Corrugated City

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Chileans: Not All That Bad

Friend: Matt, why do you often take such an instant dislike to people?

Me: Because it just saves time.

And yet, despite naturally not liking most people, my experience of Chileans has been pretty decent. I like Chileans: I find them to be generally honest, trustworthy and loyal friends. Time keeping is an issue, the infamous Latin casual racism rears its ugly head too frequently and the lack of public (but not private) courtesy completely does my head in... but overall I can't complain too much (of course, that doesn't stop me from doing so all the time...but that's just me. I like to complain whether there's a good reason or not. I also like to take the piss, because taking the piss is fun whether I believe what I'm saying or not).

However, over the last couple of weeks there have been two female group blogging subjects: Chilean Men (lovely, adoring, chivalrous, courteous and above all wonderfully, fantastically, crazily the best thing ever!!!!!!!) and Chilean Women (cold, snotty, badly-dressed bitches).

Given that most of the female bloggers moved to Chile specifically to be with their boyfriends/husbands, it's pretty obvious that they're going to think the guys are great. But the posts about the women were, for the most part, thoroughly depressing. In fact, neither topic really brought out the best in the bloggers. Both topics were generally biased one way or the other.

I feel that most of the bloggers ignored the most important fact: People are just people. Some are good, some are ok, some are total wankers. This goes for boys and girls, men and women in every single country in the world. The bloggers seemed to be suggesting that only Chilean women have generalised character flaws whereas pretty much everything that was written could be equally applied to Chilean men. And they also seemed to be suggesting that because Chilean women do things differently to foreign (specifically American) women, then what they're doing is wrong and not simply down to the fact that Chile is not the US and, shock horror, things aren't the same.

Two of the slightly less bitchy issues that came up were fashion and hair styling. Now I agree that the fashion here is, to my English eyes, an embarrassment. But I'm English and I'm living in Chile. In Chile the fashion here is what's fashionable here. If all the shops, newspapers and magazines market a certain style then that's what people are going to follow. That's all. Same goes for the hair styles. To bang on and on about how Chilean women can't dress and have crap hair ignores the fact that they can and don't...in Chile. They might get laughed at in the US or Europe or even in Argentina and I'll be laughing as hard as anyone but in Chile they won't. In Chile they're fashionable. This isn't a bad thing, it's just a cultural difference.

The part I found most depressing was how some of the bloggers seemed to take it so personally (by launching all out attacks with the odd proviso) that they haven't been able to make Chilean girl friends, completely ignoring the real reasons why the girls aren't welcoming them into their group with open arms and instead focusing on the fact that Chilean girls are cold and mean.

They're not.

Chileans do not travel. They don't move away from home at 18 and go to university on their own. They generally go to the same schools and universities with the same people for 20-odd years. They form incredibly close bonds with people they've known pretty much their entire lives. This is true of both men and women here. When a foreigner comes along, why the hell should they suddenly let him/her into their group? They don't need another member, they probably don't even want another member. They have all the friends and support they're ever going to need. A new member in an established group can upset the balance and change things in ways the group doesn't want.

In general, it takes a lot of time and effort to become real friends with a Chilean because they naturally don't want to bother making new ones. I've been here permanently for 20 months or so and on and off for close to 5 years. I've been out with groups of Chilean guys and had a lot of fun but they never phoned me up to play football with them or do anything outside of drinking. After so long, this is starting to change. Time, patience and not taking things personally is the key. They didn't call me not because they didn't like me but simply because I'm not on their radar when it comes to organising things. I pretty much don't exist to them because I'm not part of their long term group of friends. Over time, that slowly changes.

In my time here I've met, been friends with and worked with people from every level of society. I know and I've met and worked with some of the richest people in this country, I know a lot of people from the middle class and I've worked with and alongside a lot of people from the lower classes on construction projects.

I honestly can't say that people from one social class are better than another. Cuicos (upper class Chileans, pejorative term) are frequently slagged off and I've met some pretty horrible people who belong to this group. But I've also met and know some truly wonderful stinking rich Chileans; open minded, fair, honest and just good people. Exactly the same could be said of the middle classes and the lower classes. Some of the people I've met have been fantastic and some have been horrible. Why should this come as a surprise to anyone? It's the same everywhere in the world.

