. Perhaps there are people out there who actually lived in Chile during those years and are indifferent or ambivalent about him. They probably live in Puyuhuapi. Anyway, I do plan to ask people their feelings about "El general" to see if I hear anything new with regards to the subject. I haven't brought the topic up since like 2000, because I got bored of hearing the same 2 answers...that he's great or that he sucked...and the same ideas and people, enfatically discussed over and over: communists, socialists*, civil war, capitalism, los desaparecidos, human rights, etc. Any other positions out there or am I accurate to say it's just these two?

*When I've heard Chileans talk about socialists, I get the impression they make it a synonym of communists. Anyone else feel this way?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Can I just say I'm sick of the freaking English language?

I'm sick of writing "their" instead of "there". Meet you their, rather than meet you there. Really I think the whole English language should be re-transcribed, tackling the fundamental problem at the heart of English spelling: it was transcribed with the Latin alphabet, which only has 5 written vowels, whereas English has something like 14 vowel sounds. This is a problem. Let's compare this with Spanish which has 5 vowels and 5 vowel sounds. Sheer genius. We need an English spelling reform, because being an expat, all these annoying spelling exceptions are forgotten. And that's not okay when you are an English teacher. It's embarrassing being corrected by my students.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Porque Colo Colo es Chile

So after four and a half years in Chile, three and a half of which I have spent lots of time watching soccer games on TV, especially Colo Colo, the Chile national team, European leagues, etc., I finally stumbled upon a good opportunity to see Colo Colo en vivo. Yupi. The game was played in the Estadio Monumental at three thirty in the afternoon and was very exciting because 1) I actually saw the team live and 2) I experienced what it was like in general, how the fans were, the vendors, the 500-peso shot of coffee, etc. It was a bit overwhelming at first. I was soooo excited, because más encima Colo-Colo is my fave sports team in the world. I was super curious to see what it would be like, what would surprise me about it and I was excited to see the game LIVE. Yay.

Once upon a time I went to a hockey game in Prague and I remember the highlight was the mulled wine they sold between periods. A warm tasty beverage to combat the cool December evening. jeje I can assure you they don't sell alcohol at Colo Colo games porque quedaría la mansa cagá. The highlight of this game, apart from seeing Colo Colo play LIVE, was la garra blanca. There were no cheerleaders at the Colo Colo game. They aren't at all necessary. Instead there is a whole section of dedicated Colo Colo fans that make up the self-designated "garra blanca" (the white fighting spirit) whose motto is: "Tu muerte fue jugando. Lo nuestro será cantando." They lived up to their motto and sang the whole entire game from start to finish, taking a break only at half-time. The garra blanca has this big, loud drum to keep the beat. (I think this is typicalyof soccer fans in Chile and perhaps the Greater Latin America.) They continued playing after the game, while we filed out and headed to the car parked at a nearby mall. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I have heard the garra blanca is composed mostly of flaytes, so while they give ambiance and entertain, they are best kept at a distance.

The Rangers won 3-2, BOO, but it was a pretty good game. The ref seemed a bit unfair, but it's harder to judge this live because there were no instant replays to get a better look at what happened. The funny thing was, a couple of times during the game I found myself waiting for the instant replay. Once for a possible foul and another time I wanted to see the replay of a goal. But no, this doesn't exist en vivo, duh. Perhaps I should go to live games more often. I must've overdosed on soccer games viewed on TV. The other thing I felt was missing was the roster. Claro, on TV, the commentary people say the names of the players all the time. But since Suazo and Sanchéz have moved on to other teams, I only know one of the players by memory - Sanhueza. Obviously most Colo Colo fans probably know the key players by name, so a roster is totally unnecessary, but I would have enjoyed having one. Perhaps I can check out the official website before going to the next game. Or bring a radio, like what some people do to listen to the commentary. En fin, estuvo entrete la cuestión. A ver si voy a otro más adelante.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

deja vu?

I took this picture in 2006, graffiti-art in Valpo.

