sábado, 11 de octubre de 2008

Hardest Custom To Adjust to in Chile

-- 1st Update: Kyle has organised a drawing for a good cause so I invite everybody to check out her post -- click here please. She's doing a giveaway of great products.

-- 2ndUpdate:
See all the other posts on this topic
Rita (Colombia)
Kathleen (Ecuador)
Lori (Brazil)
--end of updates

It was so much fun to take part in the group blogging before, that here we go again. People spoke, and voted for Hardest Custom To Adjust to in Chile. This is a tough one because I am Chilean, so how can I find anything hard to adjust in my own country? Should I write about customs in other countries where I had to adjust? There are many things I hate about the long and narrow strecth of land, but I want to focus now on three particularly irritating traits of the Homo chilensis which were always annoying for me, but once I was back home after living away I realised how absolutely irritating they are.

Let's start with socialising and intrusion. Chileans aren't as gregarious as Argentinians or Spaniards, and that's a good thing. But we like to hang out in groups and we like to call friend to anyone (the word Spanish for "acquaintance" is "conocido", and sounds awful). So people make friends and they can turn up at your door, unannounced, and expect you to receive them and invite them for tea (see Wikipedia entry for 'once'). Don't get me wrong, I like people coming over to my place. But please ring me in advance? At least tell me 'hey man I was passing by your neighbourhoodcan I come over?'. Be warned that perhaps the day before I had an off day at work, and on the the way home I picked up a couple of movies and I want to watch them now and I had just order a pizza and it's gonna be delivered in 10 mins and I am not in the mood to be with anyone. I don't even want to explain all this, I just want to say 'no, sorry, not today', and if you're a good friend you will understand. But Chileans don't act like this. Not that I am a misanthropist, but I need space. And telephones were invented long ago, and they are there to be used. Use them.

I blame this on the fact that well into the 80s telephone sets were still an oddity on Chile. The state telephone company only catered for the middle classes, and when it was privatised, left-wingers immediately complained (well, little wonder if all the companies were being transferred to Pinochet's cronies), but in the end everyone got one. So for ever people got used to living without a phone. This sounds unreal now, I know, cause who doesn't have a mobile? Back in the 80s, it was a different story. News update: land lines, mobiles, and all sort of means of communication are readily available, so please announce you're coming. The 80s are gone. Thanks.

Which leads me to the second point (I promise, this time I'm trying to be brief). Why Chileans ring each other so late at night? Again, it was one of those things I never really liked, but once I came back after living abroad it became a nuisance like no other. If my phone rings after 9 pm, I think the person calling me has something important to say. If it rings after 10 pm, then it's something serious. After 11 pm, it's an emergency. In Chile they call you after midnight just to have a chat. Why then they can't call at 3 pm to announce they're coming instead of popping up out of nowhere? And, by the way, telephones are a means of communication. Phone conversations should not exist. They are uncomfortable. Just say want you want to say, ask whatever you want to ask, and once you said what you watned and got the answer to your question, please hang up.

I remember when I was little one of my uncles used to come down to my parents every weekend. They couldn't figure out a polite way to tell him to go away so they kept the blinds closed and when he came round and we saw his car, we went quiet. He knocked on the door but nobody would answer. It's been 20 years since then and I still find people doing similar things.

The above are all ways of hinchar, which means to annoy. And annoying, nosey people are known as hincha-pelota, as Kyle rightly describes them.

But now there's a new kind of hincha-pelota: the bloody beggars. They show up at the door, thinking that because they are poor is someone else's fault (i.e. your fault) so you have to give something to them, and even they think we should actually thank them because otherwise they could well be robbing us instead. So they just come and collect what you owe them. No, they don't offer to cut the grass, paitnt the walls, or do any kind of work. Nothing. Theit attitude is: "Hi, I'm poor, it's your fault, give me something now or else I'm gonna die and it'll be your fault. And remember, I could also rob you or kill you, so I'm being nice now".

I find that begging is the ultimate humiliation, for both beggar and the one giving a handout. Receving something without offering something else in exchange is humiliating (hence my total aversion against the so-called 'Welfare State', which is 'beg-thy-neighbour' institutionalised). I feel equally embarrased to give a handout. I'm not Rockefeller. Yes, I do have some spare change, but I'm not giving you any. You look young and perfectly healthy, don't bullshit me cause there are plenty of jobs out there, why don't you take one? Now it's even high-school students, they just stop people on the street and ask for spare change. The slang for begging is macheteo, check out that link. Every year I see more people begging on the streets, public transport, etc, but every year the economy grows. There are thousands of Peruvians and from other nations coming to Chile to work. How come they take those jobs and not the Chileans? I don't like beggars and I don't give any money to anyone, unless I am certain the money will be properly used. (No need to say how much I despise Jehova's Witnesses, Mormons and Canutos -evangelicals- who pop up at your door for the most idiotic reason of all: god exists, he loves me, he's all-powerful, but he also needs some money. No, I don't care about your religion, just go away.).