The irony is that, taken as a group, these bloggers simply conform to the stereotype that many people from all over the world believe holds true about American girls: That they're bitchy, catty and difficult to deal with. This is the image that comes across through American films.

If the blog posts truly reflect the bloggers' personalities, it comes as no surprise to me that they've struggled to make friends in Chile.

My foreign girl friends here in Valparaiso have had overwhelmingly positive experiences with Chilean women. Invites to parties, dinners, yoga class, drinks, lunch, coffee etc have been proffered after very little time. These Chilean women might not consider the gringas to be 'friends' just yet but they're making an effort to welcome them into Chilean society. They're not being cold and mean. Quite the opposite. People might say that porteñas are just nicer people but I've seen the same thing happen in Santiago.

Maybe I've been lucky. Maybe me and my foreign friends have had the great fortune to meet the 0.001% of nice Chileans, male and female, in existence. Or maybe Chileans aren't as bad as they're made out to be. Maybe, with a bit of patience and a bit of cross-cultural understanding you'll work this out for yourself.

If you go to my Chile Blog list, you'll find links to many of the blogs with their posts about Chilean men and women.

26 comments:

Emily said...

Matt, this is a great post (and I say that fully realizing that I'm one of the people you're mentioning in here). I've also felt that while the group blogging is a good idea, a lot of us haven't quite found our stride yet in terms of how to look at different sides of the same issue in detail as opposed to giving regurgitation of blanket stereotypes. I've tried to do that, and I don't think I've totally failed, but I do think it's something that I'll improve on as I write more in this framework.

I see your point that it doesn't matter whether I find something fashionable or not since I'm in Chile and therefore must bow to Chilean fashion dictates, but I think that fashion is in some ways international thanks to magazines and the internet. Plus a lot of what people wear in Chile at least in my experience tends to just be something they throw on because it's what was on sale at Falabella; among my friends it's often not a conscious decision of "this is a good look." I will however plead 100% guilty to only critiquing the fashion choices of Chilean women and ignoring the mullet-sporting, fanny pack-wearing men :)

Matt said...

Hey Emily, I certainly wouldn't suggest to any foreigner that they should chileanise their wardrobe. They'd end up looking like a Chilean :) In all the time I've spent in Chile I've bought one item of clothing: a Levi's jacket. I buy all my clothes in Argentina or back in England where the fashion is more to my tastes.

I fully agree that Chilean fashion is pretty hideous from where I and other foreigners are looking at it. My point is that, however bad we think Chilean men and women look, to other Chileans they look just fine so we shouldn't make the criticism personal. If a Chilean went to New York, they'd see things they could only laugh at (the current trend for tiny, nasty looking dogs that look like rats and are carried around in hand bags, for example). And that's fine...different strokes etc...

Chilean shopping society is basically run by Falabella, Ripley and Paris so if the buyers from those shops are lazy and outdated then everyone in the country will look outdated.

I don't know...I just found the group blogging posts really depressing and not reflective of my own or my friends' experiences. Many of the posts seemed poorly considered and relied too much on specific negative experiences to tar all Chileans with the same brush. I bitch and moan as much as any foreigner here about things I don't like about Chilean society but when it comes down to an individual level, I find Chileans-male and female- to be very similar to anyone else. They're a little more difficult to get to know at first but once you're past that barrier, i don't think they're all that different.

Mamacita Chilena said...

Hey Matt, you should've put a comment on my post so I could link to you in the group blogging...or were you too embarrassed to be associated with this giant group of bitchy gringas? :P

I've actually written a post basically stating the entire part you wrote about Chileans not going away from home and having no need to make new friends. Chileans in general are harder to befriend, but as women I think for most of us it's been at least a little bit easier to make friends with the males of this country...simple because women trying to be friends with women is always complicated regardless of the country, and then when you throw in the trust issues on top of that it becomes even more complicated.

I don't know all of the bloggers who participate and I think some people may (or may not, some of them I'm not even sure how long they've been here or what they're doing here) still be struggling in that initial phase of total frustration with a country. People like you who have been here longer have accepted the way things are and have stopped trying to fight against them, making life much easier.

