Sunday, September 28, 2008

What do Chileans think of gringos?

This is in response to the group blogging that Kyle has been organizing. Go check out her blog for links to other participants' blogs.  

I've been resisting reading everyone's posts so I won't be influenced by things people have already said, but I imagine I'll repeat things here just because many of us have a lot of shared experiences. Nevertheless, here goes. 

What do Chileans think about gringos? My gut response to this question is simple: I haven't the foggiest idea. In fact, most of the time when I catch a Chilean unabashedly staring at me, I shout (internally, of course), "What in the **** are you thinking? Is there food on my face? Is my fly open? Does the capitalistic society I represent disgust you? Do you find my obvious foreignness fascinating? Are you thinking of every MTV stereotype and applying it to me?" Although to be honest, I'm usually just thinking, "Please stop undressing me with your eyes. Please. Right now. Now? How about now? No? ****it."  

But the question is not what Chileans think of me necessarily, it is what they think of gringos in general. But I have a doubt, as my students like to say. First of all, do we interpret this as gringos in the States, or expat gringos? Is there a difference? In my experience, it totally depends. For example, it seems that for some it is particularly difficult to understand why a gringo would leave the US, especially to go to Chile. A friend of a friend once asked me, "What are you doing here?" I told him I was, well, um, living here because I wanted to experience life outside the US and be in Latin America. He was dumbfounded. "But why? The US is so much better. Everything works there. Life is so much nicer and easier." This understanding contributes, I believe, to what seems to be a commonly held perception that the gringo has it made: money, cars, a house, etc. With the help of television and Hollywood, this perception is often taken to the next step: the gringo is a spoiled creature with an easy life. Living here, I have learned the influential power television has over the perceptions held by the masses. Many a time a Chilean has asked me, full of curiosity, if we really are like those teen movies they always see. Are our high schools overrun by cliques of sexy stick figures and hulking football players? I never really know how to respond except by saying, well, according to my personal reality, no, but I imagine in some places yes, although it is most likely an exaggeration of a truth. 

Speaking of truths, a student of mine (grown man, very high up in the production company he works for) often likes to tell me how gringos are. Just the other day he told me that all gringos have huge cars. I tried to tell him that yes, while many do, there are people who choose to have smaller cars, or hybrid cars, or (gasp!) no car at all. They do exist. He informed me that I was wrong; "the gringo has to have a big car, it is his way". Thus spoke Mr. PP. 

In terms of personality, however, I have heard some interesting conflicting perspectives. During a conversation where I was the only gringa, I heard of the shameful character of "the gringo" from someone who had firsthand experience with them (it seems they had all forgotten I was in the room, or that I was a gringa, because no one thought about their experiences with me...I was invisible, which is surprising because I am usually the gargantuan white elephant in the room, so to speak). In this situation, these people railed on the gringo as "cold" (probably the most common criticism), not affectionate at all and very difficult to get to know. The men are all business, the women all self-obsessed, and instead of raising their children, they spoil them. 

At the same time, however, Chileans have told me how friendly gringos are, often using the term "buena onda", they are fun to be around and know how to have a good time. For example, when D came to the States to visit me (over 2 years ago) he was pleasantly surprised by how warm and welcoming my family and friends were. It seems, similar to Chilean culture, if you have an in, you can learn a different, often more positive aspect of the culture and the people. 

It is difficult to demonstrate all the different perspectives I have come across and some days I think it's all horrible, others all superficially positive. Suffice to say, my life here has been terribly easy thanks to the fact that I am white. If I could count all the times I've tried to field questions and dispel myths about African Americans, well, I can't. And that, my friends, deserves its own post. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


It has been over 2 months. And this is unacceptable. Especially since writing is my passion and I want and need to keep practicing! These past months have been completely transformative for me. It seems the time leading up to my 24th birthday is pretty significant. Of course the task of bringing you up to date of what has transpired in my life is daunting and pretty impossible, but it is important to know that I learned an incredible amount about myself, my relationships, and what I need to be doing in the world right now. My time in the US was beyond amazing, I spent 2 eye-opening weeks at the Rudolf Steiner Institute where I took a course on Socially Engaged Spirituality with Nicanor Perlas (badass from the Phillipines) and a creative writing course with Paul Matthews (badass brit poet). I helped a friend move, visited friends in NY and attended one of my best friend's wedding! I was all over New England, spending hardly any time at home. I visited so many friends that I felt half of my time was spent saying goodbye! But seeing these people and meeting  new people really brought me back to my center. Just what I needed to learn to trust people again and feel more like myself. After spending so many consecutive months in Santiago, I felt myself getting more and more repressed (I used to express it as my soul being sucked out of me, but it's still there! Just somewhat squashed by smog and lack of kindness to strangers). This city works a number on me and I have since discovered that I need to spend some time living in a more rural environment. So, plans are in their baby stages of where and when I will head next. 
Chile will always have a part of my heart and soul (and a solid number of really amazing friends and "family" who for me have really become one and the same) and the idea of leaving is not an easy one. If you see me and we talk about this, if I seem nonchalant it is because if I allow myself to become emotional I might just totally fall apart. This you do not want to see. At least not more than once! So let's save it for the despedida. But till then, I plan on having fun, learning as much as possible, working and planning for the future. On top of that, most important news about me is MY APARTMENT! I am in love. I am living in my own place with 2 other gringas and I have never enjoyed something quite this much. Ok, slight exaggeration, but truly, it is stupendous. My new header by the way is the view of the matching apartment (baby blue, mine's pink) and the mountains in the background at sunset. Recently, my housemate and I went to Sodimac and bought some plants. I now have some violas, sage, rosemary, and a few other things that I don't know the name of. I have scrubbed the balcony, dusted and washed walls, cabinets, etc. and loved every minute of it. It is satisfying peeling away layers of dirt or organizing and simplifying. I have always had a partial OCD side and here it is being put to work in the best kind of way. So I am planning a wee fiesta to share this great space (duplex! yes!) with perhaps a cocktail party (I have an immersion blender i.e. best invention ever) or poker night. Or both. 
Other important news: I learned to dance the cueca! I have been moaning for weeks now about how dieciocho (patriotic Chilean holidays) makes me ill because of the amount of fatty meat consumed (plus empanadas and chicha, excessively sweet wine) and the freaking cueca. I swear that dance puts disappointment all over my face. This dance imitates courtship between rooster and hen. You think I'm kidding? I am not. Imagine what that looks like. It is not a pretty sight. And definitely not sexy, not even particularly rythmic. Awkward is how I describe it. So I was not looking forward to being turned into the entertainment of the asado as the pathetic attempt of a cueca dancing gringa. But this year I decided I would conquer the stupid thing. So, come September 18th, D decides to teach me. We youtube some videos and cueca music and he teaches me the form. There actually is a pattern! And guess what, the woman controls the movement of the thing! Unbelievable. Suffice to say, I wowed them at the asado with my mad cueca skills. I mean, I was still pretty pathetic and terribly embarrassed (of course they made D and I dance alone as the spectacle, but it was all in good humor) but I had a blast. I love dancing, so even if the dance is a bit...odd...I enjoyed every bit of it. Lesson learned? Shut my big mouth, stop whining, learn something new and have fun doing it! 

So that's what's up with me. I promise blogging will be back as a priority and I will jump on the group blogging bandwagon that I have been following. I love the idea and can't wait to participate! 

p.s. After a wonderful bachelorette party for Tamsin, I came home (IN THE COW TAXI!!! please tell me Santiaguinos that you know what I'm talking about. If you ever get in a taxi that looks like a cow, ask him to honk his horn. It's special ;) ... anyways...) so I came home safely making it through the park by my apartment to find an email from Kyle about a handbag give away. And of course, it being way past my bedtime, I decided to click the link and check out what the deal was. So this website is launching October 15 and are giving away 24 bags in 24 hours. I never win these things, but I felt in the mood to give it a shot. Why not, right? It's all too easy to try (of course lessening my chances) so if you are interested (and want to lessen my chances even more!) check out the site: 
so thank kyle's night time internet haunting for my return to blogdom :)