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Notes from Underneath: August 2009

Notes from Underneath

A California girl in Chilsters (that's Chile to you)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009



Do you want to know what I miss? I miss that feeling of security I had when I walked out the door living in the U.S. In fact, that feeling of security even living in your own home, which is provided most of the time living in the States.

Not a day goes by in Chile that I don't hear about some tragic thing that happened to someone as they went along their way living their lives, minding their own business. Today, from two separate sources, I heard a version of the following:

Some woman was driving along a nice neighborhood in Santiago with her window opened only slightly, when from her side mirror she sees a young-ish woman running frantically towards her, crying. The woman running reaches the car and says to the woman driving "Please help me! My husband is after me and he's going to beat me! He found me with another man, please help me, he's going to kill me." The woman is crying real tears, freaking out and upon closer inspection, yes, there really was a man behind the young woman, running down the street after her with a lead type thing in his hand.

My devout blog reader, what do you do in this scenario? Do you turn the other way and say "sorry" or do you help this poor woman who is obviously frantic and who could potentially be in real danger of getting killed? My inclination if faced with this is to obviously HELP the woman... but here in Chile it could get YOU beaten and robbed!

If this story is true, here's what happened: the woman in the car DID stop for the young woman crying but it turns out that she was part of a group of people who had robbed a local store and were looking for a getaway car. They spotted this woman driving who, apparently, had the face of a "dumb ass" and so they chose her for this ill- fated encounter and it turns out that this woman driving was beaten and maybe robbed (though that part of the story is unclear to me - if they stole her purse too). The man running after the young, frantic girl wasn't after her to beat her but part of a scheme in search of 1) a robbery and 2) a getaway car.

And should this story be true (and it very well may be since it apparently appeared in "El Mercurio" - Chile's leading newspaper) the WORST part of all this is that the woman driving claims that there were many, many witnesses that she cried out to for help and NO ONE HELPED HER.

My mother told me this story (she's my source for all things 'worst-case-scenario') and I read it yet again in a forum of a group I belong to ... and the person who posted this story in the forum asks a very interesting question: is this story legitimate or is this a way into cornering us into our own little world where we don't help our fellow neighbors who are in need, for fear that we will be taken advantage or or even hurt?

The more I live here, the more I read, the more I speak to others, I reiterate that not a day goes by that I don't hear a story like this one I just wrote about or hear about these said "Spidermen" who scale 24 story buildings to rob an apartment on the 24th floor. The person who lives there gets home and realizes all his/her things are gone!
Or the story of how a person will call and frantically say "OMG your mother/brother/sister/husband/child has been hurt. You need to get down here fast/send money/meet me at such and such place/ in order to avoid delays in hospitalization/going to jail/answering to the authorities." And so the person receiving the call FREAKS THE F OUT because who wouldn't when receiving such a call?? But here in Chile it may very well be a tactic to rob/hurt you. So should this call come in, what does one do?

Since one can't be sure, I've decided that for now I won't answer to anyone or help anyone that crosses my path who is in need - of ANYTHING. I know this is not humanitarian nor is it neighborly of me and I am sorry to see this part of me fade to black. But I'm in a different jungle here in South America and while I realize and appreciate that it's not the fiercest of the jungles out there (such as Mexico City and Sao Paulo) I'm certainly not in pleasant San Francisco, California. One adapts and this is, for now, part of my adaptation.

What do you think? Do I have a point? Or am I surrendering a part of my humanity and a part of my generosity in taking such a stance?

Friday, August 21, 2009


Not really homesick...more lost

It has come to my attention that I have hit a face-to-face moment with my reality: I live here. In Santiago...and consequently, am not going to be heading back "home" - ever.

I've been told that this happens but that each day will get better. It's not like I'm on the ledge ready to bounce, but I feel like a stranger in a strange land and have lost all sense of serenity with my surroundings. I come close when I'm with G - actually the closest I've ever been since I've moved here - but I'm a pretty self sufficient person and it's not enough for me to only feel it when he's around.