Myself, I'm at the stage of, "I nothing Chile." I don't love it, I don't hate it. I'm just ready to move on. I have the itch that I get when I stay in one place too long. Maybe that's coming through and making my blog more negative than it normally is.

Girl.Meets.Chile said...

Hey Matt. Great post. I didn´t participate on that particular topic becasue I just didnt feel like I had the right to judge having just been here for 9 months. In fact, I don´t like to judge full stop.

I´ve met some adorable Chilean women and some not so adorable. But, the same goes for English women, Spanish women etc. They´re all just people.

I actually feel that if you confront certain situations, groups of people, individuals etc with a positive, non judgemental and accepting attitude, then the results will reflect just that.

Hope all is well where you are.

lydia said...

hey. i think most everyone, participants or not in the group blogging thing, would agree with most of your points.
however, i get the impression that your problem with the posts was about what all the bloggers "ignored." (justify reason behind chilean womens actions, deeper analysis, stating exceptions to our generalizations, it happens elsewhere too, its taken from a specific, mostly gringa, perspective), everyone may have taken it differently but i think the idea was for everybody to contribute something on the same topic, not necessarily contribute every thought or analysis they have on the topic, obviously. many of them of course revolve around negative aspects because what we find as different or frustrating is usually easier and thought provoking when it comes to writing. we have more to say about it. it would be silly to assume that a blogger hasnt thought of possible reasons/explanations just because they didnt go into a full analysis of a negative issue. (ex. i believe almost all probably realize its hard to break into a solid friend group and some of the reasons, but not everybody mentioned it, and regardless it wont change that it can be a troubling issue to a foreign girl even if there is a reason behind it )
i dont find bias and negativity to be a horrible aspect of a blog post either, as the idea was to provide personal perspectives and compare (on our own blogs, therefore maybe not needing disclaimers of "this is how i see it/through my eyes/a gringa perspective"), not represent a whole culture without exceptions. youre right in that it may be conflicting there, because the topic "chilean women" is general, yet the direction of each individual wasnt necessarily. as you'd probably say judging from the intro, just cuz someone speaks negatively doesnt mean it necessarily represents their entire view, or ability to cope or justify.

it actually woudl be nice to hear more guys perspectives. even though from what you say your girl friends in valpo tend to be along your line of thinking, my experience has been that guys and girls seem to especially differ on this topic.

good post, got me thinking a lot

Christian said...

Could the fact that you're living in Valparaiso have something to do with how different your impressions seem from the other bloggers? You've made some thoughtful comments, but I can't say I agree with you most of the time.

I spent quite some time in Chile and met a lot of people who were there as exchange students over the years, as an aunt of mine used to rent a room out to them. Chileans may not move away from home to study, but they befriend classmates they haven't met before, yet they are often very aloof towards foreigners. I'd say the experiences of foreign exchange students in Chile were pretty consistent on this point, and not very good.
I've been an exchange student myself and I can tell you that it's a lot easier to get to know people and establish meaningful bonds in that role in european countries chileans routinely deride as cold and heartless.
I think the other bloggers have been on to something, and you've given chileans too easy a pass.

Sure, it may not apply to everyone, but xenophobia is widespread, and the same insecurities which make chileans often very arrogant toward other latin americans keeps them away from other foreigners.

Just my two cents... :)

Raúl y Pablo said...

me gusta t blog lo visito a diario visita tu el mio y si t gusta deja un comentario y nos enlazamos los blogs

Meredith said...

Matt, I do not understand why you can post a vitriolic diatribe (although one I agree with, granted, but that's not my point) wherein you call people bitches etc......and get a comment roll of praise!!!! Meanwhile I say I'm ok on the piropos and get a lashing for it involving the word naive......and I've read other 'female bloggers' being personally insulted about their non-confrontational, individual opinions as well. You get "i politely disagree with you, and let me explain".....the ladies get "you must be a brat to think that."

Can there be a group blog on sexism in the blogging world?!?!

Or if I'm misinterpreting the source of this, can we have a Valpo meet-up on Why Matt Constantly Gets Away With Murder And How You Can Learn To Do The Same?

Matt said...

