The Pacific Ocean to los Viñamarinos

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The Pacific Ocean to the Viñamarinos (the citizens of Viña del Mar, Chile) have an interesting relationship worth noting to those of us who live in the cold Northland of MN. Similar to that of Lake Superior, most people who live in the vicinity of the ocean do not take notice to it very much. I know what you all are thinking, "How can one live next to the ocean and not love it?" It's similar to that of Lake Superior to us. I drove past Lake Superior often in my time in Duluth and there would be times where I forgot about it. Then we think to ourselves that it will be so cool to live next to a beach. To the Viñamarinos, they barely notice the beach and barely go there in there free time. In some ways, from this observation, I have come to appreciate the fact that I don't live by the ocean so that when I do go there, I can appreciate it more than the actual people who see it everyday.

Sushi

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Interestingly enough, there happens to be quite a presence of sushi in Chile. Although I do not like sushi, many gringos in our group jumped at the opportunity to eat sushi often. It seemed like there was a sushi place every other block. Living in Viña del Mar, seafood in general whether the supply in the supermarkets or restaurants maintained a large presence. Due to the large industry of fishing in the nearby port-city Valparaíso, this also makes sense. Also in line with this observation is the fact that many people of Japanese, Chinese, or Korean descent have found their way to Chile to live, work, or study. This may have to do with the opening in trade between Chile and the East Asian Bloc.

Subjectively Objective

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I was reminded by a reader of mine, my Chilean university adviser, professor, and a good friend, that what I am putting across in these blogs is told from my point-of-view. I agree with him and feel it should be mentioned. I am just an observer. I am a foreign observer that tries to make sense of objectivities with a subjective lens. This is definitely a oxymoronic challenge. I feel it cannot be accomplished, thus it is important for me to "warn" all readers of my natural bias.

I am choosing to blog about Chilean culture and history, the Spanish Language, etc. in terms that Honors Program students (the main audience) might find interesting in place of just describing what I did every day which is what many of my fellow students are doing. I find blogs like that to be boring and uninteresting to the audience so I chose the more informational route. That being said, I must make some subjective comments in order to iterate the information I would like to get across.

I encourage you all that if you are interested in any of the subject-matter presented, research it on your own or do not hesitate to email me with questions or comments: and01175@d.umn.edu.

Thank you for tuning into the blog and I look forward to presenting this information to you all come February.

Classism in Chile

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As most countries do, Chile exhibits a difference in wealth and socioeconomic status. Living in Viña del Mar, Chile, a populous city (I have only lived in suburbs up until now), there are a mix of burroughs around the city that have distinct levels of wealth. The ones in the lower class are generally called, "los flaites" whereas the ones higher up are called, "los cuicos". I live in a upper-middle class home in a middle-class neighborhood. We do live close to upper class homes as well as low-income housing.

When I discuss meeting and hanging out with Chilean friends, I am always asked where they live and what they're last name is. When I tell them where they live, they respond, "Oh, that's good". I was confused at first by this, but it matters to my host-family who I spend my time with and their socioeconomic class. Generally those of the "lower class" are uneducated and you can tell who they are by their poor speech. The classes are usually distinct in a way I am not used to.

The classism in Chile could be more apparent because of the switch from suburb to city life, however I do think that the classes are an important facet of the culture here in Chile. Because there are these more distinct lines yet communities of all classes, us gringos have been taught what to do in certain situations, for example with the beggars or gypsies. We are always told to make sure we have our items secure. Robbery is a much bigger problem here than where I grew up, that is for sure.

All a part of the learning experience, I suppose.

Gender Inequality

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The cultural preference to males is quite apparent in Chile. The men mainly work the high-paying jobs while the wives typically stay at home, raise the kids, cook dinner etc. This traditional mindset unfortunately leads to a concept called "Machimso" or in English "Macho-ism". This is the concept that males need to be super macho. They do all of the work and women wait on their heels.

This concept is VERY apparent in Chile. It shows in the male/female dynamics of everyday life stemming from the young to the old. Typically the worse situations are the ones that include older couples, much like my host-parents. Yet it occurs and is indoctrinated from old to young. My host-parents, for example, are an excellent example of the machismo culture. My host-mom does not work, she stays at home and cleans, cooks dinner, etc. When my host-father comes home from work, he sits at the table and waits for her to serve her EVERYTHING that he needs. If she is sitting too with him/us on the opposite side of the table, he will just say, "There is no spoon" and she will go running. This is shown in many other ways in their relationship. It stems down to the entire family. My host-sister, 43, also is expected to do a lot more work around the kitchen/house even though she works 6 more hours a week than my host father. My host brother, 27, goes to school and works, but nowhere near full-time and he does not do a thing around the house. I have not seen my host-father nor host-brother do a single piece of housework (besides electronics and carpentry) or anything in the kitchen.

