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.
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.