Kyle-Yep, I agree. It's probably easier for foreign girls to get on with Chilean guys. Guys are sort of naturally going to be immediately friendlier to girls, well intentioned or not. There's perhaps less of a barrier to break through there. Girls are difficult the world over :)

I completely understand the feeling nothing about Chile...it's happened to me in other places around the world. For me, right now, I'm settled here and I will definitely be here for quite some time yet so I've learned to live with/accept and even enjoy many things here that used to make me totally crazy. I've also accepted that it's going to take time for me to 'get in with' Chilean friendship groups but I've got the time and I've got the patience. And seeing as I'm such a miserable old git who likes to be on his own a lot it doesn't matter all that much to me anyway :)

Tamsin-Thanks! yep, it's the same everywhere. Some people are nice, some are idiots. It depends on how you are as to how you take other people. I'm generally pretty negative about other people but I haven't had any worse or necessarily better experiences here than anywhere else i've been.

Lydia-well...my problem with some of the posts is that they were directed as personal attacks on possibly unpleasant individuals and then made out to suggest that all Chilean women are like that. As before...some women here might be like that but to give the impression that all of them are is wrong and pretty offensive. Also, yeah I guess the overwhelming negativity was kind of depressing...I mean, fine, slag off certain traits of people but to leave it at that just isn't right. At least give the impression that you (not personally) do appreciate that not everyone is bad or that there are things about the women here that are good and positive. If you feel there genuinely is nothing at all good about the women then I guess that's fine but to just leave out the positives is misleading.

Christian-no i don't think there's a great deal of difference to how I've seen people treated here and in Santiago.

Also, Kyle wrote something on her blog about how she kind of shuts off when she finds out a foreigner is an exchange student and I completely understand this. As I wrote in the post, it takes a long time to break into a group of friends here so Chileans are naturally reticent to make an effort when they know that the foreigner will be leaving in a few weeks/months. Because most foreigners really are here on a short term basis, Chileans basically assume that all foreigners are here short term and so might well ignore foreigners until they're sure they're not going anywhere.

I can't remember on whose blog it was but they mentioned 'insta-friendships' that are really common in the US, the UK and northern European countries...in those places, we're used to leaving home for uni, for travel or for work so we make friends a little quicker. But I've met and lived with dozens of people over 12 years of travelling and backpacking and I'm still in touch with maybe 2 or 3 of them. A tiny % of the amount I've met. Disposable friendships come easier to us.

Raul y Pablo-Gracias...lei tu blog y me gusto tambien ya que soy fanatico de los deportes :) Estare de vuelta ahi pero como no tiene mucho en comun con el tema de mi blog no voy a linkearlo. No es nada personal..!

Meredith-i think vitriolic is perhaps going a little far and I didn't call anyone a bitch. There's a big difference to saying that someone is being bitchy and saying that someone is a bitch. People can be bitchy from time to time, (myself included- being bitchy is certainly not limited to women), but that doesn't mean the person is a bitch in general.

And come on...you got one nut job calling you naive and most of the other comments were basically supportive of your viewpoint.

As to how I get away with murder...well, join the very long queue of people who have asked the same question. It's a talent that has irritated everyone from family, friends, teachers and random strangers and it's a secret I don't intend to share :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Matt..
You get away with murder because I think you´re just acertive.

Im chilean and i just discovered all these bitchy gringas going on about us chilean women and horrible chilean fashion! Im in BITS here laughing! this is great stuff.
Its so true that we cannot dress to save our lives.. the epidemic of camel toe and bad hair will never leave us, but I love that we´re shit at fashion. Its just who we are.
Also, what you say about groups of friends;it is exactly THAT. we are closed, and we will not befriend you until it comes naturally to us. This is why I love Catalanes for example. They´re so tough to get to know, and as you say, its nothing personal, its just that we cant be bothered!
My boyfriend is english, and he loved chile, because my friends male and female made an effort with him. As a result, he know believes Chile is the best country on the planet. I keep telling him hes wrong, and I try to explain why we are SO not remotely near great - but he wont listen.
Luckily, i have found all these blogs!
:)

Now, if you´ll excuse me, Im going to continue my research on gringas living in my homeland.

Thank you for your post.
Claudia.

Matt said...

Claudia-Thanks! I like the way you won't accept that your boyfriend loves Chile...it's funny- Chileans are so proud of their country (and rightly so in many respects) but they really do love to complain about how terrible it is at the same time :)

Despistada said...

