Margaret, over at Cachando Chile wrote about some of the things gringos do that intentionally or unintentionally alienate, annoy, or offend Chileans, which is bound to happen living in a culture that is not your own. In some situations it is a case of open-mouth-insert-foot by saying something you didn’t mean to say; in other cases it is stubbornly keeping with your own behavior even after lots of insisting that you change it (i.e. walking around barefoot when so many people are worried about your health); in other cases it is expressing an opinion that somehow offends their very chilean-ness (like saying you don’t care for their national anthem).
I mentioned a few in her comment section, like not thinking one of their huge soccer idols (Zamorano) was a very good player (he wasn’t) and defiling their national dish, cazuela, by cutting the large pieces into small ones and eating it with a spoon like the stew that it is (rather than siphoning off the broth and then eating it like a meat-and-potato-plate, with a knife and fork).
I thought I would mention a few more here.
For the first one, I have to admit that I was not blessed with social graces. I try to be good, whatever that means, but I don’t have a lot of patience with formalities. This is hard for me in Chile because of the greetings and good-byes. In Chile you must perform the perfunctory greeting (cheek to cheek kiss) and the perfunctory good bye (cheek to cheek kiss) for all present. If you go to a party, that is a lot of cheek to cheek. When I am not in the mood to be social, it is like pulling teeth and I grump and groan internally about having to appear more civil than I feel. Sometimes I long for the ease of the big sweeping wave good-bye to all; the shout across the room “see you later.”
Not only at parties, but in almost all other situations when you see someone you know, even running into them in the street—you have to greet them with a kiss and then say good bye with a kiss. For someone like me, who has moments of extreme anti-sociality, it is exhausting. You also must greet everyone in the house each morning and say goodnight each evening in the same way.
Sometimes I can get away with not greeting everyone because I am a gringa (foreigner), but I am absolutely certain that I have offended people by not hunting them down to say good-bye. I try to feel sorry about it, but that is exhausting too ;-). I am what I am, in the end, and I do make a lot of effort.
My second example is telling them that La Araucana is mostly fiction. The Araucanos are/were the indigenous people in the south of Chile. History tells that they were so fierce that it took the Spaniards hundreds of years to conquer them. Alonso de Ercilla, a Spaniard during the conquest, wrote La Araucana, which is essentially Chile’s epic poem. It is one of the first pieces of literature from the New World. It is considered a national story of origin and the indigenous characters are considered national heroes (which is ironic, of course, considering how the Mapuche--the indigenous people in the south of Chile--are treated). I don’t know exactly how it is studied in schools in Chile, but according to my husband, it is considered “history”.
The literary criticism, however, suggests otherwise. (It has been a while since I studied, it so I can’t remember all of the details). Though it is thought to be loosely based on Ercilla’s experiences as a Spanish soldier and some of the events may be loosely based on real battles, as far as the native characters are concerned, it is considered doubtful that he would have been privy to the indigenous part of the story. There are also no historical documents that can verify the existence of these characters; from what I remember (though it was a while ago) the “historical” documents related to the story were written after the publication of La Araucana and even based on the poem, as if it were absolute fact, so it is a bit of a chicken and egg dilemma. Furthermore, though Ercilla may have woven some indigenous elements into the poem, it is essentially a literary piece from Spain’s Golden Age and based, in large part, on a similarly written Italian poem. The description of the characters and the events, how he sets up the story, how he claims to have gotten the information, are all classical stylistic elements common at the time. My husband was flabbergasted when I told him that it was probably mostly fiction.
It is akin to suggesting that the story of the Alamo is largely myth (which of course, it is, and I shall now be hunted down by a mob of angry Texans and a mob of angry Chileans—but that is just how I roll).
See other alienation methods with Sara and Emily