I’ve been in Santiago, Chile for about two and a half months now and have gotten pretty used to living here. I really like it here. The people are nice, the weather is amazing (especially if you compare it to the snowpocalypse in Wisconsin this week) and I’m making great friends in the Startup Chile program. I had always wanted to live in another country, but couldn’t study abroad because of my previous business. I’ve been meaning to write more about my experiences here, but nothing has been worthy of a full blog post. Jesse wrote up a grab bag of his reflections on life in Chile and inspired me to stop being lazy and write it all down.
Why are you here and do you like it?
Most Chileans are confused by why I am here. They always ask the question almost disbelievingly, especially when I meet them for the first time. I feel dumb when I answer by saying, “we were working on our startup for about a year and a half an we saw the article in forbes and tech crunch and decided to apply. it’s really cold in Wisconsin and we wanted to avoid the winter and we wanted to live in another country and the money was the push we needed.”
And yes, I honestly do like it here. Many Chileans don’t seem to believe me and they ask what I like. I say that the people are nice, the mountains are beautiful, I live being close to the beach and not being in winter, but again, I feel like they expect more. It’s especially bad when I’m doing this in Spanish because I think people think I’m saying basic things because I don’t speak much, but in reality I say the same things in English.
Food and Wine
Restaurant food is expensive and most doesn’t seem to be a great value for money. I am used to spicy, flavorful meals with lots of salad and veggies, but the typical Chilean lunch is meat and potatoes, with hardly any spices, if any. Peruvian restaurants are a better deal because the food is better and spicier. Chileans make great sandwiches though and if you like to cook, you’re in luck. Produce is incredibly cheap, fresh and good.
I’m not sure why Chilean food is bland, but it’s clear that most Chileans don’t like spicy food. I’ve heard speculation that it’s because Chile is very strict about food imports, so they don’t get all of the spices, but if you’re thinking spicy food, you’re not gonna find much.
On the other hand, wine is great here. If you spend $10, you’ll get something really good. If you spend $20, which is hard to do, you’ll get something exceptional. I’ll miss cheap, good wine in the US.
Cost of Living
The general rule is that services cost way less than the US and goods cost more, sometimes way more. Taxis are cheap, electronics expensive. People’s time costs less here, but imports seem expensive. Housing is about on par with Madison, which is cheap by US big city standards, but not overall cheap.
When you meet a woman you kiss her on the cheek, no matter if it’s a business situation. I kiss my banker on the cheek when we have a meeting the same as one of my friends. I do the same when I leave. Men who are friends do a handshake/hug type thing. It was hard to get used to and it’s still weird when you meet another American, because it’s hard to decide whether to do the kiss on the cheek/hug or just shake hands like we were in the US. It’s a nice change from the states.
Walking in Crowds
The area around our office is really busy. There’s lots of people walking fast on pedestrian only streets. In the US, you walk on the right and if someone is walking toward you, you’ll both go right. In the UK, it’s the opposite, you go left. Here, there’s no rule. You just walk forward and play a game of chicken. There’s no rhyme or reason. I think they should send athletes here to practice their quick cuts.
Santiago is an Orderly City
After walking around the centro with no rhyme or reason, it’s strange that the rest of life in Santiago is extremely orderly. It’s completely normal to see 50-100 people waiting in a perfectly calm line to get on the bus at rush hour. During rush hour, the metro is hot and crowded, but you never see any pushing and shoving. People seem to go the extra mile to be courteous.
Chileans of different classes don’t mix much. The rich live in Vitacura, Las Condes and Providencia, with the middle in the surrounding areas and the poor to the south and to the west. It seems to me that people in the upper classes are generally more worried about image, whereas the middle class seems more open. It’s sort of like the LA mentality vs. the Chicago mentality. Many seem to look down on those lower than themselves.
There is a Chilean word “flaite” which basically means “white trash.” It can mean anything from low class, to dangerous, to criminal or just crappy. I’ve heard Chileans of all social classes that I’ve met describe someone or some location as flaite, but it’s all in the eye of the beholder. Here’s an example.
When we first got here, we didn’t know anything, so we just went out and had fun. I’ll call it Club A. After meeting Chileans who were our age, they told us that Club A was “flaite” and they recommended new places (Club B). We tried Club B and had fun. Then we met some more Chileans in a higher social class and they told us Club B was flaite and that we should go to Club C. We tried Club C, had fun and then and the same thing happened, where we maxed out at Club D, which was only ok.
What I’m trying to say is that flaite is in the eye of the beholder and the higher the social class, the more isolated they become because they think more and more is trashy and not worthy of their presence. I’ve seen the same in the rich in LA and NYC, but it seems to be more prevalent here, or we’re just exposed to the upper class more here than I’m used to. As Americans/Europeans, we basically can do what we want and move between classes, but regular Chileans either can’t or won’t.
Another quick example: I told a Chilean that I buy food from street food stands. He looked at me like I was crazy. Another time I was talking to a young professional guy my age and someone in the higher social said “be careful of him” to mean “be careful, he’s lower class.” It’s been a fairly common theme.
There’s a monopoly on credit card processing and bank transfers called Redbank. All banks have to be a part of it. It makes accepting credit cards easy and I can transfer money to anyone in the country free of charge. There’s no need for paypal here. The downside is that the rates for everything else is super high. Interest on credit cards can be as high as 45% and there’s financing available for just about everything. I can even pay my grocery bill in payments if I use my credit card. Credit card processing rates can be as high as 5%, compared with 1-2% in the US.
I wonder if Chile will suffer a crash once all of this credit with high interest comes due?
Another interesting fact: when I got my bank account, I got fingerprinted. I bet this stops identity theft.
RUT is Public Info
The RUT is Chile’s national id number, sort of like our social security numbers. The biggest difference is that you give it out everywhere. Nobody hides it. Instead of scanning a card at the grocery store to get discounts, you give them your RUT, out loud, in line. Your RUT is on your ID card and you give it to your friends/business associates if they want to send you a bank transfer. I’m guessing the fingerprinting prevents ID theft.
Prepaid Mobile Phones
The vast majority of phones are prepaid. You can recharge everywhere; from girls in the metro or in the street, at kiosks, the ATM, online, everywhere. Text messages are really expensive at about $.20 per message. It’s cheaper to have a 2 minute conversation than send a text.
Air Travel is a Huge Deal
At the airport, entire families come to see the traveler through security. Flash bulbs are popping from the time they are getting in line to get their ticket to the last time they leave view as they walk through customs. It’s a reminder that air travel is still an incredible luxury for most of the people in the world, even in a well developed country like Chile.
There you have it, some random observations from living in Chile so far. I really enjoy it and am glad I am here. If I had to choose again, I would 100% make the same decision.
Looking for more high quality information about Chile from my experiences sine 2010? Check out my book Chile: The Expat’s Guide: