A common theme in any foreign country is the need to adjust to customs that are different from those of your own country. For me, Chile is no exception. Here are a couple of ways in which Chile differs from the United States:
- Personal space / affection
Chileans tend to be a lot more affectionate, generally speaking, then people in the United States. This is something you realize almost immediately, because their customary greetings / farewells are different than what we are used to. Between two Chilean men, a handshake and sometimes a hug / slap on the back is usually used to say hello or goodbye, which is similar to the US. But if two women or a woman and man are saying hello or goodbye in Chile, the custom is to kiss each other on the cheek at the same time. This occurs whether have you known someone for years or are meeting them for the first time, which has led to some awkward but funny moments for me. In addition, there tends to be a lot more public displays of affection between couples here. When I tell Chileans about the importance of personal space for most people in the US, the fact that displays of affection tend to be reserved for loved ones and how PDA is not welcomed at certain times / in certain places, they find it a bit odd. Because affection and physical touch are such an integral part of life here, people from the United States may sometimes come across as somewhat cold and uptight in this regard. Luckily, this Chilean custom has not been too difficult of an adjustment for me, but I know that may not be the case for everyone. However, I think it is important to try out or adapt to many of the local customs when you visit other countries, even if it sometimes makes you uncomfortable. Being open to learning about the differences between you and others and embracing that diversity is almost always a good thing.
- The concept of time
In my comings and goings in Chile, I have realized that Americans are often in a rush, and that we place a lot of emphasis on punctuality. We have this compulsion to be on time everywhere we go, and while this is not necessarily a terrible trait of ours, it is not something that applies to Chileans (speaking in stereotypes, of course). In the United States, to be on time is to arrive at least a couple of minutes (if not more) before an event begins. In Chile, it is common to arrive a few minutes after the designated time for an event without provoking much irritation (depending on the leniency of the person you are dealing with). I haven’t found this Chilean custom particularly unpleasant, especially on the occasions this week when I have arrived late to my classes and no one batted an eye, and occasionally even the professor was later than I was! Although some of the forgiving attitudes towards tardiness extended to me and other people in my study abroad program may be because we are gringos and they expect us to be somewhat lost, it is clear that the word “late” has a different connotation here. It is not as if the Chileans don’t care about punctuality at all, but being late doesn’t create the same overwhelming sense of panic here as it does in the United States.
Overall, it has been a enjoyable experience for me to compare my culture to the customs of Chile. I find it fascinating to discover the differences and similarities between cultures and countries, and I even delight in what sets us apart, because as the French expression goes, “Vive la difference!” For this reason, I plan to bring up the topic of cultural differences and compare the United States and Chile a lot in my blog. I hope this is something you will enjoy reading, because I know that I love writing about it. Chao for now!