Is anything open?

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:

Chile

U.S.

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.

Hugs,
Heidi

Chivalry and Piropos

Just the other day I was taking the elevator in my apartment building to the basement level of the parking garage. On the elevator there was only one other person – a man who just so happened to exit the elevator in front of me when the doors opened. It struck me as odd for just a moment and I couldn’t help the thought, this would never happen in Chile.

Not like it bothers me or anything, it’s just a difference in our cultures that became very clear to me only weeks into my time in Chile. I had to take an elevator in almost every building I entered and there easily observed notable acts of chivalry. And by the way, is it not the least bit ironic that the country that endures a high number of earthquakes has very tall buildings and so many elevators??

The men in Chile are extremely chivalrous. If you’ll allow me to use the elevator scenario as an example: I cannot tell you how many times I saw close to 5 women waiting for the elevator and one man who steps aside to let all of us enter first. This may seem trivial, but when we got to the desired floor and the doors opened, who do you suppose was closest to the door? The man, of course. And without exiting the elevator and having little space to move, he would do his very best to push himself against and practically into the wall, allowing all females to exit before he took his turn. It was remarkable for me to witness this, as it seemed like it would just be so much easier for the person closest to the doors to exit first.

This is how they are. They will always hold open doors for you, let you walk in front, and be on the lookout for whatever way they might honor a lady or show an act of chivalry. Even other friends’ boyfriends would be such gentlemen to me, making me feel very much like a lady.

The confusing part of this culture, however, is when you see this aspect is in sharp contrast to the cat calls you get anywhere and absolutely everywhere. Clapping, whistles, shouted compliments, and even creepy whispers in the ear were all too common of an experience for me when walking down the street. I garnered more attention in South America than I ever have in my life and it was not easy getting used to the piropos (cat calls).

“Hola chicas, soy chileno.” – this was one of my favorites coming from a very confident guy with a tone that suggested he was big stuff. But when you’re in Chile…what else would you expect other than chilenos??

“Alemana! ALEMANA!” – attempts to get my attention by some guys that just assumed I was German.

*slow clap* Excelente!” – when I rounded a corner to a street full of tire and car repair shops. I was trying to get to the bank and was wearing the most uninteresting outfit ever.

“Ricas in la foto!!” – came from a passing car as my Australian friend and I were having another tourist take our picture.

These are just some examples, and hardly the worst. Even at the end of my time there it still took me off guard a bit when someone yelled something at me like what is written above. I would face that on the streets each day and then enter the bank building and be treated with respect, dignity, and such chivalry. It was confusing!!

I kind of feel like such opposite ends of the spectrum sort of cancelled each other out. I’m sure that the same guys who were stepping aside on elevators were not hollering at girls in the street, but nonetheless, it’s a very serious problem in Chile and Latin America. Still, they sort of got me accustomed to assuming my right to exit the elevator first, and I suppose I’ll think of all those nice empresarios chilenos whenever I’m in one.

Hugs,
Heidi

Here I am..one year later

Seeing as my last post was about 4 months ago it’s safe to say I’m a terrible blogger. There has been so much I’ve wanted to write down basically since January that I just haven’t had the chance to get around to yet. So much richness in my time in South America and travels throughout the continent that I don’t want to lose before time fades my memory. That being said, I want to commit to updating this blog much more frequently in an effort to document and save all those special memories. Hopefully once a week or 2-3 times a month will be a reasonable goal to start myself off with.

I also wanted to come back to this drafting page soon after my return to the states, but my last month in Chile consisted mostly of traveling, and as soon as I landed in Texas, I hit the ground running. These past few months have been some of the busiest yet, keeping my mind locked in the present and making me come close to forgetting that I was JUST in Chile…not that long ago! I don’t want that to happen.

So, here I am one year and a few months after I first started this blog and much has changed. Normally I am not a fan of change, but I wouldn’t trade any bit of this past year for the world. Chile will always be very dear to my heart for how it shaped me and taught me not only about another culture, but about life in general and the beauty of it in all corners of the world. Living in the hemisphere opposite from everything I knew also taught me much about myself and who I am once you take everything familiar and comfortable away. I grew in ways I had never imagined before, learned things not many people can without living in another country, and found myself reaching for those experiences that had once scared me. I thank God every time I think of it, grateful for the opportunity I had.