When I ask to help clean up after a meal, the women in the family look at me as if it is absolutely unnecessary. It seems they would prefer otherwise. I feel my host-brother and father also do not like when I do it. Yet, if I can have any impact on them in a positive way, I am going to continue

A story that exemplifies this relationship and the inequality between men and women concerns the first time my girlfriend came over to my house to meet my host-family. After a grand pasta dinner, I asked like I always do if I could help and my host-mother responds, "No, my son, just rest". And then my girlfriend proceeded to ask if she could help and my host-mother response, "Yea, of course". I also helped clean up to not make the situation worse.

My girlfriend, Rhiannon, who is also down here in Chile, is a Gender Studies minor and is doing a research project on the role of females in the Catholic Church. She has come up with some fascinating observations. Understandably, a lot of these machismo values stem from the prevalence of the Catholic Church in Chile (72% of the population are Roman Catholic).

Regardless, it is a phenomenon that is improving, however, with the increase in education and publicity of women as leaders. Yet, interestingly enough, in a country that is less traditional, more modern such as the U.S., we have never had a woman president and in Chile, a more traditional nation had a woman president in office and was adored.

Santiago

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2 weekends ago, my girlfriend Rhiannon and I went on a trip to Santiago, Chile for the weekend. I thought I would upload a post about Santiago as a city itself and our experiences there.
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Santiago is the capital of Chile as well as the country's largest city area and population wise. Located an hour and a half from the Viña del Mar, it is easy and cheap to travel to. It is also seated at the foothills of the Andes Mountain Range thus serves as a popular housing destination for travelers of winter sports. It has a bustling nightlife and the culture/history of the city is worth the trip. However, it does have some negatives that us as gringos have noted. The pollution in the city is awful. The smog above the city makes it difficult to even see the Andes from not very far away. One can tell when in the city that it is not a very friendly place for your lungs. At the same time, the heat of the city, it was bordering 85 degrees in mid-Spring is excruciating. The air pollution does not help this factor. Also, the noise levels are crazy loud. This was a problem for my girlfriend and I even though we stayed outside the center of town. Also, the city has a large issue with unemployment (beggars on the street) and robbery. A girl in our group was assaulted and then robbed in the middle of the afternoon earlier this year in Santiago. Although the numerous negatives of Santiago, like I said, the culture, history and architecture of the city are incredible. It is a fun place to be (if you bring ear plugs and an inhaler).

I am now going to upload some pictures of our trip to Santiago and discuss a little of the setting of each picture.
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The picture above is my girlfriend Rhiannon and I standing in front of La Moneda, the presidential palace of Chile. This building has had quite the impact in Chilean history, being the location of the military coup d'etat in 1973 and death of Salvador Allende. For those interested in history, I highly recommend to check it out. For a summary of its history, check out its Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Moneda_Palace

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The picture above is of the University of Chile on the most populous road in Santiago. This is the location of most of the student protests that have been taking place here in Chile for the past 9 months. Most schools (I believe this one as well) are on strike and do not have classes in session now. The school's philosophy and law department are heading the protests, thus the headquarters for the student side (the other side being the government) is headed at this location. One can notice the banner, graffiti and general dirtiness of the building. Rhiannon and I ate right across the street and discussed the movement.

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The picture above is the Museo de Derechos Humanos (Museum of Human Rights) located in Santiago. The museum was opened up about a year or two ago, thus the architecture and interior is very modern. The exhibits concern the fascist military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet from 1973-1989. It was quite moving and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The only issue was the fact that there wasn't enough time to get through the whole venue!

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The picture above is of the Santiago skyline with the Andes in the background. I took this photo from the top of Santa Lucía Hill, a hill in Santiago that a fort was built on in the 1800s. Notice the smog above the city that obstructs the vision of the Andes. Also note the modern architecture, which depicts the opening-up of the South American economies and exposure to democracy and capitalism.

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This last picture is of one of the largest cathedrals in South America. It is located in the Plaza de Las Armas in central Santiago. It was a cool place to see because of how large it was, extending an entire block! (That is almost a quarter-mile). It was built in the 1700's. The Catholic Church has had a very large impact on the Chilean culture with almost 75% of the population identifying themselves as Roman Catholic.

Español hasta ahora

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I suppose that it would be prudent of me to discuss in the blog my development of Spanish throughout the last 4 months. In my eyes, the main goal of this experience was to learn Spanish and hopefully become fluent. I suppose in all of your eyes, it has seemed like an experience to observe differences in culture. Either way, they are both valuable parameters of knowledge of which I can say from this trip I have benefited.

My Spanish skills have undertaken quite the rollercoaster ride of a journey while being here in Chile. There are days where I feel incredibly confident and almost fluent, and then there are the intermittent days that I feel like I need to be working so much harder. This is the only way to describe the experience, a rollercoaster ride. It is so up and down all the time. Yet this ride seems to be moving in a positive direction.