Santiago 2008

Puta que tienen buen graffiti.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Garage sales in Chile: lost in translation

I've had two quasi garage sales in Chile and I'm clear that the Chileans had no idea WHAT I was doing selling my stuff so cheap. But they did understand I was selling pretty nice things for good prices. And that's all they had to understand to participate. Before moving from Valpo to Santiago, I went through my closet to get rid of things that didn't fit right or that were a bit old and worn out. I gave some of my stuff to friends, but the things no one wanted I got ready to take to Avenida Argentina on Wednesday. I laid everything out in my apartment first to make sure it all fit on the plastic I had. I imagined the porteños were going to descend upon my goods pretty quickly and it was going to be total chaos once I got to the Avenida. So I wanted to have a go-through at laying out all my stuff once beforehand. Here's the test run in my apartment:

I got to Avenida Argentina and laid out my stuff and sat and waited. I was at the very end of the line of people selling used stuff. On Wednesdays people line up for blocks with their stuff laid out like so. I was surprised that people walked by and didn't even "pescar". I'm sure they thought it was weird that a gringa was there selling her stuff. They probably assumed my prices were comparable to the other vendors, or even more expensive since my clothing was from the States and probably better quality than theirs. After about 20 minutes sitting there reading the newspaper, a woman finally came up and asked how much something cost. I gave her such a cheap price she didn't even try to bargain with me. There was no point. If she hadn't bought the item, someone else would have for that price. They were garage-sale prices. The thing is, all the other vendors there sell used stuff to supplement their income, so their prices are correspondingly higher. The idea of a garage sale barely exists here in Chile. I have seen signs for a garage sale in the Barnechea here in Santiago, once, but have never seen a garage sale here. Old stuff is much more valuable here at the end of the world.

My part of the sidewalk soon turned into a small tornado of porteños asking me how much my stuff costed and passing me the money. I sold almost everything in about 10 minutes. A few people walked off with stuff without paying, but I imagined that would happen, and it didn't bother me. The point was to make a few bucks while getting rid of extra stuff. I kind of did it for the experience of it all. I was curious what it would be like. I got the idea from a friend of mine and her husband; they had sold a few things there before relatively quickly, pocketed the cash and were off.

When the crowd finally moved on, I was left with only a few things. It was time to go home. The vendedora kiddy corner from me started talking to me, so I went over to chat with her. She was disappointed that her sales weren't as good as mine, and was perhaps a little upset with me. She may have felt I stole her clients. I doubt it. I've never seen a Chilean street vendor stormed the way I was. And I did it ONCE in Valpo, whereas she's probably there every Wednesday and Saturday. If she'd had any idea what I was doing, she would have bought me out and then easily resold my things at double or triple the price. I empathized a bit with her and offered what was left. She was going to be there all day selling anyway. That seemed to cheer her up. Plus it was nice for me. Otherwise I would have had to have gone to Calle Serrano to give the rest to the used clothing store there. (One of the places that blew up in February 2007 because of a gas leak.)

Garage Sale number II: The garage sale to end all garage sales in Chile.
After living in Santiago for a year, I had some more things that I was getting no use of. This time I went to Parque Forestal, where people sell their used stuff in Santiago Centro. I felt a bit more at home there, because while in Valpo all the people selling stuff were older, here in Santiago, all the people were about my age. They were selling some pretty cute stuff. I was looking forward to selling quickly so I could check out their things. I had just got my clothing laid out when a cop started walking down the street talking to the vendors. He worked his way up the street until he got to me. He said we all had to leave because we didn't have permission to sell our things. Of course, coming from a garage-sale culture, I cross-examined the police dude trying to understand WHAT the problem was. The core of the matter was that the licensed vendedores nearby complained about the "informal" vendedores because we steal all the customers. We could sell at a better price since the informal vendors don't pay taxes. That was a good-enough explanation for me. Well, that, and I had no other choice but to pack up. With a bit of frustration --I hadn't had this problem in Valpo-- I moved on. I was having a hard time accepting that this wasn't going to work out because I had a HUGE backpack full of stuff and didn't feel like going all the way home with it. What a waste of an afternoon. So I walked down some random street near Cal y Canto, and pulled the stuff out of my backpack and set up on the sidewalk. I was the only one selling things. So this generous Chilean dude came up to me, a gringa with her backpack, selling everything in it, and asked me what had happened. They kicked us out of Parque Forestal- I said- I'm just selling some stuff. He walked on. About five minutes later he came back with chocolate milk and cookies and handed them to me. And then he handed me like 2000 pesos. I tried to refuse the food and money. He didn't get it at all. And how would he? He thought I was a gringa backpacker who was so broke that I was resorting to selling all of my belongings to scrap some change together to have lunch and maybe find a hostel, since más encima, they'd just kicked me out of the park! He probably thought I was sleeping in the Park. It bothered me a bit that he didn't understand that I was FINE, and just trying to get rid of some stuff and make some pocket change simultaneously. Le estaba pasando películas con cuático. He wouldn't listen to my explanations because he was SURE I was a broke backpacker. I realized there was no way this experience would translate into his reality except with me as the broke backpacker. So I gave in. He handed me the food and money, turned around, and hurried off.

