The moment I realized how Gringa I was ...

I feel so fortunate to be able to come to Chile nearly every year to be with my familia. My grandmother is 93 and I promised that as long as she's alive I'd try to visit as often as possible. My Gringo and my kids are here with me and we were just talking about the biggest differences between our American (and more specifically New York) and Chilean lifestyles.


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The first major difference you immediately notice is the concept of familia. My grandmother, mom and youngest sister all live within short walking distance and they see each other nearly every day. While staying with my grandmother, I noticed that every morning she gets calls from her grandkids, my uncle, cousins and nieces. The phone never stops ringing! The number of people who are considered to be part of the familia is much more extensive than in the U.S.

Also, we do EVERYTHING as a collective unit. As you can imagine, deciding where to go and what to do as a familia can be a bit more stressful than back in the States. The second difference is the role that food plays every moment of the day. As I am writing this, my grandmother is trying to stuff my Gringo (who she calls too flaco) that he should be eating more for breakfast: "How about eggs, jam or ham with your bread?" she keeps asking, in Spanish. My husband insists that he's had enough without trying to offend her. We have not stopped eating since we got here and yet my grandmother still expects us to eat substantially before our multi-course, celebratory lunches and dinners.

The third major difference is the quality of life or humanity. I am not saying that Chileans don't work hard, but they work because they have to do so to survive. But they don't let work dominate their lives. We are staying in the capital (Santiago) and yet it feels like suburban or even rural America in terms of mentality. The balance still seems to tip towards life versus work and Chileans choose to live their personal lives more intensely, celebrating every moment.

As a New Yorker, I am so used to efficiencies. It drives me nuts when I'm trying to get my shopping done here while the cashiers are "wasting" time interacting longer with each customer and people behind the counter yet none of the Chilean customers seem to have an issue with it. "Lucia, relájate and enjoy your cultura and life," I tell myself! What's most ironic is that when my grandmother, uncle and I discussed the differences between my American and Latin cultures, they pointed out how Chileans are losing their traditional values as they try so hard to imitate American lifestyle.

Here in Chile, English words or phrases are commonly used in media, ads and in daily colloquialism. American brands dominate the shopping malls, supermarkets and restaurant chains. While Chileans are emulating what they think is the American lifestyle it seems that back in the States we yearn and are trying to bring back the traditional values that for now define mi gente in Chile!

Image via Lucia Ballas-Traynor

Topics: culture  latin culture