Do you know what it's like when the minute you step out of your house, you have ZERO idea of how things are done? Or what it's like that NO MATTER what you're doing (walking, shopping, browsing, BEING) you're different because you NEVER do things or ask for things the way everyone around you does? You speak Spanish but not quite the same as everyone else does and you're always asked "Oh, where are you from?" Because I'm not gringa enough to pass as a full fledged American (to them) but not Chilean enough to be, well, Chilean. So I'm this weird hybrid that they can't label and therefore you walk around being ... weird.

Weird is fine with me. I'd rather be labeled as weird than be a conformist (those seem to be the two options here as far as I can tell) but if I'm going to be weird, I wish I knew even the most basic of things... such as getting from point A to point B. I have a GPS for that (which works when it wants to) but what I really miss is that comfort of just KNOWING where to go for what. You don't really think about it when you have it but when you're used to living somewhere, you can do whatever you please by simply knowing where to find it.

I don't discard that I may be going through a period where I'm feeling sorry for myself as one reality after another hits me... I won't go into detail about those realities but let me just say that the whole feeling sorry for oneself doesn't jive well with me since it's not my norm.

So I reiterate to you my dear little blog reader, that no, I am not on the ledge ready to jump but man, things are way different here and it's hard to have no idea which way is up. Well, obviously here they'd tell me that "up" is towards the "Cordillera" (Andes), and not that this has anything to do with what I'm writing but I'd like to point out that when you're new to Santiago, that damn Cordillera is EVERYWHERE. Literally I feel that it goes in a circle and if not, then at least a half moon because every direction I look there's a part of the Andes somewhere in the horizon. Which only adds to my lack of sense of direction since a well accustomed Chilean will use THAT as a point of reference for any direction they're heading in.

But that's six of one and half a dozen of another, as a good friend of mine would say.

In short, I guess my sentiments right now can best be summed up by a portion of Alanis' "You Learn":

I recommend biting off more then you can chew to anyone
I certainly do
I recommend sticking your foot in your mouth at any time
Feel free
Throw it down (the caution blocks you from the wind)
Hold it up (to the rays)
You wait and see when the smoke clears

You live you learn
You love you learn
You cry you learn
You lose you learn
You bleed you learn
You scream you learn

And... the smoke does eventually clear, right?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Sofa or bust!

I have a new observation about Chile and I just realized that I summed it up very well in an email I just sent to a couple of friends back home.

Here is the snippet that sums up my latest observation and conclusion:

"...Gonzalo is AMAZING. We bought a sofa last night for our place and are having it custom made. The bad thing about Chile is that they sell the EXACT same thing in all stores and there is a COMPLETE LACK of specialty stores (think Bed Bath and Beyond, Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, etc). It's all the same department stores selling the same sh*t. BORING. So we had to go UBER expensive and get our sofa AND our nightstands and dressers CUSTOMIZED.
Chile is a weird, weird place that in some ways forces you to conform. If you want to be different, there is a price to pay. It's a weird phenomenon."

I have found this to be true especially in the retail environment. Perhaps not so much in the, say, entertainment aspect since from what I can tell, there are ALL KINDS of restaurants, pubs, bars and nightclubs. But in the retail environment there are THREE major players (other players too but I'm talking major department stores here) and they are: Ripley, Paris and Falabella. The theory Gonzalo and I had was that perhaps the Paris in La Florida (a district of Santiago) had different items than the Paris in, say, La Dehesa (another, more upscale district of Santiago). We were mistaken. We went UP and DOWN Santiago and visited EVERY SINGLE Ripley, Paris and Falabella we could feasibly trek to and each and every one had the EXACT SAME thing.

Now, I'm not one to criticize people's tastes in sofas but I personally don't happen to like leather sofas and I feel that they do not express me at all, nor do I feel that they express what I want my home to convey. That's just me. To each his own. However, I would say that about 70% of the sofas they sell in Chile are leather and they all look really similar to one another. So then I wonder, do Chileans really like leather sofas or is it that they are FORCED to like leather sofas for lack of better, less-expensive options?