My first post in Chile was titled “Here I Am!” and you can find it here. I can remember my first day pretty clearly – it felt rushed and confusing and completely unfamiliar. After my first night in the hostel my room cleared out and I was hit with the worst case of homesickness I’ve ever experienced. In fact, my first week was such an emotional roller coaster with my mood doing a complete 180 after one night of conversation with friendly Brazilians.

Oh how I love Brazilians. 😉 They’re some of the friendliest and most welcoming people I’ve ever met, possesing such a positive energy for enjoying life. Once I made friends I was pretty much over my homesickness and ready to take on the challenges that come with living abroad. It was my now boyfriend Carlos who first showed me how to love Santiago rather than be scared of it and I never lost that feeling!

I remember my last morning in the country my brother and I were picked up at 5am by an airport shuttle at our hostel in San Pedro de Atacama. We drove 2 hours to the airport and watched the sunrise out of our sleepy eyes. I couldn’t close them – couldn’t lose a second of the view of the desert and the soft, traditional music playing in the car. No one spoke during that ride, and I was lost in my thoughts reflecting over the past year. Once in Santiago I stuffed myself too full with delicious empanadas and jugo de maracuyá. One final pisco sour in the airport and my departure was very bittersweet.

So much to say about my relationship with Chile…so much that I treasure and would love to spend hours talking about. But I know long blog posts are overwhelming and often not read so I’ll cut it (kind of) short for now.

Now I am back in Texas, but living in Houston now instead of Dallas. I live with some awesome friends that so graciously let me have the extra room in their apartment! Fun fact – I was Maid of Honor in their wedding. Thanks Kat and Will! My boyfriend, Carlos (my very own Carioca), finally came up here from Brazil in the beginning of August and we immediately moved down to Houston where he is doing grad school at the University of Houston. He also found some roommates not too far from me.

I also found a job in Katy ISD, and I feel very honored to have been hired by this district! I  did my interview over Skype and was hired about 3 weeks before I even got to meet anybody in person. It was an unbelievable relief and joy to have landed a job and get back into the classroom in such a nice district. The teacher life keeps you busy though!!

The funny thing is that before my move to Chile I worked in a school that was over 90% hispanic and I heard Spanish being spoken all the time – I even had parents that only spoke Spanish and required a translator. Now my school has a much much different demographic and the only person who speaks Spanish with me is the custodian who comes in my room after school. The cool thing is once she found out I spoke Spanish she got really excited and is eager to talk to me each time she sees me – I love it! And I desperately need the practice.

So my other goal (besides blogging) is to find more opportunities to keep the Spanish alive. Living in Houston it shouldn’t be too hard, but with the job I have it’s hard to get out there and do much else! I can’t lose the language though…so I have to find a way.

If you were kind enough to read my ramblings, I appreciate your interest! My next few posts will be focused on travels and observations of the country I called home for 12 months of my life.

I’ll keep you posted.

Hugs,
Heidi

Kiss Kiss

A couple weeks ago I went to an intercambio (language exchange) and several of my Chilean guy friends were also there. It was a very entertaining evening sharing conversation while switching between languages and we decided to go out for some pisco sours and a little bit of dancing afterwards. When it came time to say goodbye, I kissed them all on the cheek, as is the custom here, and I had a sad realization while walking up to my apartment that this would never happen in the States.

One thing clearly different in the Latin culture from my own is the greeting with a kiss. It depends on where you are just how many kisses you might get, but you can be sure that people will always kiss you hello and goodbye. In Chile, the proper social behavior is as follows:

You kiss people on their right cheek whenever you greet them. This is normally not an actual kiss – just an air kiss – but you must make sure that your cheeks touch and that you make the sound. This should be done both when you say hello and bid farewell, even if the two are just a few minutes apart and even if that’s the only interaction you have. If you enter a party/gathering or leave one, it is polite to kiss everyone in the room, even if you don’t know them or haven’t talked to them at all during your stay. If you fail to do this, it can be considered very rude.

