While buying water in the Santiago airport, I said to the convenience store attendant, “¿Tiene cambio para un billete de 50 pesos?” or, “Do you have change for a 50 peso bill?”
He replied, “No.”
I responded, “Quiero uno botella de agua. ¿Hay otra mantra de pagar? ¿Se acepta tarjeta de credito?” or “I want water, is there another way I can pay? Do you take credit cards?”
The clerk said I could pay with a credit card for the 3 peso water. While the transaction processed, he asked me 2 questions that became commonplace every time I interacted with store staff, hostel staff, servers, and members of the local public in Chile. In this order he asked:
- Where are you from?
- How come you speak Spanish well?
My customary response to these questions was to smile, express appreciation, and explain that my public school in the U.S. taught class in Spanish instead of English. I often added that I lived for a year in Chile.
I know the people who complimented me on my language skills did so without intending to insult me, however I could not help feeling very slightly disrespected. Reflecting on these interactions, I think about:
- How come non-native people cannot also have decent Spanish language skills?
- What is it about perceptions of people from the U.S. that it is surprising I would know a second language having been raised in that country?
- How come the person I am interacting with feels entitled to know about my personal story after 30 seconds of interaction and when we will never meet again?
- Why does my physical appearance automatically indicate I am an outsider?
Each time I experienced an interaction that felt a little like a back-handed compliment, I thought about friends from the U.S. who, based on appearances, do not fit easily into a category. For example, friends who are international adoptees, friends who are gay, and friends who are immigrants all, at moments, have an added burden of justifying and explaining their identity.
Viewed positively, the curiosity of others provides an opportunity to breakdown stereotypes. Less positively, there are moments when the responsibility to explain myself and/or represent a larger group becomes burdensome. As a white, straight, woman in the U.S. it is rare to feel like an outsider. In Chile, my outsider status and otherness were facts I was reminded of daily. When I return to Minnesota, I will remember how I felt in moments like I experienced at the Santiago airport and, as much as possible, work to avoid making other people feel this way too.
Justin Sevold, a friend from college, fulfilled a dream when he traveled to Peru and hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Knowing I would be in Chile around the same time, he finished his hike then joined me for a visit to Santiago and Valparaiso. I met Justin at the Santiago airport around 6:00pm. Because of traffic, we reached the hostel after 8:00pm. With new friends I met through my bunkmate Nick (from Canada), we grocery shopped and cooked dinner at the hostel. Nick hiked in Torres del Paine National Park with Anna and Kelsey (from D.C.) so they joined dinner too. Our meal will be pictured in a future Eating Well post.
During our only full day in Santiago we explored the city center, including the main square called La Plaza de Armas. La Moneda Palace, pictured in the two photos on the right, is the presidential palace. This building was heavily bombed during the 1973 military coup led by Augusto Pinochet.
That afternoon in Santiago, we joined a company called La Bicicleta Verde for a vineyard tour. At the outskirts of Santiago and reachable via metro is the Cousiño Macul vineyard. Our 2 hour tour included a bike ride through their property.
We tasted one of the wines, a sauvignon blanc, while surrounded by the grape vines. I learned the name of the wine comes from the name of the grape. For example, sauvignon blanc wine is made from sauvignon blanc grapes.
Cousiño Macul remains a family owned vineyard. Land previously belonging to the family was sold to developers seeking to profit from the continual expansion of the city. The Costanera Center, the tallest building in Latin America, and other city buildings sit on land formerly owned by the family.
I have toured a few vineyards however this was my first experience seeing mature grapes ready for harvest on the vines. It was exciting timing. Our tour guide invited us to taste a few grapes and they had deliciously strong flavors.
Before the tasting, our tour visited the bodega, the storage spaces, at the vineyard. On the bodega walk-through we passed the family’s private collection which includes bottles from the first years of wine production at the vineyard. Our tour guide explained the private collection functions more as a research library and production log than an at-will tasting supply.
On our second day in Santiago we started the morning with an intense climb up Cerro San Cristobal for city views. At the top of this cerro, the Spanish word for hill, is an outdoor Catholic worship space and a large statue of the Virgin Mary. After our hike, we hurried back to our hostel to collect our luggage and begin the subway to bus journey from Santiago to Valparaiso. On the subway we listened to this man play his flute for tips.
After a few hours of transit, we arrived in the coastal city of Valparaiso. We rested briefly and around 9:00pm we went to the tourist cerros (hills) to meet our new friends Nick, Anna and Kelsey. After drinks we walked down via stairs from the hills to the area of the city called el plan, the flat part of the city. We listened to live music and danced salsa at La Piedra Feliz. Using my language skills and our gringo cards, I was able to get our group a discounted cover charge for the entrance. At the end of the night, my friend Ricardo, a friend from my year studying in Chile, stopped by the bar. Kelsey, Anna, Nick and I finished the night with a trip to a packed, multi-story DJed dance club.