Here's an example of what they are selling at Falabella for about $1200 USD:

Here's an example of what's being sold at Ripley for about $1700 USD:

And for the final comparison, here is an example of what they are selling at Paris for about $1500 USD: it just me? Or do these look hauntingly similar to one another?

Ok, to be fair, they do have fabric sofas as well but those looks alike too. But then again, what am I expecting? Sofas have seat cushions and back cushions and arm I want a seven foot tall sofa with ONE giant seat that's big enough for 8 people?? Why even write this post?

I think that the reason I had such a hard time finding a sofa is because I wanted one that was EXACTLY like the one I had in my apt back home. Take a gander here:

I searched high and low for this sofa which was my very first "adult" purchase when I moved out to live on my own. It was a huge hit with guests - my friends are sure to attest to that. Plus, I loved that it was red since I felt that it gave my home a type of warmth that, to me, other colored sofas couldn't really manage. Gonzalo fell in love with it too and so of course we took this search for a similar sofa to the streets of Santiago.
That's when we learned that if we wanted this type of sofa - with it's velour-ish finish, two-cushioned, three seater and wine color red - we'd have to seriously deviate from the norm here and find a place who would custom make it for us. And we found that place! Yeehaw!!

To be delivered in six to seven weeks.... argh! Such is the price to pay for the ideal sofa!

Friday, August 14, 2009


Picture please...oh, no picture?? No job!!!

Ok, perhaps I'm ever so slightly exaggerating in my subject heading but I find it quite - what's the right word - ... peculiar/disturbing that it's quite acceptable here to submit a resume for a job with a picture of yourself on it.

Actually the most disturbing part of it isn't that it's acceptable to submit it as such, but more so, that it's acceptable to REQUEST the submission of a resume with a picture. And they will clearly outline, in writing so as not to cause any misunderstanding, "Con currĂ­culum, foto y referencias..." (Submit with Resume, Picture and References...)

Can we think about what this means in the day-to-day job application process here in Chile? When it comes down to two individuals who have the exact same qualifications and who have the exact same stellar
references and who have worked in similar impressive companies, the automatic deciding factor is: your appearance??!!! How you look in your resume picture?

And in Chile it actually goes beyond that at times (so I've heard). It can really come down to whether or not you're a lighter skin tone or blonder or have light or dark eyes. Why? Because that's really valued in a country where everyone pretty much looks like the next person. I've been here less than a month and the other day at the mall I did a double take when I saw a true blonde. I was like "whoa!!" Hello?? Who am I? Blondes are more prevalent in the USofA so to me, it's like ok, you're blonde. Here, not so prevalent so it truly stands out as a mark of ...being different. Or perhaps in some minds, a mark of being better. After less than a month, I fell victim to that as well.

Which brings me back to applying for a job. I thankfully have a job but it got me thinking about my resume picture, in the event I have to start looking for a job here at some point. Which picture would it be?? Which would sell me and make me stand out?? Especially should a blonde, blue eyed be my competition.

I was thinking of this one:

Though I feel like I look a TINY bit like I'm trying to go ... use the facilities. Would that work for me or against me? If I argue that I am a hard worker and don't give up, that could work in my favor, no?

But then, there's also this one:

Where my enthusiasm cannot be denied and therefore, one could argue that I would apply that same enthusiasm to my position, right?

But how can we discard this one:

And this one provides the "A" as a reminder for my name and that's ALWAYS useful, when a potential employer remembers your name. Am I right or am I right?


It's a tough call. They're all an aspect of me that I want an employer to recall! What to do? Perhaps when the time comes, I should submit a small photo album for further reference...

And to be fair, there are so many other factors that contribute to getting a job here. I think that above and beyond a picture or being fair and blonde, it's what we call a "pituto" here. Basically, knowing someone who can get you in. This is a country that is run by "pitutos." If you want anything here, you need to know someone who can get you in (whether a job, a club, a social group, a school, etc).