Now, just imagine arriving at a carrete (party) at someone´s apartment with 20 people inside. It’s going to take you a couple minutes before you can sit down or talk to the people you know. And be prepared for people that arrive after you suddenly appearing beside you and leaning in towards your face. Sometimes this still catches me off guard if I’m already lost in a conversation and hadn’t noticed someone new arriving. Also, if you happen to be one of the first to leave a gathering, it might be a bit overwhelming saying goodbye to everyone, and you might not actually get to leave until at least 5 minutes after you intended. Even if you say goodbye to someone and then talk for a couple minutes, you must kiss them goodbye again.

Even knowing that this is the cultural custom, there have still been a few moments or situations that surprised me a bit or stood out to me a little more, one being in an interview I had just a couple days after arriving in the country. I was in a very professional state of mind, dressed up and ready to meet my interviewer, and both male administrators greeted me with a kiss. That’s far from a handshake!

One night I was walking with my roommate and her boyfriend at the time when he spotted a couple old friends he knew on the street. Just because my roommate and I had been walking with him, the two guys kissed us hello. They only talked to their friend for a moment, and then they kissed us all goodbye. I didn’t even know the boyfriend that well, but I was kissed just by association, just because I had been walking with him on the street.

This same kind of situation happened when my friend Laura was in town, who doesn’t speak any Spanish and is far from accustomed to the kissing culture, but she would be kissed by people who never even spoke her language just because she was standing next to me. Kissed by association.

I’ve taken a couple tours where I chatted with the tour guide afterwards and then we kissed goodbye. The one that got awkward though was the end of the horseback riding tour I took in Patagonia. There were only 5 of us on the tour – two Japanese, two Chileans, and me. While waiting for our rides to pick us up afterwards the ranch owner invited us into his home where his wife had prepared bread and coffee and tea for us. The Japanese left first, and when it was time for the Chileans and I to leave, I followed them out the door as they kissed the hosts goodbye. When I went to say goodbye though, the hosts tried to extend their hands while I leaned in for a kiss. I can only assume it’s because I’m a foreigner and they know foreigners don’t greet the same way, but it was awkward! At least they ended up giving me a Chilean goodbye once they saw I was accustomed to it.

You know what I told you about greeting a whole group of people… well, this happens every week with my fútbol (soccer) team. What’s amazed me though is that even when it’s inconvenient, they still make an effort and the kiss greeting still has to happen. I was sitting on the floor once when three girls arrived and they all stooped way down to kiss me. I didn’t even have the chance to get up and I felt bad! But they stooped for a couple other girls seated the same way without complaining. Just recently I met a small group of them at a metro station and we almost immediately got on the escalator to leave. I hadn’t had the chance to greet one girl as she had been at the ATM when I arrived, but when we were on the escalator and she a step above me, she suddenly turned around and leaned towards my face. I have to admit it did surprise me a bit, but I greeted her and all continued as normal.

What I still haven’t been able to get used to is the double kiss, which still always surprises me. They kiss both cheeks in Brazil and also in San Juan, Argentina (I’m sure it’s the same in many other places but these are the only two I have personally encountered). The entire time I was in Brazil it still threw me when people leaned in a second time. This also occured when I said goodbye to a man from San Juan, and I’m embarrased to have been clearly startled! They kept having to remind me that in their culture it’s two kisses.

What’s also funny is to see how foreginers have acclimated here and started doing this greeting quite comfortably even with each other. My Australian friend that I met here has always greeted me like this, and I will never forget the time I was getting out of a taxi and leaned toward her to kiss her goodbye. That was the first moment I realized I had ever intentionally leaned in towards another girl’s face. Even though it’s not a real kiss, it’s still very close and personal.

Also, every now and then someone will actually kiss your cheek. I recently had a male student do this to me and it surprised me a little bit. I had no idea what reason he could have for actually kissing me, but sometimes it just happens. Usually this is to show a little more affection or that you’re closer to someone, but when it happens unexpectedly it catches me off guard.

So all that to say, even though it has been different here, the greeting is something I will miss when I’m back home.

Why?