I didn't meet a single cold or mean person the 6 weeks I was there. Everyone was kind, cordial, considerate, and had a good sense of humor. Could be I was dealing with Chileans who had volunteered to deal with gringo students and had already become accustomed to our kind. Either way I had fun with everyone and even found the girls to be sincere and sweet, if not a little standoffish (not much different than the girls in Utah). My host sister thinks to be blond and blue eyed would be infinitely better, but honestly so do many idiots here in the states. It's not really a fashion crime, albeit a shame.

Despistada said...

PS- I REALLY wish I'd taken a picture of my host sister in her one piece zebra print workout outfit, complete with camel toe and a little drawstring and hood. That was my one example of obviously bad Chilean fashion. Where do you even buy such a piece of work?
However, one piece of fashion we adopted for the cold Utah winter is the mediapanty. What a great idea. I bought 5 of 'em!

Matt said...

I'm pretty sure you can buy a "one piece zebra print workout outfit, complete with camel toe and a little drawstring and hood" over in 1987.

Real Chile said...

Matt I think on one hand you PARTIALLY took the words (or at least thoughts) right out of my mouth as far as all the posts on Chilean women go. For proof, I wrote about gringa's takes on chilenas a while back http://www.realchile.org/2008/04/aids-in-chile.html I do think that, we can all agree that attacks on fashion are unnecessary, but I am not going to criticize attempts at critiques on society very much because trying to analyze a society and its people is not easy. That is why lived here almost three years before I gave it a try in blog form. Because now, since I feel partially chilean, if I unfairly insult Chileans I also feel insulted and then a retract.

Matt, while I like your blog you tend not to take risks trying to analyze Chilean society. If you choose not to do so out of fear for expressing what you believe that is fine, but don’t go criticizing other for trying to fly if you are content to just walking while taking some pictures of your walks –not that there is anything wrong with that style of blog. I know that I make generalizations in my blog but my idea is trying to give people some kind of an idea of what is REALLY like here. Plus, when I met you, you said something like “as soon as you realize that Chileans are a bunch of cunts things aren’t so hard any more”. I also sometimes feel frustrated with Chileans, just as I do with people from the US, but what you said seems a little extreme and either way why do you say the opposite on your blog. Are you afraid to say what you really think where there is a record of it? I may disagree with other bloggers but I bet they are somewhat consistent in terms of what they write and what the say and what they think.

On a more positive note, I do like your updates etc. on Valparaíso-related websites and thanks for using the phrase “taking the piss” so I could look it up and learn it.

As for the posts that I read I actually got the feeling that a lot of the girls out there were holding back their deepest darkest feeling about Chilean women, but they did try their best to cordially express what they feel. As someone who occasionally blogs I know we all make mistakes.

Matt said...

Berkeley-what i (probably) said to you doesn't really have a great deal to do with what I wrote in this post and is quoted out of context. I am pretty consistent in what I say and write about Chile and Chileans and have mentioned a few times on this blog and on other blogs what I think. I even put in the first couple of lines of the post what you appear to be referring to: the lack of courtesy shown by Chileans to everyone else once out in public can make them appear to be overly aggressive, selfish and sometimes downright unpleasant.

My vision of hell is Jumbo. At 7.30pm. On the 17th September.

I spent 3 years railing against this but finally just accepted that that's how Chileans behave in public. Chileans' public behaviour is very different to their private behaviour. This includes people I like and respect. So once you used to the fact that no one gets out of your way on the street, hardly anyone walks on those moving walkways (and blocks everyone else from trying to walk), no one says sorry if they knock into you, you barely get a grunt when you walk into a shop from the workers, drivers are selfish etc Chile does become an easier place to live. Once you accept that Chileans can be a pretty unpleasant bunch to each other in public, life's easier...particularly when you know that this is not what they're like in private or how they act as individuals. It's learned group behaviour.

My post reflects my views on Chilean individuals. As individuals, I've had generally good experiences with them and do not think they're any worse than any other nationality that I've come into contact with.

If you're suggesting that, because the main focus of this blog is not to show my personal view point on everything Chilean, I'm not allowed to do so every now and again then I beg to differ. This country has been a major part of my life for close to 5 years now.