I would say that I am getting closer to being fluent, but just lack time. I can get across basically whatever I would like to say, even though I may have change the way I say it to accommodate the amount of verbs and vocabulary I know. What lacks is the vocabulary, the new words that I haven't yet come across or taken the time to study. This can only come with more time and more exposure to the language. I'd say that if I were given another year, I could sufficiently call myself fluent, but as I do lack a significant portion of the vocabulary, I don't think that I can say that I am.

At this point in time, with less than 4 weeks left in my adventure, I am starting to get scared that the knowledge I have acquired up until the point that I leave will be all I will learn in my life (my Spanish minor will be complete when I return). At the same time, I know that there exist options for me to continue, such as Spanish Club at UMD, or working/volunteering with Spanish-speakers, etc.

Cigarettes

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Cigarettes
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One of the biggest differences between the United States and Chile that I myself have noticed is the ubiquity and acceptance of cigarettes. I heard at one point in time that some 30% of adults in Chile smoke cigarettes. It is all around. We have had to become desensitized to it because we are around it so much. Let me give you a couple of examples that will illustrate how much it is a part of our daily lives.

At the University

cigarette smoking is very common. We have a courtyard that all of the classes open up to, and at any given time you can walk into said courtyard and find Chileans smoking cigarettes. It is common for the youngsters in college to sit in the courtyard in between their classes and smoke a pack amongst their friends. Because of this, some of the gringos in our group have also taken up the habit of smoking cigarettes between classes, a habit I have tried hard to not pick up on.

At restaurants

there is no policy on smoking inside. When going out at night or even sitting at a restaurant during the day, you are bound to have your clothes smelling like smoke until they are washed again. For those with asthma or allergies, this is problematic. To find a group of people not smoking cigarettes when out in a club/bar is rare.

At public events

there is also no smoking policy. For example, I was at the Chile vs. Paraguay international soccer match last week and there were people smoking cigarettes like crazy in the stands. Apparently second-hand smoke has not yet influenced the politics in the country to act.

The reaction of most gringos

has been quite different. For example, there are those who have chosen to embrace the culture of smoking cigarettes like it is no big deal. They enjoy the fact that cigarettes are between $2 and $3 cheaper here and take advantage of it. On the other hand there are those who really cannot stand it, and get really annoyed. As far as what my reaction is, I really do not care whatsoever if anyone is smoking around me. I do understand the opinion of those who are worried about there own health, yet at the same time, we are in a different culture and people have to learn to accept that. I don't partake, and yea I do get annoyed at the fact that my clothes often smell or that cigarette smoke gets into my eyes. But, if I had to choose between the people who smoke around me, and those who judge others (and thus the majority of the people) for smoking cigarettes, I would choose the ones who are embracing themselves in the culture. I guess I'm just an observer in this regard.

Car alarms

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This is not necessarily an educational post, but just more of a quirky observation. The car alarms in Chile (and Argentina for that matter) are horrendously obnoxious. The U.S. cars (I am trying not to say American, because it truly is politically incorrect) only have a monotone consistent alarm that goes off every second. In Chile, the cars have that, plus the sound of ambulances, police cars, and seemingly every noise pattern known to humankind. These soundbites rotate on a pattern that each pattern lasts for about 5-10 seconds and then it moves on to the next one. This lasts for 1 minute or so. If I can, I will upload a soundbite to show an example. Honestly, it is so much worse than in the U.S. but also a little entertaining because you have no idea which sound pattern will come next!

Vanity of Chileans

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Myself and many other foreign students have observed and discussed the vanity of Chileans while being down here. Chileans can be very vain at times. They care a lot about material things as well as how they and others look. Presentation is crucial to a Chilean.

For example, all of the Chilean students who go to my university are always looking as hip as possible. For instance, no girl wears anything but skinny jeans (I really have yet to see anything different). The color doesn't matter, but as long as it is in-style jeans. The girls always look impeccable. We walk past these groups of Chileans and much of the commentary is concerning a new piece of clothing or how that person looks, etc. Another example of this quality is my host-family. They will be the last ones to admit it, but they are all quite vain. Appearances matter. They will be the first one to say if you look skinnier or fatter (yes, they do tell you when you look bigger). When we (my roommate and I) give the family a gift, they seem to treat us better (not that it is bad at all to begin with). The family members do not leave their rooms unless they are all clothed impeccably. I have not once seen any one of them wearing pajamas or something of the like. Another example is when they are watching TV, they will critique the people on TV based on their looks. This may seem similar to that of the U.S., but it happens quite a bit here and everytime the TV is turned on. "Oh how good-looking that woman!" "That man is so old and ugly", etc. I cannot nor should I generalize this to every Chilean, but most of them we have encountered seem to have a quality like this.

More than in the U.S., Chileans value their looks and material things a lot. They're great people still, just very caught up appearances.

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