Then, you know those people who take care of parked cars here in Chile? They turned into my clients. I had a couple nice pairs of men's shoes and pants that I was selling. They were putting together their tips to come buy half of my stuff. Meanwhile, a few passerbys stopped and bought clothing. I was done in about a half hour. On my way home, I decided not to have any more garage sales here. Because in a place that doesn't have the affluence of the States, the culture really doesn't support this type of thing and CLEARLY doesn't understand it.

Future useless things I donated to the hogar de cristo, but finally I figured out the best solution for old stuff is leaving it in the closet by the garbage shoot. That way, either my neighbors take the stuff, or more likely, the people cleaning the building get it. And I'm sure it's very useful for them. It works as a bit of a supplement to their pay, a tip. And it's easier to get rid of stuff. This method works well for everyone.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The "Chilean yes" revisited

Well like Emma and the people who have commented on her blog entry have made clear, the "Chilean yes" is not always a "yes yes". Personally, I interpret it more as "that's-a-really-cool-idea-if-it-works-out yes". Although sometimes I do believe it is more like a no, but the person says yes anyway just so as to not cagar la onda. This can be a bit difficult to deal with if you have stuff you need to get done, like teaching English classes, especially if you are on a schedule. It is convenient to be able to distinguish between these shades of yes. Oh yes! But personally I think, even the person who is saying yes, doesn't always know if their yes is a yes yes, a maybe yes, or a no yes. One thing to do in this kind of situation is to try to be in communication as much as possible with the other person.

Sometimes a person will stand you up you had were going to meet at a time and an hour and the other person doesn't show. I must say this has happened to me, but rarely. And then they don't even call to say they weren't going. Now if this happened with a gringo friend of mine, this would scare me, because I would think something had happened to them. I would call to see if they were okay. One day, I was stood up by a Chilean and confused about the whole thing, like asking myself if there had been a mis-communication, did I really make plans with this person? Am I living in some fantasy world? I was sure I'd made plans. Out my confusion came a very clear thought...well, obviously if la Vero didn't show up, she couldn't come. It was so obvious, I laughed aloud. It's just that simple. The next time I will be sure to confirm with her before we get together. Now that I've said this...most of my Chilean friends won't stand me up. They will call to say they can't go, if we have set a place and time to get together, and something comes up.

Now there is a second type of "yes" during the formation of plans. It's like an incubation period. This is before a date and time are specified. With some friends the realization of plans are more assured than with others. Some plans don't survive this period and sort of die off and are not spoken of again. But it's okay because we had never set a time and place. And it was a possibility that just died off. It can always be reincarnated at a better moment in the future. This exists in gringolandia too-when you have "tentative plans", but in the end they don't work out. However, I think its much more common that plans die before they are hatched here in Chile. So I do think that from time to time we gringos confuse "tentative plans" with "actual plans". In my experience, Chilean plans do generally have a more tentative character to them.

Plus I think it’s better that plans fall through from time to time. I think gringos are a bit too “forzados” about things sometimes and this really kills the onda. Although, there is also a time for being forzado about things, especially when dealing with inertia. It’s like you need the right mix of onda and commitment/forzado-ness to get together and have a good time.