I talked to a British guy at a party about this once after we saw how newcomers would kiss everyone in the group, whether they knew them or not. We both decided that it was definitely an ice breaker and made it much easier to approach people that you didn’t know. You can easily start a conversation with anyone in the room because you’ve already kissed them all and introduced yourself! It’s much different from group gatherings in our cultures where you would have to find a reason to approach a stranger.

Also, remember that story I told you about beind kissed by association just because I was walking on the street with someone who ran into old friends? The kiss greeting is a good way to acknowledge everybody in the circle. I can remember countless times back home where I was in the middle of a conversation with someone when another friend of that person approached them and never even acknowledged me. Many times I wouldn’t even get the courtesy of eye contact, so I would just wait until they had finished talking and left, feeling a little awkward and invisible the whole time. That would never happen here. Even if you don’t speak the same language, you will still be acknowledged if you are the friend of a friend.

In a way, it can make people more friendly and it can break down barriers. When I kiss my guy friends here, I am not worried about being too close to them or being too touchy or whatever it may be. For example, if I meet a friend’s boyfriend back home, maybe he’ll shake my hand, maybe he’ll give me a nod when they leave, maybe on rare occasions I may get a hug. It always leaves this feeling of an undefined space between us that we have to be careful not to cross. It’s very impersonal and distant. Here, all boyfriends and husbands, fathers and uncles, brothers and cousins of a friend…they’ll all kiss you just the same as anyone else. Once a friend’s boyfriend here dropped us off at the airport together and after kissing her goodbye, gave me a hug and a kiss as well (of course, hers was a real kiss and mine was just the cheek). I love how simple and affectionate it is without being flirty or sexual in the least. I can tell you right now none of the American boyfriends of my friends would do that. Ever.

So when I got home the other evening and began to realize how different my interactions with guy friends will be back home, it just saddened me knowing there would be that invisible wall between us. For this reason, I love the latinos. All relationships are personal and intimate, but in a way that is very comfortable and normal without crossing any boundaries.

I’ll be seeing you friends from back home very soon now, which has made me really start to think about all these differences. I hope you might be able to understand this wonderful piece of culture one day. Oh, and I’m sorry if I kiss you.

Hugs,
Heidi

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

Pégale!

Fútbol (or soccer) has always been my favorite sport. I’ve played for fun the past several years back home, but when I moved to a Latin American country, I surprisingly found it more difficult to come across similar opportunities. In Chile, women playing fútbol for fun is not exactly all that common, or at least that’s what I’ve been told. And while I may have played on co-ed teams back home, that’s really not a thing here either.

All that to say, I hadn’t really been giving the sport much thought lately, but my lovely roommate who knows I love to play called me one day while she was at work, telling me one of her patients plays for an all girls league and was wondering if I would be interested.

Now, there are a couple interesting things about how this started:

  1. It started with a phone call in Spanish, which went smoothly and was reasonably understood. If I compare that with the first time my roommate ever called me, which turned out to be an inevitable disaster, I feel pretty good about the whole thing.
  2. Things happened right away. Within minutes of this phone call, another girl was contacting me through messages, gathering my details and giving me the scoop. I was soon signed up and ready to go…and officially added to the team’s WhatsApp group.

Ok, so think for a second about the way you may text your friends in English sometimes…or even the way you used to. Things like “where r u?”, “whatcha doin?”, “rotfl”, etc.

Now, imagine that in your second language. And I don’t just mean Spanish in my case, I mean Chilean. Thanks to my being here for some time now and for my roommate helping me understand her abbreviations in her texting, I’m able to catch on to some. But, Lord help me, it takes a lot of effort to read through those messages.

Here are some examples:

“Bkn” = Bakan. (Chilean word for cool, great, awesome, etc.)
“wna” = Wena. (This is basically “buena”)
“Sí po” = This is the equivalent of “sí”in any other country, but Chileans like to add “po” to the end of everything. The word is meaningless, but it definitely marks a Chilean.
“tb” = también (also)
“Chuu” = chuta (soft exclamation)
“acá en mi Ksa” = “here in my house”, the ksa means casa
“Ake ora c jugara..oy” = A qué hora se jugara..hoy (wow, this one was really just out of control)
“Pk sipo”= “porque sí”  or basically “because it does,” and the “sipo” is another written version of the added on “po”
“Xfis” = I love this one. This means “porfis” which is basically a loving way to ask “por favor” or “please”. My roommate calls it “un por favor amoroso.”

