Sunday, November 29, 2009

How to alienate Chileans

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

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I know it must be very hard for you and Margaret...
Living in a socially educated environment must be traumatic ...
I had visit most of Latin American countries living in Europe now. I can see how Americans can not fit at all in a socially educated society

Annje said...

Oh, that didn't apply to Margaret, I said I wasn't gifted with social graces. I am sure Margaret is splendidly graceful.

hmm speaking of socially educated... interesting comment;-)

Margaret said...

Hi Dr. Annje-
Thanks for playing... you're linked up now!
Fortunately, that's never bothered me much, but it CAN be rather time consuming. My very Chilean husband often decides it's time to leave and somehow magically does his despedida in record time and then gets upset with me because it takes me at least 15-20 minutes to got cheek to cheek with so many people!
On Ercilla and Araucano... I'll leave that debate to those with far more knowledge on the subject than me, but I was under the impression that it was now considered very anti PC... ¿or no?

Abby said...

Ohhh the multiple cheek kissing! I'm afraid I offended my boyfriend's entire soccer team today. I kissed them all hello before the game, but after they were all sweaty and gross and so I only kissed his best friends and waved goodbye to the rest. It's times like these when I like to play the "crazy gringa card."

Annje said...

Margaret--what part is considered anti-pc? I am not an expert either, I just remember reading some of the criticism and talking to my husband about it, but it has been a long while...

For saludos, I mostly do fine without offending anyone, but I do have moments when I just don't feel like it, and mostly with people I don't know well. I did think of your crazy gringa card Abby--I'll have to have one of those made.

Margaret said...

Dr. Annje (yes, I'm going to insist with the Dr part)... I confess I have not read the Araucana, but have gotten the sense that it is very Eurocentric and anti-indigenous... but am simply talking hearsay!

Maggie May said...

ach...i started with horribly clumsy social graces as well..just not naturally good at that kind of thing. in the end the intentions and spirit come through :)_

Danielle said...

I love "how you roll"!

mosey along said...

I look forward to experiencing the social graces when I come visit. ;)

This topic opens a whole can of worms about how travellers behave whenever they enter a culture not their own. The behaviour of North Americans in Europe can be looked at aghast....

Sara said...

Anonymous, Not quite sure what your definition of socially educated is. I would argue that pushing people off the bus and cutting in front of people is not "socially educated" nor is having a culture that blames the victim if they get robbed. But, you know, that's just socially retarded me speaking. What I'm trying to say is that if you don't like it don't read it. There are two sides to every story.

Annje, I get nervous sometimes if I'm at a party and I have to say good bye to a bunch of people, especially if some of them are blocked by tables and chairs and other obstacles. Socially awkward people unite! Oh, and I´m going to post on this later.

Maeskizzle said...

I don't think you ALWAYS have to cheek kiss. I like the cheek kiss, and will miss it when living in the States. I won't be surprised if I try to cheek-kiss my friends when I get back.

But cheek-kissing sweaty people isn't necessary. And often Chilean guys are uncomfortable about it too. I don't always say goodbye to everyone at a party, nor do they always say goodbye to me. And when there is furniture blocking your "despedida" of people, I've seen chilenas kiss both hands and then wave goodbye to those they couldn't reach, sort of like blowing a kiss in a friendly, non-romantic way.

But even so, it does take longer to go around and kiss some or all people then to just say goodbye to everyone.

Lucie said...

Oh amen to the greeting issue! Though I think it's lovely to greet and acknowledge everyone's presence, sometimes it can be quite challenging. It can be especially challenging when half the room is comprised of people you: a.) know, b.) don't know or c.) are friends of friends.... What do you do and in what manner do you greet this mix of people? For me it always tends to end in an awkward whirlwind of kisses, handshakes, and hello's!

The worse is when you lean in for the kiss to someone you don't even know (but have to kiss since you just kissed their friend right beside them). When that person doesn't even expect a kiss and then awkwardly leans in for a half-semi kiss hybrid type thing, it can be especially uncomfortable!

Katy said...

Oh the neverending kissing parade - so awkward! If I feel its going to be uncomfortable I just don't do it anymore ie in those situations where I would have to climb over piles of chairs/hippies sitting on the floor in order to cheek kiss tons of people I've never met and will probably never see again anyway. I just wave and say a general hello, thus I'm sure perpetuating the belief that foreigners are cold and stuck up. Yes, I'm to blame. Sorry about that.

Margaret said...

I actually like the cheek kissing too--most of the time (but then there are those really yuck moments)... but my problem is now when I go back to the States and have to remember to keep my cheeks to myself (oh that sounds bad)...
One time I had just arrived from Chile and an Indian classmate introduced me to her new husband and I gave him a big ole kiss--man were THEY surprised! fortunately, as a grad student himself (and married to an anthropologist, he had been around long enough to expect just about anything from us crazy gringas!

Lucie said...

Oh don't get me wrong! I love the kissing thing! But I love it with family and close friends, not with a room full of people I don't know and feel obligated to kiss because they are somehow connected to a friend of a friend of a friend of my fiances ha ha!