Wandering in America del Sur

Travel time: July 2005 - March 2006  |  by Allison Webb

And all that kissing too!

Now there´s one small thing that I neglected to mention earlier and that´s just how much kissing is going on in my life and the life of all these happy Chileans. They are doing it everywhere! In the street, in the elevator, in the lobby, in meeting rooms and in houses too. And while it´s totally common place here, it takes a little getting used to - so a little reprogramming is in order. Rather than proffering your hand when meeting a new person, take a step forward, turn your head and go in with your cheek, right in, but only once! That is the way it´s done here! No two or three times necessary, just pure efficiency and connection made with the one kiss. Now this is equally applied to strangers as well as colleagues and you really have to wonder just how far to take it? For example, do you do it to your doorman who is a total sweetie and carries everything for you or is a bottle of wine better? What are the rules? When is enough enough and when is some too much? I have a distinctive feeling that I´m just going to have to find out the hard way!

And speaking of the hard way, there is the grocery store. I have decided that a set of rules would go a long way here, but doubt that those can be found on any website or in the Lonely Planet book for Chile. Imagine if you will wandering hopelessly lost looking for all your favourites foods up and down the brightly lit aisles, all the while Shania Twain is blaring and folks are grooving on by singing snippets of her songs, very surreal. And if that wasn´t enough, even when you find something recognizable they appear to be in slightly different formats - for example, the largest packages of ketchup seemingly on steroids - that you could ever imagine, but only the tinest packages of spaghetti sauce. Who knew? And what´s up with all these flexible plastic packages, none of which will stand up in a refrigerator, but topple over and have no way to reseal them so you are forced to either use clothespins or else put them in the good ole ziplocks which are also popular here!

And never mind common sense, throw it to the wind and just wander aimlessly looking for things. Tomato juice - in with vodka, ah yes! but of course! Milk - not in the refrigered section, but in the bakery section - apparently bread and milk! You get the picture ...

But most of all, the real challenge comes with the vegetables and fruits. Do not upon pain of death or sheer embarassment, go to the cashier without having gone to the fruit/vegetable weigher - a very important and skilled profession apparently - otherwise you will be turned back only to start at the back of the line again! And did I mention that typically the line is very, very long and moves at a snail´s pace.

Don´t even try to figure out the system. Again follow the no common sense rule. For anything with a bag already around it, no weighing is required - that one is almost for sure. But for those loose items, hmmmm ... just bag them - don´t try the no bag thing for the environment as you will be severely scolded and sent to the back of the vegetable/fruit weigher´s line and be given the evil eye as well! Bring all your bags to the weigher and look pitiful - believe me, it works. They will separate those that they will weigh and those that get directly to the cash - no logic apparently just an internal code - probably goes with the training!

When in line, pray very hard that they do not ask you complicated questions at the cash, memorize the word, "effectivo" meaning "cash" and have it out for emphasis and whatever you do, don´t forget to tip the poor person who is bagging your food - otherwise another cultural faux pas and bad karma to you.

And if you have happened to have picked up a most excellent bottle of Chilean vino for dinner at a friend´s, for about $.25 you can have it gift wrapped - never in the right size bag and never with matching bow, but gift wrapped all the same!

And once you have survived the grocery store, all other stores are a piece of cake. Just remember a few simple rules. The salespeople only help you point out the features of a product and punch the order in the computer asking you a rapid set of sure fire questions that you will not be able to answer, the cashier (invariably in a different location and probably a different floor!) only takes your money, and the pick up window person (also located, you got it, in a different place) only gets your item for you. However, failure to follow all three steps in order will not yield anything for you except frustration! Work with the system, and it will work for you!

And remember that shopping is fun especially when it´s raining and there´s not much else to do and everyone and their dog has come to the mall and the sound decible is equivalent to a 747 taking off! The halls are chock a block full of people, making walking more like pushing and shoving and just when you didn´t think it could get much worse your Chilean friends turn to you and say, "this is nothing, you should see Xmas!" Ahhhhhhhhh !!!!!!!!!!!!

But when you get home and open up your bag with your lovely new red leather purse for only $14 you smile, and think, hmmmm... maybe, just maybe, it was all worth it!

Stay tuned for the next instalment in the vida dolce en Chile. And, if the sun ever shines again which is doubtful this week, I will send along some pictures, but for now it´s only grey so you will just have to imagine!

© Allison Webb, 2005
You are here : Overview The Americas Chile And all that kissing too!
The trip
My trip through Peru before heading to Chile to work for 6 months and then travels afterward in South America
Start of journey: Jul 05, 2005
Duration: 8 months
End of journey: Mar 02, 2006
Travelled countries: Peru
The Author
Allison Webb is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 19 years.