Avocado Republic — 30 September 2014


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“The Avocado Republic of Chile, because it’s too Cold to Grow Bananas” is Chile’s ultimate tour guide.  Laugh-out-loud funny and insightful.  American writer sick of the pollution and noise in Santiago moves to the country for peace and quiet.  What he did not know is when you move to the country, you exchange one set of problems for another. Click through the arrows to read.


Walker Rowe

The Avocado Republic of Chile Chile Independence Day Dust and Dirt in Rural Chile
Chaos at the Local School The Market Earthquakes
Love and Romance in Chile The Chilean Concept of Time My Vegetable Garden
The Compost Pile There is no Heat in Chile Drinking Burgoyne
Chilean Food is Boring and Bland Rodeo in Chile The Caretaker
The Cactus Garden Watching the Southern Skies Oscar’s Adventures
Things Fall Apart Argentina’s Dark Culture Rene, the Communist
Chewing Coca Leaves The Mapuche Conflict Cuasimodo

In Chile, a clock is only an approximation of the actual time and the actual time only an approximation of when events are going to transpire.

There is a reason that the meridian runs through Greenwich, England and not, say, São Paolo: it is the Latin indifference to time.

I speak from experience; this is no stereotype.  Having lived in Chile 4 years continuously now, and having commuted back and forth for 5 more, and having married (and divorced) an Ecuadorian, and then married a Chilean, I know what I am talking about.

There is a long list of how Chile’s indifference to the correct time or the agreed schedule plays out in the world of business and culture compared to the developed world.

Setting a schedule and sticking to it is vital in the matter of, say, airline schedules.  When you buy an airline ticket from, say, Washington to Santiago, the arrival time is always shown in the destination time zone.  Sometimes this leaves weary travelers scratching their heads and confused as they wonder how many hours have transpired and when they will arrive, having already spent what seems like an eternity on such a long international flight.  The passenger is too sleepy and dehydrated to take the destination time and add or subtract the correct number of hours to figure out how long they have been travelling and when they might get there.

Chile makes this particularly difficult because they keep changing the local time without informing the rest of the world.

This week, the energy and environmental ministers are trying to decide whether to again extend Day Light Savings (DST) Time.  Because Chile has suffered a severe drought for several years, the country decided to extend DST to save electricity, since there is less snow melt to power hydroelectric energy production.

The problem is a country cannot do this on a whim.  It takes several years to coordinate such time change with the rest of the world and allow time for each device that has a computer to update its software.

Right now the time zone on my cell phone is set to the Argentina time zone, which is currently 1 hour ahead of Chile.  This is because Chile delayed the change to daylight savings time to save power and the Android software that powers my phone does not know that.  This has been the case for the past three years.  In the Northern Hemisphere, countries, except for those, like Ecuador, that are close to the equator, push back their clocks in the fall and then push them forward again in the spring.  The reason for this is to change the start and stop time of work and the school day to more closely match the rising and the setting of the sun.  But in Chile, they do this 4 times per year.  In summer, we are 2 hours ahead of New York.  In winter, the time in New York and Santiago is the same.  But in the fall and spring, Chile moves ahead of New York by 1 hour.  None of the computers I own know anything about this.

I worked on the computer systems at the Bank of Chile, when I first moved to Chile.  Having worked as a programmer for many years I can tell you that it is vital that two computers talking to each other show the same time.  If one is even one second ahead of another, programs will begin to malfunction.  But there we had computers that were hours apart.  The issue was that, say, Microsoft might have rolled out a patch to adjust for Chilean Summer Time, but Oracle had not.  Plus the bank would apply the patch to some computers, but not all of them.  So we did what I did with my cell phone, which was to change the time zone to Argentina or back.  But you cannot change the time on a computer that is running mission-critical functions of the bank while tens of thousands of people are using that.  So some applications would log you out right after you logged in, saying that your log in session had expired.  To the clock on the computer, you had been sitting idle for 2 hours, whereas no time had passed at all.

Even Google at times does not know what time it is in Chile when you type “current time Santiago” into the browser.

It’s not just the mechanics of the chronometer that matters, it’s adherence to accepted norms.

In the developed world, when someone says they are having a meeting at 10:00 AM, that means at 10:00 AM they will have a meeting, not at 10:05, not at 10:15, and definitely not at 10:30.  This is especially important for a conference calls where people dial in from different locations.  But in Chile, most business is face-to-face, since most business is located in the same city: Santiago.

Having worked for two different companies here in Chile, I can tell you that a meeting set for 10:00 might get started at, say, 10:45, if that.  The punctual gringo of course arrives on time, or even early, but others wander in and out many minutes later, and, only when there is a critical mass, or what you could call a quorum, does someone take up the mantle of leadership and gavel the meeting into session.

This delay causes lots of problems for those working in international organizations, where such lack of respect for punctuality clashes with expected norms. I made the mistake of going to work for a Chilean offshore computer programming company that was rotating employees in and out San Francisco for one month at a time.  I did not last long there:  three months.  The client complained that I did not know the computer language there were using.  But my employer knew that.  They hired me, because I could speak English and knew other programming languages and could learn that one. Anyway, I always got to the client office promptly at 9:00 AM, in part because the client had an employee restaurant where I could order actual eggs, pancakes, and bacon, which I could not get easily in Chile.  The client told us to come to work at 9:00, but the 10 or so people I was travelling with usually showed up at 9:30.  Since our meetings started at 9:00, that caused the Americans to sit around for 30 minutes wondering where the Chileans were.

Another issue is the TV schedule.  Here, as in the developed world, the cable TV channels list their timetable on the internet. You can also see what is playing when you press the guide button on the remote control.  But what is showing there has almost no relevance at all to what the channels in Chile will actually broadcast at what time.

