Lost in translation

It occured to me recently that I’ve not really posted anything ‘Santiago-based’ for a while, and that the blog is at risk of just becoming a list of places I’ve been on holiday… Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – after all I am here to show you a bit of Chile as a whole! – but I still feel that perhaps I should be shedding a little more light on what it’s like living here in the capital. 🙂

Oooooh, Santiago! (a bit like “oooooh, Vienna!”, but in Chile.)

Although, for some reason, I’m going to start with a post about things I just don’t understand in this city! I’m sure no matter where you live, you’ll find little quirks about the place that just get completely lost on you (going out in public with a head full of hair-curlers in Liverpool, for example… Just no.) – so here’s an observational post about what I notice about here.

1) Having the grass sprinklers pointing towards the pavement…

It’s not something I’ve had to deal with for a few months it having been winter here and all, so I’m only just starting to notice it again.  All it serves to do is make the pavement and passers-by soggy, rather than the grass and plants they’re supposed to be watering. You would think in such a dry city that they would be a little more conservative with their water supply, but it apparently doesn’t bother them. At the end of last summer, I got caught out by them a couple of times… One particular instance, I was walking on the pavement alongside a very busy dual carriageway and saw a huge sprinkler coming up, rotating  and chugging water violently all over the pavement. I had two choices – jump into the traffic, or suck it up and take the hit. So I stood and braced myself, not knowing that the traffic had stopped right in front of me with a prime view of my soaking until I heard someone in stitches, laughing, coming from a pick-up truck that had stopped next to me. Oh well, at least I provided some form of entertainment!

Dear Santiago. If I want a shower, I’ll have it at home. Thanks!

2) Not having wheelie bins…

Well, the apartments seem to have the big ones as there’s always garbage chutes (did I really just say ‘garbage’?), but this doesn’t seem to have filtered through to other houses/offices. Sure, just as on La Palma, the lorries come round every night to pick up all the bags that have been unceremoniously dumped on the street (and yes, it seems I attract the bin men here… Again, just as on La Palma…), but I mean, come on! It’s gross, smelly, takes up the entire pavement, and Santiago’s hoards of stray dogs get at them every single night, making sure that it’s flung around with a massive radius. You would think that if a problem is repeated every day that someone would come up with a solution (like with that blasted lying sign to the waterfall in Pucón as mentioned in my last post – why does it still point the wrong way after so long?!)… But no. Oh well, at least my daily sprinkler shower will ensure I keep squeaky clean!

3) Walking in a snake-like fashion…

The people of Santiago are incapable of walking in a straight line. I swear that when I walk to work every morning, I am in fact walking double the actual distance due to the fancy footwork I have to do to avoid people-collisions. It doesn’t matter whether you’re walking behind them or if they’re coming towards you, in either case it makes it impossible to pass them efficiently without either being pushed into the road or into a fence. With the oncoming people-traffic, I’m starting to think that we actually have magnets implanted in us upon arrival into the country – being a scientist, I have performed several experiments. I have seen someone coming towards me on the pavement, and I have stood my ground to see if, as they do in Britain, they politely step over to one side so that you both may pass without incident. The result was us punching each other in the arm and a filthy look being thrown my way. Result: don’t play ‘chicken’ with the local pedestrians, you will  lose. Once my bruise had faded, I performed my second experiment. On a quiet day with pretty much no-one else on the pavement, I went far over to one side, the side next to the road, upon seeing my next test subject headed my way. He walked straight, straight, straight… But it was a feint manoeuvre! And at the last second he changes trajectory entirely to start walking directly in front of me and I get shoved off the pavement, despite the fact he had a good 3m of space on the other side. Result: just give up, and think of all the extra calories you’re burning in your windy journey. 

A professional representation of people’s walking habits from A to B

4) Buses…

I must admit, I don’t entirely understand the bus system here. There’s no timetables, it’s only considered ‘full’ if people are literally hanging out of open windows (nothing compares to a bus going past you in rush hour showing what can only be described as a bum collage pressed up against the glass in the doors), and some of the bus stops have some sort of weird fencing that’s some people queue along, and others completely ignore. At rush hour, there will be long, tidy queues of people patiently waiting for the bus to arrive, but as soon as the door opens any sense of order immediately evaporates as people bunch together and crush their way on board. Indeed, even the queue sizes are variable. I’ve walked past the bus stop on my way to work to see scores of people waiting for the bus. I have walked past the same stop at the same time the next day to see that there’s only about four people waiting… So why does it seem to vary so randomly? I always feel like people know something I don’t! We have an Oyster-card equivalent here called a “Bip” card (because that’s the noise it makes when you swipe it) – if you have credit, it turns the light green and gives a particular beep, if you don’t, it gives a red light and a different beep. Now I’ve seen people get the red beep, swipe it again, it goes green and happy and they get on – someone told me that you can get in negative credit on the Bip cards if you swipe it a second time. I tried this one day… Well, actually I tried swiping it 5 times before I kind of ran off the bus again in embarrassment and walked to my destination instead – so why does it work for everyone else and not me? (apart from the fact I’m known to break technology). All these things put together make me scared to get the bus (and if you’ve ever gotten a bus in Santiago at rush hour, you’d be right to feel that way), regardless of the fact that I already find it to be the lowest form of public transport (if you’ve ever gotten a bus in Liverpool, you’d be right to feel that way). My goodness, I miss my car…

5) Bum-bags…

Bum-bags are the work of what I term “the devil decade”… the 1980s. NOTHING from the 1980s should ever be repeated – hair styles, neon clothing, awful makeup, terrible music… and bum-bags. I always remember having to take a bum-bag away with me as a child when we went away on holiday, and I always remember feeling like the dorky kid in the group as a result (I’m sure my mother will have an opinion on this when she reads it…. Love you, Mum!). However, it appears that there are two countries that have prevented the rest of the world from eradicating such a daft item… America and Chile. At least in America they seem to be the reserve of slightly overweight, sunburned tourists who have just stumbled out of their RV to “ooo” and “aah” at a bit of nature from behind a fence before scurrying back into their AC. In Chile, it seems that a fair few people under the age of 40 still use them on a daily basis, mostly made out of either leather or some garish South American-design fabric. I don’t think I could even leave the house wearing one without being laughed down back in the UK, but here, for some reason, they are still very much socially acceptable. Although, to give them the benefit of the doubt, I understood them a little more after I got pick-pocketed that time on the metro. At least a bum-bag does make your possessions inaccessible to wandering, thieving hands, no matter how silly it may make you look. And ok, I think I lied a bit earlier, some good came out of the 80’s… I remember being a little proud of my neon-coloured bum-bag collection when I was younger, my black leggings are a wardrobe staple, and I’m still in love with Bon Jovi.

No no no no no!

Yes yes yes yes yes! (I do have a thing for guitarists…)

Don’t get me wrong, Santiago is an interesting city and it still surprises me all the time with what it can offer and what it hides in the corner. And I would still recommend people to come and visit it should they find themselves in this end of the world. Just remember that you should expect to get a lot of exercise, and that the pavements are both wet and people-dangerous. And please, leave your bum-bag at home. 😉

Hasta la proxima,


1 thought on “Lost in translation

  1. Loving the blog, as ever. Perhaps they are washing the pavements to get rid of the spilt rubbish? Anyway, (please say this with a Scouse accent LOL) ‘Don’t you say nothin about Liverpool buses, my Grandad was a Liverpool bus driver!’ (I still have a little sew-on Liver bird from his uniform, somewhere!) and in fact the last time I went on one there (your graduation!) we all had an extremely pleasant experience (though it may be different during the daily rush hours!). Tara la.

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