These patterns of behaviour are of course minutia, but shows that Chileans are unaware of each other's space. Individuality, respecting one another, knowing our own duty and minding one's own business are alien concepts. At a general level, even politically speaking, it explains why unquestioning obedience, uniformity, distrust and ridiculous acceptance of hierarchy pervades everything. This may explain our annoying bureaucracy, centralism, lack of creative thinking, inability to respectfully disagree with each other, poverty, lack of initiative and even lack of self respect. Lately, they have added this obsession with the creation of a Welfare State. Certainly, there are many good things about Chile, but I'm not going to ellaborate on those because I am Chilean so it's easier to moan and complain.

Perhaps the thing that bothered me the most when living abroad was to see ridiculous taxation levels. I will talk about that in a another post.

10 comentarios:

Mamacita Chilena dijo...

As usual, this post is so good and on point that I don't even know where to start.

From your first bullet: I've learned that 'no, sorry, not today' is cause for being disowned by my suegras.

As for this, "Phone conversations should not exist. They are uncomfortable." I used to not feel that way. In the U.S. where I had unlimited nights and weekends I would call and chat with my friends and family all the time (not at midnight, of course). Now here I just think, "Say what you need to say and do it FAST because you're wasting my precious, EXPENSIVE minutes." The telephone/internet/cable companies here are truly lo mas ladron que existe.

As for the beggars, I can't even believe it when I see grown men asking for money so they can go to a soccer game, or college kids asking for money so that can go drink with their friends. Cara de raja!!!!!!!! I always tell them to get a job. If I can see see that a beggar physically has something wrong with him, i.e. no legs or something along those lines then I'll think twice and maybe give him money, but sometimes I just have to say, "Don't squint your eyes at me and tell me you're blind. Jesus, I might be a gringa but I'm no weona."

Emily dijo...

I agree with Kyle, great post. It ties in a bit with my post, that people just do what's best for them and don't think how that might impact your day. I think it's great that true friendships in Chile are so close and that people are always there for each other, but sometimes that turns into people you barely know feeling like they can oblige you to do something. The idea that you might have a life that's more important to you in that minute than bending over backwards to help your "friend" doesn't really fly sometimes. But maybe I'm just a cold gringa :)

Sara dijo...

Yesterday, I was walking in Barrio Brasil and some pokemonos approached us and asked for monedas. We said no and he said "Flaco" then for good measure he called me "flaca". I'm sure he felt soo much better and justified that he doesn't actually need to get a job.

cavils in chile dijo...

this was a great post!

Lucie dijo...

I liked reading your post. I think that it is interesting that you consider yourself so socially liberal (or at least it seems so) but economically conservative and 100 percent against any notion of a welfare state. Obviously when termed 'welfare state' no one really is for it.

A couple of questions...Are there really so many available jobs in Chile for the working poor? Another thing that interested me was to hear what you think about privitization and the Chilean economy. I know that Pinochet's neoliberal reforms supposedly changed the Chilean economy. (Some say for the better). Did this affect the inequality that you are seeing today? I think it is interesting that you say that you have no responsibility to the poor of your country. This seems much more conservative than liberal to me (maybe only in American terms). I recognize what you are saying in regard to just giving handout though. Giving handouts will not remedy social ills. But in thinking about what you had to say I could not help but consider the legacy that Pinochet and the Chicago Boys have left on the Chilean economy and different commentaries about present day effects. I remember being in Chile and travelling to Las Condes and later travelling to San Juaoquin (Where the Universidad Catolica's campus is) and further south in Santiago and seeing the vast differences. Although socioeconomic differences exist in any city, it is interesting to see it in Chile, knowing some of the inequality statistics. I wonder what Chileans are doing to combat this inequality? Do you feel that many seem care about greater equality? What are their methods for achieving social justice in Chile? Is this a value for people there?

Thanks for your post. Thought provoking. I would like to hear more about your experiences.

socióblogo dijo...

I "met" a woman on the bus the other day who did exactly what you describe. She was reading poetry and we were all supposed to like it because it was chilean poetry. Every time she finished reading a poem she would say something along these lines: "you better like what I'm reading to you, because if you don't then you're an imperialist, consumerist, ignorant asshole. And you better give me some change, otherwise tomorrow I could decide it's just not worth it to read poetry to you all and start robbing in your own house. You better be grateful that I'm not a delinquent right now, but I might just become one, so watch out and be scared".

I was amazed with how straight-forward and cynical she was. I was also infuriated, so I had to get off the bus and wait for another. Thw worst thing about this is that it is not an exception at all. 'Social blackmail' is the 'psychological tool' these people use in order to get some change. It's pretty sad.

Mamacita Chilena dijo...

Thanks for posting the link Carlos...as of right now you're odds are looking good, there are only 4 guys in the running for the t-shirts :)

Chile Liberal dijo...

@Emily: people are at a different wavelength in different countries. Although I have always received friends when they come over, I usually tell people to announce they are coming. No, gringos aren't cold, just a bit more organized.

@Kyle: exactly, caras de raja, that's exactly the expression. Hmm.. how to translate that expression, cheeky bastards maybe?

