Chile Culture — 07 September 2016

concepcion chile

by

Cameron Ridgway

photo by Hozdiamant, under Creative Commons License

Concepción, Chile. 7 September 2016.

A taste of life as a ‘penquista:’

Concepción, Chile: a city I still don’t quite understand despite having lived here for just over a month.

As an exchange student from the UK, I had always expected that Chile was going to be different. But I could not have envisaged some of the quirks I’ve come across during my time here.

Some things never change, though. The weather, for example, has proven to be just us much of a talking point as back home. I’ve heard the nickname ‘Tropiconcementioned on more than one occasion, and with good reason.

Currently, at the end of winter, the extremes seem to vary between ridiculously heavy rain and moderate sunshine, exemplified by my having to run for a taxi on arrival in what can only be described as monsoon weather.

The weather is not the only turbulent part of living here. In a city I have heard nicknamed the ‘education capital of Chile,’ with a number of public and private universities, the ongoing student protests over the issue of educational reform have made for an equally changeable atmosphere.

With regular cancellation of classes and hastily organized public demonstrations par for the course, this level of disruption is simply now how things are. Walk across the rest of the city and you see obvious signs of support, such as buildings with surprisingly artistic protest slogans or murals painted on the outside.

More than three weeks into term, classes have still not started in faculties that remain occupied by protesters. Recent agreements between some universities and student protest groups are likely to quell this by bringing representatives from both sides together to discuss issues floated by the student movement.

Therefore, in the short term at least, most academic activity is likely to return to normal. Disruption will be at a minimum. Uncertainty does remain, however, over how likely it is that a favorable compromise will be reached. Having seen some of the marches, I’m not filled with confidence.

Onward to Britain

I also seem to find myself discussing the less polemic issue of British politics with Chileans, a topic that no Briton really wants to discuss in depth at home after the controversial 23rd June EU referendum result. Whether I’m asked my own stance, or why the UK voted the way it did, I must have explained something on the topic to nearly every Chilean in the nation.

Like some analyst of British political affairs, I’ve fielded questions in both English and Spanish ranging from a simple ‘why?’ to ‘what do you think?’ to ‘what the hell happens next?’ So much for those who joked that I have the respite of escaping to South America just as UK domestic politics got nasty.

The Dangers of Fast Food

On a lighter note, Chilean fast food is a cheap and cheerful sure-fire way to get fed. For reasons of time, and lack of a full kitchen in the temporary hostel accommodation in which I was initially living, my experience with Chilean cuisine began with the numerous sandwich shops that can be found in nearly every corner of the city.

AChurrasco Italiano, filled with grilled meat and copious quantities of tomato, avocado purée (a common component of nearly all Chilean fast food) and mayonnaise is nothing more than a recipe for spilling it all out. So is pretty much anything containing avocado purée for that matter—an art yet to be mastered as to how to hold it together.

That’s if you don’t get run over on your way to buying it. A wise warning for anyone heading to a large Chilean city is to completely disregard any indication given by the traffic signals. Rely on your own sense of caution.

For reasons I cannot quite fathom, any traffic turning into a road where there is a pedestrian crossing at the junction will continue regardless of who has right of way according to the signals. To sum up, even if you are walking across a road on a green light you still have a fairly high probability of being mowed down.

Chile, as I’m quickly beginning to understand, is a country that both astounds and perplexes at the same time. While any advice you’re given is useful, take it with a pinch of salt, as nothing is ever as expected.

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