How my best friend helped me in South America

This post is long overdue, but back in February I finally received a visitor from back home! It just so happened that it was my bff, Laura.

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Here she is on our country’s honorary street in Santiago.

Laura came less than a month after I had returned from Brazil. For the better part of December and January I was out of the country and definitely not being forced to practice my Spanish. I have to admit, when I was leaving Brazil and heard Spanish being announced over the speakers at the airport, I was relieved to hear a language I could understand much more than Portuguese, but I have still maintained a low level of confidence in my own Spanish proficiency.

It’s really hard to gauge your own progress and measure your own growth when you still have trouble communicating and are still hoping for the ease and comfort of being fluent. I sometimes forget to celebrate the small victories and to acknowledge the ability I already have.

Once Laura came to visit, my role in Chile changed. I was no longer just the foreigner, but I was the tour guide. I was able to show her around my city without so much as looking at a map (ok, there were two times I had to look up a new place I wasn’t familiar with, but that was it, I swear!). I introduced her to traditional food and drink and helped her adjust to culture differences, most of which had to do with stray dogs and Chilean kiss greetings, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Probably the most important role change for me was that I became the translator. Anywhere we went, I was obligated to translate for both parties, whether that was ordering at a restaurant or relaying to her conversations with my roommate. This was something I was really needing in my time here, a chance to see what I was truly capable of when two other parties do not know the other language. She expressed her gratitude in having me available to translate, and for lack of a better word, that just felt awesome! Here I was, actually helping somebody with the Spanish that I knew. I realized that I had actually accomplished something in my time here and that I was indeed capable of speaking Spanish.

If she had never come, I really don’t know if I would have had such a revelation. In truth, after she left I felt much less confident again. But her being here made me realize that I had accomplished something and that I can do what I had set out to do in the first place! Speak Spanish! So yes, my best friend did me a major favor in coming to visit. It was a week and a half that I don’t want to forget!

She took many great shots of the city.

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These were on our climb up Cerro San Cristóbal on a perfect summer afternoon/early evening.

Getting to the virgin at the top:

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Mote con huesillos!

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One of the top ice cream parlors in the world.

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I had to include this picture because of the memory it marks. A random Chilean guy saw us taking pictures of each other downtown and decided to intervene. He was determined to use his very little knowledge of English to communicate with us and insisted that we needed to take a picture with both of us in it because we were too beautiful to do otherwise. He volunteered to take the picture, but unfortunately, had a very difficult time handling the iphone. He ended up taking a picture of half his face before finally snapping the one below.

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We went to the lookout at the top of this building, the Sky Costanera Center. It is the tallest building in Latin America!

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I love this! This was not the only time her name was written as “Dora” on a Starbucks cup…it happened quite a few times! It’s one of the reasons I never say “Heidi” at Starbucks anymore. From now on I’m “Ana”, taken from my middle name, “Ann”.

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High class pisco sour!!

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Laura trying her first (and maybe only) terremoto!

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The night we went to this bar/restaurant, we were the only people sitting upstairs, and we got a table on a small balcony with a great view of the street! I have to say, I miss the summer evenings. The weather was so nice!

After dinner, we wanted to take a picture so I asked a waiter if he wouldn’t mind taking one for us. After he took it, we got to talking, mostly about some major differences between Santiago and Dallas (he was really curious). We actually ended up having quite the conversation, and poor Laura could only patiently wait for us as she didn’t understand Spanish (keep in mind, it’s very rare to run into someone in Chile who speaks English). When we turned to leave, the waiter said goodbye to me the Chilean way in a social situation, which is a kiss on the cheek. In Chile, however, you can also receive a greeting or goodbye kiss just because you know someone else in the exchange. So she was involved by association, and put in yet another uncomfortable situation.

Let’s discuss this really quickly. As a tourist to this country, you will most likely never be put in that situation. The Chilean kiss greetings are done in a social setting, so there’s really no reason you would have to make such an excheange with hostel workers or anyone in the service or tourist industry. However, when Laura came, she met my friends and was thrown right into the local culture. And it’s true, someone who you just met will lean forward and kiss your cheek. And it’s so funny watching a foreigner freeze from the level of discomfort. I know I was once in the same position, and I’m wondering how I’ll transition back to culture in the states! What if I accidentally kiss someone..

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Castillo at the top of Cerro Santa Lucia.

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As I mentioned before, the other big culture shock for Laura was the reality of all the stray dogs. Everywhere. Back home, a stray dog is kind of a big deal, and usually dangerous. Here, they’re practically other pedestrians and impossible to avoid. They even know when to cross the busy streets at the right time. The thing is, sometimes they love to follow you for a while and won’t go away. This is what really unnerved Laura.

She only captured a few in pictures, but we encountered many of them in her time here that came too close for her comfort.

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It was so good to have her visit and have the opportunity to introduce her to Chile! I wish many more of my friends could come as well, but I’m very grateful to have even had one visitor!

If you would like to check out Laura’s perception on some of the cultural differences, check out her bit below:

The concept of safety in Chile is much different than in Texas. On numerous occasions I was informed of my ineptitude of distinguishing what was safe and what was not. Just to give context, I was a flight attendant for a couple of years working mainly international flights; consequently I have some experience in how to be ‘smart’ in foreign lands while still enjoying the scenery. My good friend that lives in Santiago showed me around Plaza de Armas and I took my phone out to take some much needed touristy photos—that was a no no. A local hurried to my side and let me know that this area was not safe to use a phone like mine, instead I should keep my phone hidden until out of that area. This was an issue since I had a desire to document my stay there.

Another time, I went to the bank to get some cash which was one of the most unusual experiences I’ve ever had getting money from an ATM. First off, the machines there are so finicky that it was difficult to figure out how to withdraw any money. Needless to say, I had to ask for help from one of the associates—keep in mind that in Chile hardly anyone speaks English. We struggled with my broken Spanish and his gestures of trying to explain what I needed to do in order to get money from the ATM. The bank was closing—they close at 2pm for the day! I was now locked inside with the associate who then took me to a back room to meet with another associate that was suppose to understand English (at least that is what I thought) and we went through the same charade of trying to figure out how I could get money from my card. It was now well after 2pm and I was ready to call it quits but they convinced me to try once more. As it would turn out, I was deciphering the machine correctly but put in an amount that the machine considered too much in pesos. Silly on my part.

Once I got all the pesos I needed for the rest of my trip, I was heading to the door so the associate could unlock it for me. Only he would not let me leave. I didn’t understand. We finally had success in me getting what I needed. What could possibly be the issue? He kept speaking in Spanish and gesturing to my bag. I didn’t know whether he was saying he wanted my money or I needed to show him the contents of my bag. Was I going to be robbed in a bank? There are so many cameras, so surely not. He kept gesturing so I finally looked down and saw that I had my wallet in my hand. I slowly started to edge my wallet toward my bag. He nodded enthusiastically and kept gesturing. I finally put the wallet deep in my tote bag and he was sincerely pleased. Only then did he unlock the door with a smile on his face. He sent me on my way with some final words of the “peligro” in the area. I was sincerely grateful to him. He kept the bank open just for me, a stranger in a strange land and most likely saved me from a possible dangerous encounter down the road. The concept of safety is a different experience in every culture and I found Chilean views on safety to be one of the most strict. 

 

Hope you enjoyed it and miss you friend!

Hugs,
Heidi

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