For me, the biggest frustration of the "Chilean yes" was not understanding it. As soon as I understood it, I could employ it as well. Why would I do this? Well, this type of “yes” has its strength. It keeps the possibility open, maintains the buena onda. Sometimes the “gringo no” is a total possibility killer. Nobody wants to kill possibility, possibilities like going out dancing together, or making sushi, or having an asado and watching the Chilean National Soccer Team, or crocheting with your boyfriend's grandma. But sometimes in life, we have to say no to some of these possibilities because we are already with work, or with other friends in other places, or maybe you're sick or tired, etc. You can't always say yes, can you? Maybe not a good idea. So when do I employ the "Chilean yes"? I haven't distinguished too many subtleties about when I give this yes, but I do do it. But there are two cases where I will give it and I haven't even paid attention how often I do it, because I learned it by osmosis, and was not even conscious that I do it until just lately. If I notice that someone (usually a Chilean) is going out on a limb, like arriesgandose to invite me to get together with them, and, for whatever reason, I can't, I will sometimes say yes. I think I'm safe to say that most (perhaps all) human beings don't like rejection. Now some cope with it better than others, but who likes to be turned down? Not many people. In these situations, the yes I give isn't a yes yes. It's a that-would-be-really-cool-if-it-worked-out yes. (This leaves the person inviting you more likely to invite you again in the future, because since you said yes, you obviously were interested. Unless of course you always say yes and then always cancel, because in the end this is like saying no.)

I don't know if the other person notices what kind of yes I'm giving. Perhaps they do. Perhaps they don't. But the important thing is I'm not matando la onda. Although in this stage of the “incubation period” of our plans, I don't generally commit to a time and place. And if that moment arrives (it doesn't always) to set a time and place, or if the invitation comes up again, and I'm sure I can't go, then I will say I really wanted to but...this happened. But this is a lot gentler than saying no outright, off the bat. And how do you know, like really know, that you aren't going to be able to go, anyway? Perhaps the stars will align (as they do for me, from time to time) and you will be able to go after all.[1]

After I started saying yes when I meant no or maybe, I realized that occasionally plan A would fall through and all of the sudden my no yes became yes yes. And this is really important in Chile because my experience is that plans fall through more often here than in the States. So this is the second occasion when I’ll use a no yes or maybe yes. If I have tentative plans with someone else, which I can’t confirm or dis-confirm when invited to do plans B, I sometimes say yes, when really it’s a maybe yes. And of course you can say...I'm doing such and such a thing that day and if it works out, I'll meet up with you afterward.

Not all Chileans are so ambiguous about making plans, nor do they all stand you up. Actually, as I was writing this, I was chatting on msn with a Chilean friend, and I didn't even mention what I was writing and he tells me he had been stood up by a friend the other day and it bothered him, he asked me, “how can people be so indolent?” Although I empathized with him, it struck my funny bone that he brought the subject up just at that moment.

He went on to make a really good point on punctuality: “Creo que es sentido común [llegar a la hora], somos seres sociales y funcionamos con reloj.” He’s right.

On the other hand, what I like about a certain impunctuality that I perceive in Chilean culture is that there is more tolerance for people who arrive a bit late, which is nice, because I don’t always arrive on time either.

So the "Chilean yes" has it's strength, especially when negotiating the social world. The important thing is being able to distinguish it and knowing how to work with it.

Note: I am distinguishing cultural phenomenon using Thick Description (I'll probably formulate an abstract of this theory at some point in this blog's life). Here and here are a couple of summaries.

[1] Alejandro Jodorowsky wrote about this a bit in one of his books. What I remember reading was something like this…he was invited to do a conference in some place and he didn’t even go because he intuitively knew that, although he had agreed to do this a certain time and place, that it wasn’t going to work out. So when he doesn’t show, someone goes to find him and she brings him to the place he’s supposed to give the conference…and they realize there has been a problem, the people were all there to see a different speaker, because the conference date was mixed up on the advertisements. Jodorowsky said…I told you it wasn’t going to work out. But he ended up giving his conference anyway. It’s a funny story. Anyway, so its almost like sometimes you have to make your plans as much with your intuition as with reality.