Photo: Felipe Skroski

1. You learn what a real sandwich looks like.

Gone are the days of two slices of bread, a few sad pieces of turkey, some lettuce and tomato. Chileans have a whole different idea of what constitutes a sandwich. Imagine a fresh, toasted hamburger bun heaping with hefty slabs of lomo (pork tenderloin), covered in melted cheese, doused in mashed avocado, piled on with mayonnaise, and then wipe the drool from your chin.

2. You start watching puppet shows to become a more informed citizen.

31 Minutos is a widely popular Chilean satirical news show which features puppets performing comically crass political commentary, impersonations of public figures, and enough double entendre to keep the parents entertained while kids remain obliviously engaged.

3. You start referring to everything as an animal.

Chileans love slang, especially animal-related slang. When you’re “pasandolo chancho,” it doesn’t mean you’re passing a pig, it mean’s you’re having a great time. When you’re “echando la yegua,” it doesn’t mean your horse laid down, it means you’re ready to relax after a tiring activity (like eating a lot). Popcorn is called cabritas (little goats) or palomitas (little doves); a sapo (frog) is a tattletale; a vaca (cow) is an idiot. After a while in Chile, you’ll find your daily language sounding more and more like a rendition of “Old Macdonald Had a Farm.”

4. You find a second home in Jumbo.

With its abundant, gleaming white aisles filled to the brim with a huge variety of everything you could ever imagine, from electronic goods, to home goods, to food, cosmetics and even clothing, you will inevitably draw comparisons between Jumbo and Target (if you’re from a country that’s blessed with Target). You will find yourself wandering around the aisles whenever you miss home (or more likely curled up on a sofa in the home furnishings section, cradling a jar of Nutella). If you can’t find a Jumbo, find solace in a Lider, which is actually owned by Walmart.

5. You discover that there is never a bad time to eat a Super 8.

Super 8 is an amazingly popular candy bar that Chileans eat all the livelong day. It’s a light, chocolatey wafer concoction that doesn’t make you feel terrible about yourself even though it’s candy. You can find Super 8 pretty much everywhere you look. Vendors even walk through traffic on the highways to sell them!

6. You feel oddly connected to Germany.

Due to a large wave of German immigrants that arrived to Chile during the latter half of the 19th century, traces of German culture have seeped their way into Chilean identity. The prevalence of sausages and sandwiches in Chilean cuisine, beer brewing techniques, names of streets, and even architecture in certain southern parts of Chile are all indicative of a history of German colonialism. In fact, a chain of Chilean diners is called La Fuente Alemana, the German Soda Fountain.

7. You eat, drink, and breathe corn.

Chileans have mastered many diverse ways of preparing choclo (Chilean for corn): Pastel de choclo, a savory corn pie with meat and veggies cooked into a corn bread; Humitas, corn mashed with onion and hot chili, wrapped in corn husks and baked or boiled; Mote con huesillo, a sweet peach refreshment containing softened corn kernels (a variation contains husked wheat instead of corn); maíz frito aka fried corn kernels, a salty picoteo (snack, usually eaten while imbibing), they even put corn on pizza!

8. The street becomes your food court.

Sopaipillas, sandwiches, fruit juices, Super Ochos, maní confitado, completos, empanadas — if it exists in Chile, you can buy it on the street. You’ll be enchanted by the plentiful options and giddily hop from stand to stand, making a normal stroll down the Alameda a one-stop, one-of-a-kind gastronomic experience.

9. You drop “po” left and right.

Few things are more Chilean than the abundant — at times even excessive — use of “po,” an abbreviation of “pues” which means “well,” but is used primarily as a meaningless filler. Dropping your first “po” after you move to Chile is something of a rite of passage. You’ll never expect it but once it happens, you’re officially culturally Chilean. Before you drop your first “po” you might say your first “cachai?” This should warn you that “po” is near.

10. You start sprinkling merken on everything.

Like avocados, merkén (smoked chili pepper) is an ingredient that Chileans love to incorporate whenever possible. It won’t be long after you move to Chile that you find yourself sprinkling merkén on cheese, eggs, and definitely on pebre (Chile’s even more delicious variation of salsa).

11. You start teasing your friends to their faces and complimenting them behind their backs.

Chileans are a humorous bunch, and they get a kick out of teasing their loved ones. There’s a running joke amongst young Chileans that men speak disparagingly to one another’s faces and praise each other behind their backs, and that the opposite is true for women. Whatever the case, as a gringo you will be an easy target for some teasing and rather than get defensive, it’s best to join in!

12. You make friends for life, and become a better friend yourself.

Chileans are thoroughly caring, generous people. They’ll offer you a shoulder to cry on, a ride home, to accompany you to the doctor’s office, even the last empanada. You’ll be hard-pressed to find better people in the world, and being surrounded by your kind Chilean friends all the time will make you a better person.

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