In the end, I'm not so sure it's that different from the U.S. Whereas there we can't legally request or send a picture on the resume, I don't feel that it's past us in the U.S. to pick a candidate based on which college they attended. I also don't feel it's unheard of to hire someone that someone else referred. Of course it's not. I know two people who were hired at my old company based on a reference from me. Of course they did their part to get hired but would they have gotten the interview without the reference? I wonder.

Though now that I am thinking about it, the difference I see is this: in the U.S. it truly is possible to get a job at a company where no one recommended you or gave you a reference. In fact, I think that when compared to Chile, getting a job in such a "blind" manner is even prevalent in the U.S.

Well, should I ever get to the point where I need to find a job here, you can rest assured my avid blog followers (all three to four of you), I will shed the TRUEST light on the process for your enjoyment and for our mutual enlightenment!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009



There's one in my apartment right now, cleaning. She addresses me in the formal you and calls me Senora Andrea. Did I mention she may potentially be older than my mom AND that I am paying her an amount, though good here, that might be considered illegal in the U.S.?

I don't know how I feel about this. The selfish me is so stoked I don't really have to clean anything - or iron - EVER! I like things to be super clean but hate the process of cleaning.

The not-so-selfish part of me is like "um please let me do that since you're about 40 years older than me and shouldn't be bending over like that."

I'm sure the selfish part of me will win out especially since here it's considered normal to have a nana who is paid between $10USD - $25USD for cleaning a three bedroom (or more) apartment. And it's considered normal that no matter how much older she is than me, I'm the Senora.

For me there is no other option though - I call her Senora Ester too and also refer to her in the formal you. I can't imagine not doing so... she's cleaning my toilets for Pete's sake!! Oy.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


My cabby can beat up your cabby...and other findings

Today I stepped out of my "office" to have lunch with K (take another bow, as this is your THIRD cameo on my blog) and to avoid another fight with Santiago (the city) I opted to take a cab to her office. I already had a fight with Stgo earlier this week and I really want to avoid getting all cranky pants at him, especially around the dreadful topic of parking in the city. It's a nightmare. You thought SF or NY was bad? Try Santiago where 7+ million of their total 16 million inhabitants live in the city. In short, the car to parking spot ratio is dire. So, I avoided driving so as not to have another fall out with the city as I did on Monday.
Except my cab driver cut another cab driver off at some point in the route and when we were about 2.2 seconds from where I had to hop out, the cab that my driver had cut off pulled up next to us at the light. Thus began the insults back and forth:

Cabby #1 (the one who was cut off): You need to put your blinker on, old man. You totally cut me off!
Cabby #2: No I didn't. You were going that other way and I was going straight.
Cabby#1: No, that's not how it happened. You just need to use that blinker and stop driving like an a**hole.
Cabby #2: Oh, I'm the a**hole? You need to be quiet and just keep driving. You're just way ahead of yourself and driving too fast. (which, incidentally, can I just point out that one cabby saying that to another is SO ironic...)
Cabby #1: Where did you get your license? Stay out of my way, old man!

At this point, the light changes and I can literally SEE the bldg where I'm supposed to meet K, all the while these two cab drivers continue to yell insults at each other as we're driving! All I want to do is GET OUT OF THE CAB as I was pretty sure that guns were going to soon come out blazing. Oh no. That's not how it's done here in Chile... instead, they each swerved TOWARDS each other and away from each as if to scare one another into thinking that they were going to get hit. But the thing is that it was done with such synchronization that neither of them hit the other one and it was done as a show of muscle. Fluffing of feathers, if you will. I, of course, was thrown about inside my cab, hit my elbow and ended up with my purse on the other side of the passenger seat. In the end though, he stopped at the building, I paid my $1200 pesos, thanked him, wished him a nice day and stepped out.
Ahhhhh... all in a day's work!

So that was today's misadventure. But what I wanted to provide here is a short view of some things I've kept mental note of since I moved in with G almost a week ago.

Some things I find quite interesting/peculiar and/or sometimes cute:

And finally (for today) -
Ok I'm just kidding on that happy hour take a number thing... but I bet it's not that far off from reality SOMEWHERE in this narrow country...


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