Yeah, for footbal matches is crazy. I was once queueing to buy my tickets and soooo many macheteros around us asking for money to buy their tickets. Unreal. No bread, milk, no, tickets!

@Lucie: OK, I will elaborate more in a separate post, but for now I'll try to briefly explain my point.

There are several group of cheeky people, and also there are people in real need. I have to be blunt: I am not forced or obliged to come to the aid of anyone. Although when confronted with people who need help, I do what I can. I rather live in a society where we look after one another, but I prefer if this was strictly voluntary, and not taxing everyone.

There are several groups of beggars. The first are the downright cheeky bastards, caras de raja, annoying people who beg on the streets to buy alcohol or any silly thing. As Sara said here, the pokemones in Barrio Brasil begging... come on, do they really think they can just ask anyone for money? They do, I wonder why they keep doing it. Nobody should 'donate' to them, that's the best way to get rid of them.

But there's a second group of people, who rather than offering a service, they simply go around asking for money or anything to run soup kitchens or whatever. The idea may be good, but think about it. I don't mind if they did it in an organised manner, and aiming at lifting people out of poverty. But as I said, they just come to collect what we took away from them. They don't offer to cut the grass, nothing at all. They are beggars. They look perfectly healthy, do they realise that people out there may cringe at the prospect of giving them a handout? Do they not feel ashamed of receiving a handout without offering anything in exchange?

I said they should seek employment. You ask me 'Are there really so many available jobs in Chile for the working poor?' My answer is yes. The proof is the huge influx of Peruvians and other foreign nationals who work really hard, while the Chileans complain over the low salaries. How come the Peruvians work? They work in construction, restaurants, and women as maids, and there are many. So I am adamant there are many jobs.

But Chileans have been told that work is optional, and it's a bad thing, what is good is to receive things for doing nothing. This idea is dangerous. A pity that president Michelle Bachelet ran her campaign on the promise of a strong social security system, as if giving jobs was not the best social protection people can get. Jobs are being created, but the Peruvians are taking them, not the Chileans. Welcome all of them who want to work hard. I just don't believe in beggars anymore. There are many jobs.

There's a third group of people, and they are the ones who can't join the economy in any way. I think they are very few, and anyway I would push to get them to join the job market. For example, the disabled. Why can't we offer massive tax cuts to companies hiring them? I am sure that disabled people would love to feel productive and work in a company.

And in any case, we're better off offering private insurance to people. So in exchange of dramatic tax cuts, people can use their extra money to buy insurance and include their destitute friends or relatives. It's a lot harder to abuse the private companies (motivated by profits) than the state, where money is wasted and every year the bureaucrats demand more funds.

The state could only focus on the really destitute, and to ensure that contracts are enforced between individuals and private insurance companies. In other words, a privatised social security is preferable.

I believe that gathering information and acting on it is way too complex for a bureaucrat, so the decisions are better left to the individuals themselves, at least in advanced societies. In Chile, the market economy has been a tremendous success in providing jobs, strengthening the middle class and now even private pension funds are fully operational, people complain but they should see how the Europeans are doing. They won't be able to sustain the young if they don't privatise pension funds. I don't know why people worship the state so much. I can only compare it to religion, where peole invent all sort of beliefs and think that their invendted deities are going to help them, they even claim they do.

Imagine that if all the budget destined to help the poor was posted in a cheque to each poor person, each one would get over 500 US dollars per month, more than one month of minimum wage. Where does the money go then? It's all wasted in red tape, corruption etc.

On the other hand, I totally hate the Conservatives who may agree with me, but they use the state coercion to ban gay marriage, criminalise abortion, etc. To clarify my stance, I usually tell people that I am reader of The Economist, a truly liberal (or libertarian) newspaper, and Mike Bloomberg (NYC mayor) is my favourite politician, and the best candidate that never was.

I am flattered that you think the post was 'thought provoking'. Thanks.

@Socióblogo: once one beggar on the bus told passengers his whole criminal record, which included quite a few murders... and after that he asked for money cause Jesus saved him and changed his life. Needless so say how scared I got.

Anónimo dijo...

Hello, this is Emilia again.

At first I was confused that you use the term "Liberal" to describe your site because in North America "liberal" (other than being the name of a political party here in Canada, which just lost the election, by the way) generally means in favour of big government. Not of course in banning gay marriage, abortion, etcetera, but expecting the government to pay for each and every thing. Now I can see the government providing necessary medical care, for example, but here in Canada sometimes it seems the state is asked to step in for matters that really should be left to private individuals. For instance, some fifteen years ago a group of self-described "writers of colour" wanted to hold a conference where Whites were excluded because they felt they should be able to speak among themselves. There were complaints about this, and the federal government withdrew their funding for the conference. Complaints of racism were surfaced. Now it struck me that the government was not telling these people not to hold this conference, just that they'd have to do it on their own dime.

I think you might be called a "classical liberal" or a "libertarian" in Canada. I'm not telling you to change the name of your website; just making an observation.


Chile Liberal dijo...

@Emilia: you're right. I use the term differently, and I mean to promote classical liberalism.

Talking about elections in Canada, I wrote this post.