Since moving back from South America, I still have yet to adjust back to the “American” eating schedule. I know it’s been more than 6 months since I’ve returned, but I believe there are other factors contributing to my slow readjustment – my long commute in the afternoons after work and having a South American boyfriend being some of them.
I’ll begin by identifying some of the major differences in expected meal times and sizes:
|Breakfast before work (6:30-8:00am)||Breakfast before work (6:30-8:00am)|
|Lunch – (biggest meal of the day) between 1 and 3pm||Lunchbreak – often 30 min – 1 hr. anywhere between 11:30 and 1pm|
|“Once” (Chilean word for it! A snack (or something light) in the evening that looks much like British tea time (as far as portions and beverages go) falling between 8 and 10:30pm). This light meal is very common, but they may also eat an actual meal at these late hours as well.||Dinner – (biggest meal of day) usually between 5 and 7:30pm|
I will say it was very difficult for me to adjust to the late lunch and LAAATE “dinner” time in Chile, and I had many conversations about our different meal expectations with chilenos. They were always abashed by our super early lunch time and it was not uncommon for me to hear that my people were crazy. They were also surprised by the early evening meal time. I’ll just mention here that once my roommate, her friend, and I went shopping for ingredients around 8:30pm, pushing our actual “dinner” time back to almost 11. That was probably the latest full evening meal I had in my time there.
These cultural differences, as well as many others, have taught me to look at everything from an outside perspective. There is no real reason for a person to eat a meal at a certain time and of a certain size other than it being a cultural custom, and therefore, established as normal. One of my students I used to meet with in a little street side cafe in the Italian neighborhood of Santiago told me many stories of his travels about the globe and various interactions he’d had with people. One of my favorites was about a time he went on business to California. There was a man who lived there whom he had met on a previous business trip, and so that American invited him to come over for dinner while he was in town. My student talked about how he showed up at 9pm to find the man and his wife sitting on the couch and looking exhausted. They questioned why he came so late, and my student looked at his watch and said, “What do you mean? You told me to come for dinner and here I am!” On top of that, he went to greet the wife with the Chilean kiss greeting, which made the husband question his intentions. The story had me rolling with laughter – classic misunderstanding over such simple customs between our cultures (and it’s more fun when you understand both sides), causing a major faux pas.
Now being back, while I’ve been eating lunch usually around noon (and during work I’m often hungry even before then), I still haven’t quite adjusted back to the American dinner time. There have been many nights where Carlos (the Brazilian boyfriend) and I have either arrived at a restaurant just before closing time, or sadly discovered that the place was already closed. I was very confused in my first few months in Houston, wondering why every place closed so early! It’s still a bad habit – just last night Carlos and I ordered food in that arrived at 10:15pm!
On a final note, while Chileans eat late, Argentines are even worse! My Australian friend Tiaan and I were persuaded to make a reservation at a nice steakhouse in Mendoza no earlier than 9:30pm, and when we got there, the place was nearly empty. When we had paid the check and were getting ready to leave close to midnight, the place was packed! And not just a certain age group populated the restaurant – young and old alike were satisfying their appetites at the latest hours I have ever witnessed. But hey, to each his own.