Anonymous said...

Los comentarios sobre el modo de vestir de las chilenas y su apariencia general son injustos. He ido varias veces a Londres y no recuerdo haber recreado la vista en the tube o en las calles. Todo lo contrario: vi a muchas chicas de apariencia descuidada, mal vestidas, pobremente maquilladas y con aspecto de no haberse duchado en una semana. Los ingleses(as) no se bañan todos los días y eso se les nota. Además, teniendo un excelente sistema de salud, no cuidan su dentadura. En cuanto a los norteamericanos(as), tal vez en Nueva York visten a la última moda, pero en el medio oeste y otros lugares del interior el desgarbo y el descuido son las notas predominantes. Vean a la protagonista de la película independiente "Funny ha ha". Es el prototipo de cómo se visten las universitarias norteamericanas: jeans, t-shirt y sneakers. Y nada más. Las chilenas son mucho más elegantes. En eso concuerda, en un artículo, el historiador británico Paul Johnson. Lugares donde he visto chicas realmente elegantes y deslumbrantes: París, Niza, Roma, Milán, Ginebra, Estocolmo, Buenos Aires.

Matt said...

Wow anonymous...nice to see some really well reasoned commentary here. You focus on one of the few negatives and then launch an attack on British people for no reason whatsoever; resorting to childish mistruths and pathetic stereotypes is an excellent way of getting your point across. My heartiest congratulations! You're the winner of the most cleveresty comment ever left on this blog!

Anonymous said...

Gracias por la elección, me siento orgulloso. Por lo visto, los ingleses son intocables. No entiendo tu molestia, aunque en realidad sí la entiendo. A tus injustas generalizaciones sobre las mujeres chilenas simplemente opuse otras generalizaciones, igualmente injustas, sobre las chicas inglesas, cosas que vi con mis "ojos chilenos". Te recuerdo que tú, con algo de altanería, como si tu buen gusto y sensibilidad fueran cosas indiscutibles, escribiste: "...I agree that the fashion here is, to my English eyes, an embarrassment". Fuerte,¿no?
No te enojes. God save the queen!!

Matt said...

Anonymous-my annoyance with you and your pathetic comments are not with your assertion that the English fashion sense is not up to your standards but with your petty comments about English people's teeth and personal hygiene. Fashion is objective which is precisely why I wrote 'with my eyes' to show that it's just my viewpoint. On the other hand, your comments are insulting, offensive, childish and borderline racist.

Anonymous said...

Por lo visto no nos estamos entendiendo. Aún así, creo que tus respuestas son mucho más ofensivas que mis comentarios. No fui yo quien ocupó los siguientes epítetos: "pathetic, insulting, offensive, childish and borderline racist". 5 insultos.
No fue mi carácter infantil lo que me llevó a participar en este foro. Di por casualidad con tu blog y me interesó conocer la opinión que de Chile se han formado extranjeros que llevan viviendo algún tiempo aquí. Al terminar de leer este post y sus comentarios, me quedé con un gusto amargo en la boca. Abundaban los comentarios ofensivos hacia nosotros, especialmente hacia las chilenas. El tono de irónica superioridad estos comentarios fue lo que más me molestó, aunque reconozco que tú eres más moderado que los otros bloggers de lengua inglesa.
See ya!
Post Data: sobre los comentarios condescendientes de Claudia me reservaré, por caballerosidad, mi opinión.

Matt said...

You're right, we're not understanding each other. Your comments were offensive and childish. I did not say that you were offensive and childish. There is a difference.

For you to take one point about fashion (of all things) and then pettily insult a nation based on unfounded and childish stereotypes says more about you than anything else.

For what it's worth, my post was in defence of Chileans. Try to remember that.

Anonymous said...

I like fashion very much, and I love the way that the well educated and culture people at my country look.
about the others, I really sence they don't care about the way they dress, don't even about quality(very diferent from English people)...but its fine, and it won't change too fast...I think is fun and funny anyway.

Matt said...

Anonymous-i agree...how people dress in their own country is fine. it's part of the culture of the country...whether people want to wear cutting edge design or look like a pokemon is their decision. There's plenty of crap fashion to laugh at in every country in the world :)

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