My wife and I like to watch Chilean telenovelas (soap operas) and the news discussion programs.  The telenovelas run nightly Monday through Thursday.  They show in the day too, but prime time starts at 8:00 PM.  The news is at 9:00 PM and the most popular series start at 10:30 or 22:30.  (Here the clock is written in military and European fashion:  9:00 PM is 21:00.)

If you watch soap operas, you know you have to watch the program regularly to enjoy it, as it takes some time to learn who the characters are and to catch up on the plot.  Once you get to know the story and the actors, you can begin to enjoy the show.  But in a country as small as Chile, you not only get familiar with the story line, the actors themselves becomes like close friends, because while there might be a new TV series every 3 months, the same actors rotate in and out.  It’s as if Charlie Sheen (Two and a Half Men) and Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) were on every show.  The faces remain the same, only the story line changes.

There is fierce competition here between the channels for ratings and, of course, little regard for the time programs stop and start.  So when I flip the channel to TVN, Chilevision, Mega, or Canal 13 to watch a drama or comedy at 10:30 or flip it again at 11:30 to watch Tolerancia Cero or El Informante news discussion programs, more often than not, the previous program is still playing.  There is no indication when the next one might start; the earlier show could overrun its time slot 40 minutes. During ratings week, the situation is worse, as the producers shorten the series to drag it out, lengthen the commercials to increase revenue, and delay the broadcast until that critical mass of people I was talking about earlier forms the most profitable quorum.

This is highly irritating for the foreigner.  For the Chilean it is par for the course.  But as my wife and I also like to watch international programming, this irregularity is a problem, as we do not want to miss Game of Thrones, Masters and Johnson, or Homeland.  But we have an advantage: her father works as a technician in the control room of one of the major channels.  So instead of waiting for our show to appear, we call him and ask him when will the program we want to watch will actually start.

The last thing I have to say on the issue of time is about the broadcast schedule for the major networks like Fox, Sony, Warner, AXN, and FX.  They usually set their schedule to the time zone in the larger countries, like Mexico. So they will say, for example, that Breaking Bad will be broadcast at 21:00 in Mexico, 22:00 in Colombia, and 23:00 in Argentina.  Chile only has 18 million people, so we do not always count in their arithmetic.

In the case of Breaking Bad, the last year of the series was broadcast perhaps 6 months after the USA.  I tried to avoid reading about it in the American newspapers to not spoil the ending.  AXN broadcast the first 2/3 of the season at 23:00 in Mexico.  But then market conditions in Mexico changed: the network wanted to move the show to a new time slot.  Breaking Bad is perhaps the best TV show in the past 20 years. Millions around the world wanted to know what would happen to Walter White at the end.  The network suddenly changed the broadcast time for the last 5 episodes to 01:00, i.e. 1 AM in the morning.  That was 3:00 AM in Chile. That’s too late for us. I joked with my wife that people in Argentina could watch it with their breakfast. So we did not watch it at all until months later when it came out on Netflix.

Now, Chile has now agreed as of March 2015 to stop changing the clock at all.  Our new time zone will be GMT-3.  That puts us in the same timezone as Greenland.  That does not make sense for a country that is roughly the same longitude as Boston.


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(7) Readers Comments

  1. Good article, and refreshing. Many times these works get lost in the writer’s experience trumping the reader’s lack there of. But this feels crisp, like a friendly conversation, and not like a gospel.

  2. what the hell are you talking about? they change the time 4 times a year? um, no they dont, its just twice , once in fall and once in spring.

    • Chile changed there clock 4 times per year with regards to, say, New York. Because they changed the clock twice but they did that on a different date than the rest of the world. So the time in New York versus Chile was (1) the same, (2) + 1 hour, (3) + 2 hours, (4) the same.

      Cachai? Now with the permanent GMT-3 time zone, Chile will change only 2 times relative to New York.

      • No, no cacho nada, I dont understand what you mean. Chile has never changed their time 4 times in a year, it has nothing to do with relative to NY. I dont know what NY do, if they have daylight savings time or not, maybe they do?
        But Chile has NEVER changed its time 4 times in a year. After the earthquake in 2010 they delayed it till nearly the winter so people could do more work in the evenings and to try and save energy, Last year it went back 1 hour in May I believe then forward an hour in September, just because they have delayed the date in the fall doesnt mean it keeps changing. Be it in March April or May the time went back 1 hour then forward again in the spring (usually september) so again twice in one year, Fall and Spring.
        Relative to Japan it only changes twice as they dont have daylight savings time in Japan, I think your are confusing things trying to compare it to NY.

  3. Matt,

    What I wrote before was not clear. Let me try again. In the Northern Hemisphere, in Europe and the USA countries change their clocks twice per year. In spring they move it forward. In fall they push it back. This is called “savings time” and “standard time.”

    Chile did the same thing (prior to the new law). But what made Chile different is they did this on different dates.

    So relative to New York, London, Paris, Berlin, and Barcelona, Chile changes the clock 4 times per year. Because if Chile changes their time on a different day than Barcelona, then the time zone difference between Chile and Barcelona has changed twice: (1) when Barcelona changed the clock and (2) when Chile changed the clock.

    This process repeats twice per year equaling 4 time changes.



  4. Man that’s so true!. Im’ chilean and I use calendar applications to better manage my time. and man do I hate these arbitrary dst changes the chilean goverment does. I installed an application for android that corrects it though (my phone is rooted) and the windows patch for the problem, but man does it makes me waste time!. For what I know Time zones are allready a pain in the ass when it comes to programming https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5wpm-gesOY , but we just made it worse.

  5. Maybe it has to do with chile being in th Southern Hemisphere and thus changing time in the opposite direction and on different dates than cities in the northern hemisphere?

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