CHILEANS AREN’T SCREAMERS. I’ve seldom heard anyone yell anything, except in the name of soccer, and occasionally in a road-rage infused moment of frustration, and of course at education protests. Unless you include when people shout “ciclovía!” (bikepath) at me as I ride down the streets, no one has ever shouted at me. Chileans tend to prefer a slow seethe, complaining to each other rather than grabbing you by your lapels and shouting in your face.
Chilean anger is subtle. But it’s there. In crossed arms and a steady glare and hissed insults. In my seven years living here, I’ve picked up a few ways you can really picar (irritate) a Chilean.
Much of what makes Chileans mad is regional. It’s a long, thin country on the west coast of South America, making it American. It has a long border with Argentina, a shorter one with Peru, and blocks off Bolivia’s access to the ocean, which makes Bolivia one of only two landlocked countries on the continent. Country pride ebbs and flows, related to soccer, the economy, the price of copper, and how well we’re doing in comparison to our neighbors.
With that geographical background in mind, here’s how to piss off a Chilean.
To the question, “What nationality are you?”, answer “American.” Chile is in the Americas. Saying you are “americano” sounds like you think you have ownership of the Americas, and Chileans aren’t buying it. Though strangely, saying you are “norteamericano” (North American) raises no ire, despite the fact that North American is not a nationality, unless the US has recently joined forces with Mexico and Canada and I didn’t get the memo. Unfortunately, if you’re from the United States, the correct answer to the nationality question is “soy estadounidense,” which your tongue may screw up in some important way on the way out of your mouth; it’s not an easy word to say. But people will appreciate the effort–at least you didn’t say you were “American.”
Happy Columbus Day!
This is fairly universal south of the Rio Grande. Columbus opened Central and South America for colonization and exploitation. Therefore, this holiday, which in North America is celebrated with model Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria boats and a pajama-clad lie-in on the school holiday, is simply not called Columbus Day down here. In Chile it is sometimes called “Día de la Raza” (Race day), and it is often a time of protest, with Mapuche (indigenous people originally from the central south of what is now Chile and Argentina) taking to the streets, and the occasional burning or hanging of Columbus in effigy. There will be no happy Columbus day, though you may take the day off work and enjoy some pisco (see below).
Whatever you do, don’t expect Chile to be like Argentina, or more specifically Santiago to be like Buenos Aires. We don’t have milongas (tango dance halls) at which to while away the evening smoking bitter cigarettes and dancing with the faded belle of the ball who can dance circles around us. We don’t serve medialunas (small croissants) for breakfast, and we don’t use the word che to start or end a sentence (which means, roughly, “dude.”) Think of the Chile-Argentina abrasion as similar to the US-Canada one. And then put several-thousand-foot mountains in between and change the cultures about 35 degrees and give us different food to eat. Oh, and a different accent. Chile is not Argentina. Get it straight or feel the ira.
The Latin Lover
Now that you’re clear that Chile and Argentina are two distinct entities, do not intimate that Argentine men are more romantic, more chivalrous, or better lovers. I polled a group of friends one night about what was the single most contentious point of conflict between Chileans and Argentines, and this one won, with a special tangential diatribe from the men on the unacceptability of saying that Argentine men are better endowed than Chileans. I had no idea what to say, so I took copious notes.
Beaches for Bolivians
Bolivia and Chile are in a bit of a stand-off over how Bolivia should get its shippable goods to the Pacific Ocean. According to Bolivia, since they lost the land that is now the north of Chile in 1879 in the War of the Pacific, they have had no ability to compete in the world economy, because they do not have a reliable way to get their goods into the market. According to the Chileans, nyah nyah, finders keepers, losers weepers. Ceding a piece of Chile to Bolivia does not interest most Chileans, and while there are talks about digging a tunnel under Chile, or maybe granting an easement to Bolivia to give them access to the ocean, the main thought here can be summed up as, “Bolivians want access to the ocean. Well, too bad for them.” Though Peru recently granted Bolivia access to a port there, Chile is not moved to do the same any time soon, and suggesting otherwise will just irk people.
Pisco is Peruvian
Not to be outdone with pesky inferiority complexes compared to Argentina’s rich culture, or superiority complexes with regards to Bolivia, Chile also has a bone to pick with Peru. Peru was the last of the countries settled by the Spanish with mega bank, which can be seen in elaborate wooden balconies, palaces, giant plazas and squares in Lima. Santiago has several beautiful buildings from the colonial era, but nowhere near the riches of Lima. Peruvians are also rumored to speak better Spanish (clearer, anyway), and have a varied, saucy, spicy gastronomy, while Chile’s food is closer to one-pot cooking much of the time (though this is changing). They’re considered the architectural and gastronomical leaders in the region, and this piques Chileans.
So what does that have to do with pisco? Pisco, a grape brandy which is an ingredient for what both Chile and Peru consider to be their national drink, the pisco sour, brings a competitive bent to what should be a simple aperitif. The main ingredients are ice, sugar, pisco and the juice of a small lemon which in Chile is called limón de Pica. The Peruvian style pisco sour also has the froth of egg whites on top as well as a drop or two of Angostura bitters (which have nothing to do with Chile or Peru). But both countries claim both the alcohol and the prepared drink as their own. If you want to get into an argument with a Chilean, tell them either that pisco is Peruvian or that the Peruvian pisco sours are better. I advise against doing this while actually drinking, because everyone’s tendency to get into a fight goes up with alcohol, no matter where it comes from.
And if you don’t want to piss people off so much as alienate them, check out this group post on Cachando Chile, sourced by expat bloggers in Chile. And don’t forget the best way of all to alienate a Chilean. After they say they’re from Chile, ask, “Where’s that?”
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Eileen Smith is the editor of Matador Abroad. She's an ex-Brooklynite who's made a life in Santiago, Chile. She's a fluent Spanish speaker who can be found biking, hiking, writing, photographing and/or seeking good coffee and nibbles at most hours of the day. She blogs here.
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