Ok, so aside from all the written confusion, last Thursday we had our first game and it was time for me to meet these girls for the first time. I am oh so thankful that some girls coordinated a meeting spot in one of the metro stations before the game, because we then took a bus and walked up a dirt road on a dark hill to get to the fields that were located at the very top. If I had arrived at the hill by myself, I would’ve just been lost.

On my way to meet these girls I was starting to think, “What am I doing?” It’s already pressure enough to join a team of a bunch of strangers and hope you’ll mesh well, but doing that in your second language? Before you have it mastered? I can tell you I was really quiet in the beginning. Thankfully, I had some successful conversations or exchanges with a few of the girls. In fact, the entire walk up the hill I was chatting it up with a really nice girl on the team. The thing is, when people talk to me and then when they talk to each other in their native language, it’s always different. Jokes being made and rapid comments quickly exchanged…it was insanely difficult to follow. Of course, I know at this point that I know more than I give myself credit for, but it was a lot of pressure nonetheless.

They let me play right defender all of the first and most of the second half. I was loving it! Getting back out there, sprinting down the field to beat someone to the ball or kicking it away from them…all the thrill of the sport came rushing back. To balance it out, however, there was a member of the team (something like an assistant coach I think) on my side of the field yelling out directions to me for the entire first half. She didn’t really focus on the others either – just me. As I haven’t quite learned all the fútbol commands in Spanish, I was stressing out wondering what the heck she wanted me to do. And I couldn’t run over for a pow-wow with her because we were on a small field with only 7 players and the action was constant. So I just kept hearing “Heidi, [rapid Spanish command]! Dale! Dale!”

Ahhh!

Not to mention that during half time she told the whole team “La Heidi no me entendía!” This is one of those many moments you have to learn to just laugh at yourself. We all laughed. I reenacted my fear showing how confused I was out there, and they laughed and were all very nice about it. I also got some compliments after the game!

So I did it! I have joined and played with a team where not one of them speaks a word of English (or if they do they sure don’t show it). We won 9-1 that game so I’m feeling pretty good about our outlook for the season. There will be more stories to tell about this experience I’m sure of it.

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I wonder if I’ll earn the nickname “la rubia” (the blonde) because I’m the only one on the team!

Oh, and one more fun fact about this, the league we play in is for “baby fútbol”. I actually had to go to stores and ask for “zapatos de baby”, but I clarified that they were for fútbol of course. This is basically fútbol played on a small field with artificial turf, 7 players, and different shoes (no cleats). Love the name!

Hugs,
Heidi

“Tienes un pololo?”

When you move abroad you never know what your story will be. You can’t predict the kind of people you will meet or what relationships will form. I suppose that’s the case with moving anywhere, not just abroad. The difference is you are entering another culture where people come from very different backgrounds.

I just recently finished writing three blog posts about my trip to Brazil where I got to spend two weeks with my boyfriend. If you read about it, maybe the question crossed your mind of how exactly did we meet anyway? I’m an American living in Chile, and he’s a Brazilian still in Brazil. The chances of us meeting and pursuing a relationship are rather slim. I didn’t expect this to be my story.

Before I packed my bags for the big move to Chile I had friends, coworkers, and family teasing me with the idea of “you’re going to find somebody down there, just you wait.” I was told many stories of other acquaintances and friends who had gone abroad and fallen in love. “Yeah, yeah, yeah…” was my response, waving them off, “just don’t jinx it.” Having been single for so long I thought surely I would be the exception to those stories and not find anyone at all. No matter, my motive for moving was not to find love.

What I’ve learned since being here is that as a gringa, you tend to get snatched up quick. I’m not kidding. I have taken classes with other foreigners or gone to language exchanges where all English speaking females have Chilean boyfriends. And usually the native Spanish speakers at these exchanges are single guys…it’s a funny mixture. And the Chileans never fail to ask, “Tienes un pololo?”

