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Chilean Cultural Observations: Part One

During my first week and half or so, I have noticed a few quirks and idiosyncrasies among Chile and its people. In this post, I will highlight some of the more noteworthy ones. I have a feeling that these are just the tip of the iceberg…so I will definitely continue posting them as they come about.

Stray dogs- They are absolutely everywhere! Literally, I think they comprise at least 1-2% of the Chilean population. However, I must say that the deprived, malnourished, and dirty reality the majority of these dogs face is a bit unsettling. As a proud dog-lover with two Aussies of my own, I can’t help but feel the urge to go around collecting all of these creatures and start a refuge. But as one starts to take into account the level to which dogs have been relegated in Chilean culture, you just need to accept it and move on.

Chilean food- Chilean cuisine is the brainchild of, well, a child. Chilean cuisine can be characterized by lots of ingredients going where they’re not supposed to, most of which are drenched and oozing with some variation of fat, grease, or similar provocateur of blood pressure. For the best example of Chile’s creations, please refer back to the Chorillana. That is not to say you can’t eat well in Chile, you just need to either live near the coast, or any other place in Chile outside of Santiago.

Five topographies- A common characteristic of many Chileans I’ve met is that they’ve hardly left the country. This seems to be for two reasons: first, Chile’s geographical position, far removed and deep down in the Southern hemisphere, makes it quite expensive to fly anywhere. Second, but and very interesting, is that Chile has an extremely diverse system of climates & micro-climates, each with their own corresponding set of natural wonders. As a result, any sort of region, weather, topography, outdoor activity, or change in scenery you so desire can be satisfied by a busride between 2 and 28 hours give or take, depending on your thirst for adventure.

Parks- In both Santiago and Quilpue, the city in which I currently reside, there are no shortage of well-manicured, grassy, and inviting parks. The one with which I am most familiar, Parque Brasil, sticks out in my mind. One day during orientation week, I went to the park in late afternoon to read and relax a bit, and stumbled upon a small troop practicingcapoeira, the Brazilian dance fused with martial arts, fully equipped with instruments and good vibes.

Chileano vs. Espanol

Something I’ve started to realize is that if you decide to come to Chile, you have essentially decided to learn two separate foreign languages: Spanish and Chilean. This is not to say that Chileans do not speak Spanish, it’s just that through their excessive use of Chilenismos* (see below), rapid-fire speaking pace, as well as disregard for the ends of each word, Chilean Spanish has a twang that makes it sometimes undecipherable and unrecognizable from its conventional Spanish language origins. I’ve made a list of the aforementioned “Chilenismos” (Chileno + modismo), which are words Chileans just simply decide to use instead of the Spanish equivalent.

*Small shout-out to another volunteer, Ren, who has already started to compile a full-length list of these wonderful idioms!


*Po– On par with “wey” in Mexispeak, “dude” in Amerispeak, or “guy” in Alphasigspeak. To sum, this word can be heard, on average, every fourth or fifth word coming out of a Chilean speaker’s mouth.

Weon– Similar to “huevon” in Mexican-Spanish, this can be used to describe any number of things, but it is mainly used as a cruder way of saying “dude”.

*Cachai?- Think of the Don Corelone equivalent, “Capish?”. Similar to “entendido”, this word is used nearly as much as “po”, if not more, but rather means “understood/do you understand?” Also see “na’waddaimean?”

*Filete– Like it’s parecido in English, the word literally translates to filet, and is used along the same lines; to signify that something is “cool”, “the top cut of the meat”, or of “alta calidad”.

Bacan– See Filete.

Tranquii– A tranquilo way of saying “tranquilo”.

*Favorites so far have an asterisk

In the following post, I will document my initial impressions of my current city, Quilpue, as well as my host family and new place of employment, Colegio Montesol!

3 responses

  1. Ren

    Great stuff Julian… The part about Chilean food being the brainchild of a child made me laugh out loud, po! Can’t wait to hear about your groovy alternative school, I’ll have to tell you about my Catholic school’s ‘blessing of the backpacks’ when we meet up (in the near future I hope!).


    March 10, 2012 at 1:29 am

  2. Rachel Weiler

    Julian, this is amazing! I had no idea this program existed–safe travels and I can’t wait to keep up with your adventures!!

    March 10, 2012 at 2:31 am

  3. Sebastian(mate)

    Julian, “cachai” viene de la palabra en ingles catch y significa eso mismo “agarrar” “atajar” “entender” algo :B me cachai? xD
    Good bye

    April 11, 2012 at 2:54 am

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