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Apparently I am an ” Expat “. That identity crisis only took some thirty some odd years to figure out.
It sure explains a lot.
As a child I remember designing different flags with my best friend. A flag to represent our own country where we both fit in. Her parents were from Argentina, mine from Switzerland and the US. When we entered our homes our language and customs instantly changed.
I was raised under the “melting pot ” theory. Which meant our home was a bubble of the USA. We were all going to speak English, watch TV from the USA and eat ‘ American ‘ food. As a result I have little beyond a passport to show for my Swiss heritage. It also meant that any language or customs that I acquired locally were frowned upon.
To confuse matters even more I attended a school where the students transferred in and out every three years from other countries. This was before the internet era and long distance phone calls were expensive. I tried desperately to stay in touch as a pen pall, but none lasted.
I remember exploding in anger one day after hours of crying. I was mourning the loss of another friendship transferred to some other country. “That’s it! No more!” I was not going bother bonding with anyone anymore at school. I was going local.
My act of rebellion was to recognize and embrace the local culture I had absorbed all along. I had already grown up speaking the local language, listening and dancing to its music and watching local television programs. Over time I looked at my family as the foreigners.
I remember begging to study at the local university. No, I had to study in the USA. So I went thinking, ” I have cable TV , a dad from the US and studied at an American school” I am ready. No, I was not. It was incredibly difficult.
Imagine a Zulu speaking Japanese. That was how I felt. My looks did not match my identity and it angered everyone. They could not pigeon hole me. People yelled at me saying I was lying about who I was, where I came from.
College was temporary, so were those relationships. I knew about that already. All I did was look forward to going home. When I did my parents were surprised. They thought I would fall in love with the “Motherland”. Whose mother? Not mine.
My mother sent me off to Switzerland hoping to kindle that bond that was forbidden in our home. It was too late. I was a tourist and will always be. My roots had not found any sustenance. I responded by mutating. I found a way to grow my own roots.
Since then the “salad bowl” theory replaced that of the “melting pot”. It is how my husband (local of course) and I have chosen to raise our children. You see our family has also packed and unpacked, started over and over. Always the new kid in school… Always the new employee…
Except we do not live in our bubble. We do not melt all of the separate cultural ingredients into one stew. Like a salad, every component of our culture retains its shape, color and texture, its integrity and best of all, we can always add more with every new experience.
“Citizens of the world” is how my children have been described by fellow expats. I tell my kids not to worry about losing their friends because like mommy and daddy, they can stay in touch with social media, e-mail and Skype. I am more open now to new friendships, but sadly still a bit icy on the edges. I am still haunted by the thought of “Why bother, I will be leaving soon anyway…”
Chileno – “You cook?”
GringaDchicureo – “Yes, but not well. God bless my family for eating whatever I put on the table.”
Chileno – “, but YOU cook”
GringaDchicureo – “Well yeah, no gourmet here, but I try.”
Chileno – ” Nobody cooks for you?”
GringaDchicureo – “Well the husband is too busy, but I am teaching the kids some basics so they can help out.”
Chileno – “Doesn’t your nana cook for you?’
[ Sound of vinyl record getting scratched as GringaDchicureo’s thought process comes to a screeching halt.]
GringaDchicureo – I don’t have a nana.
[Sound of a vinyl record getting scratched as the Chileno’s thought process comes to a screeching halt.]
It has taken me a while to adjust to people’s expectations of me here in Chile. My Europoean features and proficient English have branded me an ABC1. Our actual financial status is weird to be frank. On the exterior we lead quite a comfortable life. We do have all of our needs met and yet are drowning in debt. Yep, definitely a member of the middle class.
Regarding our official status as ABC1
Wikipedia on ABC1 http://bit.ly/XfH4K1
What do you call a person who graduated at the bottom of their class in medical school?” Answer – Doctor.
It isn’t enough that I look the part, but we live the part too. We live in the infamous suburb of Chicureo. What do I mean by “infamous”? Last year the international media had a field day with the residents of Chicureo’s treatment of the service industry aka “The Help”.