Pololo. It’s probably my favorite Chilean word just because it’s fun to say. Pololo. It means boyfriend. And the reason I say Chilean word is because it is not a Spanish word. The normal Spanish word is novio, but here that word usually means something more serious like “fiancé”.

I’ve been asked this question before by Chilean guys and then asked if he was a chileno. My response, of course, is: “No, un brasileño,” to which they usually seem to take some sort of offense and give me a hard time about it. Maybe their thought is that I didn’t find chilenos good enough and so went for a Brazilian instead. Haha, that definitely wasn’t my plan, and I realize that I’m still an exception. Like I said before, most foreign girls here are dating a chileno, and my story seems a little extreme even to them.

One of the other international couples I know here in Santiago are just so: Amanda, the gringa, and Andres, the chileno. One of the reasons we became friends is because she’s also from Texas! One of the last times I saw them, Andres was practically preaching on all the positives of international relationships. You learn so much from dating a person from another culture, and it forces you to grow and change your perspective. Plus, it’s just exciting! You already find each other a little exotic, and if you can make it work, you always have another country to travel to where that person knows the ins and outs of everything.

Making it work is no easy task. Someone in the relationship has to be willing to make a huge sacrifice in order to be with the other person. So like with Amanda and Andres, who will both be moving to Texas around the same time I’m going back, Andres is getting ready to start fresh in a new country. And in my case, Carlos has bravely decided to pack up and move abroad on a student visa to pursue his masters in Texas.

It sounds crazy when I first tell people how we met. The conversation usually goes something like this:

“You have a boyfriend?”

“Yes.”

“Someone from the states or a Chilean?”

“Actually, he’s Brazilian.”

“Brazilian! And he’s living here in Chile?”

“No, he lives in Brazil.”

“What? Where did you meet?”

“In Santiago…”

Yes, we met in Santiago, and only three days after I first arrived. He was staying in my hostel, and if you want to see a little evidence of our budding friendship back then, you can take a look at this old post: Has it been more than a week?

Somehow, something stuck even after he left. I didn’t have any clue then what may eventually come from having met him, but I couldn’t be more grateful now for how everything turned out. He’s an amazing guy who loves the Lord and loves me well. I’m just ready for it to not be long distance anymore!

Perhaps our favorite part of the beginning of our story is that the night before we actually met, there was a dinner the hostel was serving with pasta and wine. We both went to the dinner and actually sat right across the table from each other. I didn’t realize it then, but he had already noticed me around the hostel and I’d managed to catch his eye. I was still dealing with some major culture shock and feeling very frightened about my whole situation. People around me at the table weren’t speaking English and I didn’t have an appropriate level of Spanish then to attempt to converse with them. So I ate my meal in silence, feeling a bit lonely and isolated. And then there was a point just before I left where I looked across the table and made eye contact with Carlos. Despite my sad state of mind, I smiled at him and he gave me a beautiful smile back. It was a small act of kindness that warmed my heart a little bit that evening.

The next day, we officially met and acknowledged the smile from the dinner. He was very friendly to me and helped me overcome several of my fears about being in Chile. He showed me around the city, turned my bad attitude over on its head, made me comfortable and able to enjoy Santiago, and persisted in being a good friend even after he left. We love to think back at the irony of how sharing a smile with a stranger could just possibly be the onset of a romance. You know, like fiction…how is that real life? Nonetheless, I wanted to capture that memory in a special way, causing me to write the poem below a few months later.

What a gift it was, that first moment
When we shared both time and place.
I lifted my eyes by chance that night
And they rested upon your amiable face.
At that very same moment your eyes turned to mine.
Unbidden, a smile passed from me to you,
It was quickly returned and lifted my spirits,
The smile was easy, but the sentiment was true.
In just one moment, when our eyes met,
Our lips turned up then our eyes turned away.
We could not have imagined what such a glance
Might mean to us in this present day.

Entonces sí, tengo un pololo brasileño. Ahora es difícil porque él vive lejos, pero no me arrepiento nada.

Anyone else have stories of romance abroad?

Hugs,
Heidi