Doing as the Locals Do: Culturally Assimilating in Chile

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As quickly as we began our tours in Chile, we began to notice the differences in how they do things there. The polychronic nature of Chileans was evident when our schedule for tours and visits changed often and easily. One might have gotten frustrated with these changes, because it did affect how well we knew what our next day would look like, yet it is often something to get used to when traveling. No matter how well you plan for something, going with the flow is the easiest. Chile is full of wonderfully friendly, beautiful people and in order to fit in with them, you just have to let go.

I was interested in getting to know Chile as a country through the eyes of Chileans. I did as much as I could to assimilate myself in those short 8 days so I could get a real feel for how life is lived in Chile. First, I began by eating.


Salmon is one of the largest industries in Chile, their country has nearly 4,000 miles of coastline so clearly they do a lot of fishing. Apparently, there are arguments between Peru and Chile about who invented ceviche – a seafood dish with raw fish cured in lime or lemon juices, but I have to give the trophy to Chile. Their salmon ceviche was so fresh it melted in your mouth. I tried to eat that as often as I could while in the country. No restaurants in Cincinnati would ever compare when I got back home.


I told my friends I was going to make it a goal to also try to eat at least one empanada each day. I failed, but gave it a good effort. There were places to buy them everywhere you looked, yet I couldn’t find room in my stomach every day to indulge. One of my favorite empanadas was in the central market of the city, with a line out the door of local Chileans during lunchtime. Clearly, this was the place to stand in line. We got to the register and were handed a ticket, which we then gave to the chefs behind the counter and were promptly handed hot empanadas. They were interestingly made out of puff pasty, instead of corn or flour like others I had tried. I enjoyed the national Chilean empanada recipe as well, stuffed with cooked onions, boiled eggs, and a black olive. It was a weird combination, but enjoyable nonetheless.


And of course, doing as the locals do had to include drinking our fair share of Pisco. This national drink, made by distilling fermented grape juice into a high-proof spirit, is cheap and easy to find in Chile. Our local friends always wanted us to make “piscolas” with it, which was basically 50% pisco and 50% coca cola, but we preferred it as a pisco sour cocktail or even with sprite a bit more. Either way, it was a delicious drink to sip while playing games and socializing at night with friends. Another must-have while in Chile is a drink called the “terremodo” which is Pipeño (a type of sweet fermented wine) with pineapple ice-cream on top. It basically tasted like cough syrup, but honestly the name of the drink is accurate. Terremodo translates to earthquake, which alludes to your legs shaking as you stand up after drinking one.


I was quick to jump on the opportunity to use public transportation as often as possible in Chile. I always try to immerse myself in a culture by riding on the same metros, buses, or bicycles as the locals. My friends and I bought a metro pass one of the first nights in Santiago, and found that it was very easy to use. Once you talked to the person at the ticket counter and loaded money onto the card, you simply chose what direction you needed to go on the red line (for us) and there you were. I noticed the metro stopped running at around 10:30 nightly, so it was often only used to get us somewhere and we would end up having to Uber back. Being that the metro was so easy and convenient, we had no need for the buses. I saw them often on the street in which we resided, Apoquindo Avenue, so it appeared to be just as easy of a system as the metro. When I return to Santiago someday, I will use them both often!


In the adorable Bellavista district in Santiago, I immediately realized I was surrounded by clubbing opportunities when nighttime fell. It was exciting, as I know how much fun discotheques can be in Latin America. One night when our friend group went out, I met a girl having a blast dancing by herself and began to talk to her. She was a zumba instructor, and we had a lot in common. She spoke great English and immediately wanted to take us under her wing. Soon enough, we were following her to an even bigger club, waiting in line to get in. Once the doors opened, I was taken aback by how many people were in this huge space in front of me. The lights were shining on a massive disco ball in the middle of the dance floor and familiar music was playing. We danced with Macarena (yes like the song) for hours in the mesmerizing atmosphere.