Huffington Post http://huff.to/WNT7n4
I have a friend who resides in the condo at the center of the controversy mentioned in the article. She, her nana and I had an open and honest discussion about their relationship and compared it to that of other employer/employee relationships they were familiar with. As expats new to the country we wanted to know if what we were seeing in the media was the standard or the exception. There was no consensus other than we , the ABC1 ladies of Chicureo, were perceived as “cuicas”. In Chile “Cuica” is a derogatory term which loosely translates to “snooty b****”, in Puerto Rico where I grew up it means “jump rope”. Yep, that was quite a leap.
Well brace yourselves Chile, this “cuica” cooks, cleans, raises children and as of late has held her own with some new found plumbing skills. Do I want a nana? No! I want a team of them and a chauffer and a tutor. Someone to cook for me, clean for me, drive for me, do homework with the kids for me so I can…. I don’t know… whatever it is that those giant billboards claim my fellow ABC1 ladies do all day.
I would love to compare notes with fellow expat parents in Chile. People often ask me about the education system here, which are the best schools and how to handle many dilemmas. Of all of the adjustments I had to make to a new culture, life as the parent of a school-aged-child was the most challenging. I still can’t answer questions about the schools here because I am but one parent with kids at one school. This time around I do have a much better understanding of how my children’s school functions after getting a degree at the ” University of Trial And Error” consisting primarily of errors on my part.
Within one household my relationship with the school was totally different based on which of my children was involved. On the one hand everything was smashing and on the other a nightmare. This is to be expected anywhere as each child’s personality and academic ability present a totally different picture of life at school. Never had I felt so isolated or at times insane, because quite frankly I began to think it was all in my head. Nobody else seemed to have the same problems, then again nobody else had the same child.
Over time I slowly started to learn which circumstances were unique to my child, my child’s classroom or my child’s school. Now I want to know what is unique to our school population’s social circles, our geographic location, ethnicity and generation (Remember our fellow Chilean parents grew up under Pinochet).
Whenever something comes up over the school year please share it with me in the comments section below. Any questions, complaints or anecdotes i.e. Supply lists requesting “jockeys”and “panties”. It’s all good. Gracias.
It has been a year and a half since our family left the USA. We relocated to a suburb of Santiago, Chile known as Chicureo. Our family arrived at Miami, FL, USA at 5 in the morning on Christmas Eve. After landing I bent over to gather my belongings and muttered “Finally! No more being stared at!” and sure enough as soon as I looked up there were two young passengers , point blank , eyes glaring at me like I just landed from another planet and not another country. I had spoken English on a LAN flight to the USA. So I chuckled, pointed at them and proceeded to retract my statement “Not yet, but soon.”
The first stop at the airport was the bathroom as every self-respecting parent knows. In between the male and female restrooms stood my youngest, face-to-face with an unfamiliar object until the eldest cut in front and drank from it. ” Water fountain!” I watched and smiled as they taught him how to push the button and slurp the rainbow of free, clean and bubble free water.
We spent so much time fantasizing about food we missed while living in Chile. Like a prisoner on death row planning his final meal we planned our gastronomical tour of favorite haunts in the USA. Our first meal as a family ended-up being a revelation in terms of defining “American”. Nothing says USA like a Mexican lunch truck serving hot and spicy food, in English and Spanish 24/7.
I am a conformist now. I was quite the opposite in my little town of Chicureo. No matter how outspoken or outlandish I thought I was my adopted country of Chile had tamed me in ways I am now beginning to appreciate. My ears had to readjust to parents shouting at their kids and strangers voicing their unsolicited opinions.
At first I must admit I celebrated when I heard a fellow parent publicly reprimand their child. Back in Chile I often asked the mothers for their secret. I never witnessed a Chilena openly lose her patience and yell at her child. Somehow they found a subtle way to keep their kids in line. I am sure I got my fair share of stares that way, not from disciplining my kids, but for raising my voice in order to achieve it. Point for Chile.
And oh the complaining! Dear God the USA is a nation of whiners. Then again my peers in Chile were raised under a dictatorship so this freedom of speech thing has not become the monster that it is in the USA. While in Chile I begged the people to speak-up and now in the USA I am begging the people to tone it down. Please, I can hear you, all the way across the store.
Before I part ways with today’s blog entry I would like to thank those of you you hit that “like” button on my blog. What I would love more are some questions, comments or suggestions on what to write about. Post a link to your blog or item of interest on my comments so I can do the same for you. I am honored to know someone finds what I write interesting and worthy of discussion or sharing.
Hasta la pasta from Gringolandia.