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.
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.