Saturday, October 9, 2010

On public displays of affection and other Chileanismos

When I decided to write a blog I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It is surprisingly difficult to chronicle my time in Santiago without descending into a play-by-play description of the mundane aspects of each day, not to mention my complete lack of discipline in recording my thoughts and observations on a regular basis. So then, I have decided to take another tack altogether: stream of consciousness. We’ll see how it goes.
I feel I cannot go any further without mentioning the one thing that has for some reason taken up a great deal of my thoughts: the staggering number of kissing couples in public spaces. They are everywhere! Leaning up against stairwells, snuggling on benches, tucked away among the trees, lying side by side wrapped up in each other on the grass in any space that is not wet, muddy or being landscaped. 

I took a lovely stroll through Cerro Santa Lucia, a park on a hill right in central Santiago, and it seemed that around every corner there was another amorous pair. Being alone, I started to feel a bit like a third wheel. It got somewhat tiresome having to avert my eyes around each turn so I actually started walking with my head down to avoid the inevitable.
At first, I was surprised. Chile is a pretty conservative, religious country and I’m fairly certain that pre-marital sex is a no-no here. But then, after thinking about it for a while, it occurred to me that most of these people probably live with their parents and don’t own a car which seriously limits your options for make-out spots. Secondly, what better way to demonstrate that you are just having some ‘good, clean fun’ with your partner than being right out in the public eye? How far are you really going to be able to go? So, while it still makes me a little uncomfortable to be writing in my journal while a pair is lying on the grass beside me with a jacket over their heads, I’ve decided to let go of my puritan roots and embrace the romance of it all.
Santiago is a really big city. There are around 6 million people living here as this sea of high rises attests to. All the same, it is a very navigable urban space with lots of parks, pathways and places to escape the city noise. This afternoon, I took a trip to Cerro San Cristóbal, a large park across the river from my apartment. I walked for nearly 4 hours and I barely saw a portion of the space (although I did see plenty of kissing couples). The park was buzzing with weekend warrior types, all running or cycling up the hill to the summit for a mote con huesillos (wheat kernels with peaches in a sweet peach juice- it’s actually pretty good) or an ice cream. 
The Chilean people seem to be just as concerned with their personal appearance as we are in North America, if not more so. People dress smartly if they are out in public so you’re never going to see someone wandering to the Tim Hortons in their pajama bottoms. Perhaps it is because your personal appearance can actually have a tangible impact on your quality of life. One woman explained to me that you are much less likely to get hired if you are ‘unattractive’ or fat (or indigenous, but that’s a whole other can of worms).  I was shocked to hear that if you don’t include the information in your CV, the interviewer will be sure to ask you your religion, your marital status, whether you live with your parents or cohabitate with your boyfriend and how many children you have (or why you don’t have any).
This weekend is also a long weekend here in Chile, so while you’re enjoying your turkey and stuffing I’ll be chowing down an empanada with some red wine on the roof top terrace and enjoying a(nother) day off. 
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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