Ten Observations About Chile

I have noticed a few things about Chilean culture during my first month here. Here are 10 things that have stuck out to me during my time in Santiago.

“I’m not saying that the food here is horrible, but it takes time to get used to. It makes me appreciate the little things back home like salsa or chiles. Yes! You read that right, no chiles in Chile.”

1. The attitude
So far, I’ve found that the people are laid back, and take a more relaxed approach to life; being on time here is not very practical, but it is something to strive for. Living in a big city with 7 million other people and crowded transportation can make punctuality unpredictable at times.

2. The public space
Throughout the city there are numerous recreational spaces such as parks, large and small, and fitness areas with equipment people can use. There are also rest areas where people can sit down on a bench or lay down on the grass.

3. The style
People’s style and clothing are similar to what we wear in the U.S. You can find streetwear brands that I would have never figured would be out here, such as The Hundreds, Volcom Stone and Quicksilver. It really shows how globalized the country is, and its push to compete with modern countries through a strong economy.

4. The city
Santiago, Chile has some similarities to Southern California. One thing that draws my attention is the street art all around the city, including includes graffiti, murals and paintings on walls. Also skateboards, cruisers and long boards are used heavily; I’ve heard there are several skate parks around the city. Bicycles are very common, too. They have a public bicycle system that allows people to rent bikes to get around the city and, in some parts, there are specific bicycle paths so cyclists are not necessarily on the street. Cyclists riding alongside traffic is common, however.

5. The habits
Something else I have noticed is the amount of tobacco users is high. I see more people lighting or rolling cigarettes here than back in the States. Lots of young people tend to smoke in Chile, whereas in the U.S. I tend to see older people using tobacco.

6. The road
Driving here seems intense. I’ve never lived in — or even been in — a city this large. Drivers in Santiago tend to speed excessively to get in front of the car in front of them. Even if there is no room for them to enter a busy street, they will find a way to cut into the bumper-to-bumper traffic. Also, the car horn is used frequently to warn crossing pedestrians to watch out. When in traffic, drivers honk to tell others in front to keep moving, even when a driver is just letting another motorist enter the busy street.

7. The transit
Public transportation is huge here. There are numerous bus routes all around the city. Also, the underground metro system has five different lines, making it easier to get from Point A to Point B.

8. The customs
Greetings between males and females are not limited to a handshake nor hug. At first introduction, a male tends to greet a female with a handshake. That changes if the female is comfortable with him at first interaction, or they have established a sense of relationship — then a cheek-to-cheek kiss on the left side is appropriate and very common. The same goes with female to female. With males, a simple handshake is enough.

9. The cuisine
Now for the important topic — food. Chilean cuisine is a fusion of indigenous ingredients with Spanish culture and traditions. At the same time, Italian, German and French cuisine has influenced Chilean cuisine. I have to admit that I missed my mom’s traditional Mexican food, and Mexican food in general — especially the corn tortilla. To this day I have not found a place that sells them here, only flour tortilla, which will have to suffice for now. I’m not saying that the food here is horrible, but it takes time to get used to. It makes me appreciate the little things back home like salsa or chiles. Yes! You read that right, no chiles in Chile. There is chili pepper, but it’s not the same. I have been surviving off Tabasco Sauce.

10. The language
The last thing that I will mention is the Castilian Spanish that is used here — I am having the hardest time comprehending it. I think I can understand a little more than when I first got here, but just a little. While I am not completely fluent in Spanish, I have been complimented on how well I speak it by native Chileans. At the same time, I have found it difficult to comprehend what Chileans are saying. They not only speak fast, but they have their own lingo and they tend to abbreviate or cut words in half and then half again. This only makes it even more difficult to catch what they are saying. Fortunately, they do use a few words in English which is easy to catch. A goal of mine was to be able to speak like a Chilean; Now it’s to understand a full conversation with a native Chilean.


Rodrigo Polanco is a fourth year international business major with an emphasis in Spanish and Latin America. He is studying spring semester at Universidad Adolfo Ibanez in Santiago, Chile.

One thought on “Ten Observations About Chile

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  1. Hey! I’m in Chile for a year abroad too and also a business student but from the UK! I had been thinking of writing a similar article about my time here but you definitely summed it up quite well hahaa! Have you had a chance to visit much of the country yet?? 🙂

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