Trámites: Bureaucracy’s Blue Screen of Death (Part 1)

Don't Enter: Residents OnlyWarning: This post should be used mostly for entertainment.  If you want to know more about the right way to marry a Chilean, I will soon post more information.

I have returned to Santiago and want nothing more than to begin my life as a professional.  Unfortunately, I still don’t have residency.

I know, we all thought it would be much simpler—I am a gringa, after all.  And I married a Chilean.  Isn’t there some privilege that goes along with being a white, American professional that magically ushers me into all things good?

My many privileges aside, it turns out that paperwork is still paperwork.  Bureaucracy remains the same.

Registro Civil sign in Rapa Nui

Translated into Rapanui for your enjoyment

Fortunately, there exists in Spanish a word that very aptly describes what I’m going through: trámites.  (For you newcomers, check out Intro to Trámites.)  And I’m not really surprised that such a succinct way of putting it doesn’t exist in English.  It means you’re in the process of something, the formalities; it means you reel about from one building to the next, waiting in line after line, taking number after number, filling out form after form, and always thinking the end could be just one little slip of paper away.

The process that we’ve been through so far is longer than was necessary because we didn’t have the right information before moving to Chile.

So here is what we have done so far:

1.  I showed up to the country and paid $160 for a three-month tourist visa.

2.  We headed to the Departament of Foreign Affairs and Immigration.  We thought we had all the necessary documentation to be considered married and to apply for residency. Turns out our marriage was not valid in Chile (kind of obvious, I know).

After waiting in a line that extended down six flights of stairs just to take a number, we waited three or four hours in the waiting room for our number to be called.  The woman who assisted us told us not to worry!  We could get married again here in Chile.  Simple.

Window at the Civil Registry

Graffiti at the Civil Registry

3.  We braved our first attempts at getting a marriage appointment.  There was a three-month waiting period.  That wasn’t going to work.  I had a job offer, and my visa expired in three months.

4.  We decided to take a trip with my in-laws to see Edwin’s grandfather in the south of Chile (See also: From Lake to Sea and Tractor Crossing).

We would take advantage of a pituto, which is Chilean for a connection or an “in” with someone, in the registro civil in Valdivia; we’d be married by the time we got back to Santiago.  Unfortunately, the pituto was on vacation.  And the waiting period was too long for us to tie the knot before returning home.

Looks promising...5.  Back in Santiago, we decided that we simply had to make an appointment at the registro civil in Maipú.

After waiting in the wrong line for an hour, as there were virtually no signs or indications of where we needed to be, we were directed upstairs.  There were a couple of people there staring at an empty number dispenser.  (The dispenser has since been removed, as shown in the picture to the right.)  The frosted glass doors were closed and unlabeled.

A woman would periodically pop out of the door to hand us numbers, but then she proceeded to call numbers out of order, asking people, “What are you here for?  Oh, no; you have to wait.”

Broken windows

A little run-down, I guess…

When it was finally our turn, we explained our situation and what we had been told to do.  Her response was, “What?  You can’t get married again.  You’re already married.  Someone will find out, and it will get back to me.  They’ll come asking why I married two people who were already married.”

But just to make sure, she called someone else and put us on the phone with them.

Finally, we had some of the information we needed.

Stay tuned for the thrilling details of the actual process we needed to go through…

How to Spot a Gringa

If you’re reading this right now, there’s probably at least a fifty percent chance you’re a gringo.  It’s a complex term, really, with a different meaning in every country; in fact many gringos don’t even know they are gringos.  Anyhow, in Chile, it’s basically anyone who is NOT Chilean… and sometimes if you look or act non-Chilean,  you’ll get stuck with the label, too.  ¿Cuál es la moraleja?  Be careful, it’s contagious.

So how do we protect ourselves?  And how do you know you’re not already a gringo?  Be informed.  This post aims to give you the proper information needed to spot a gringa—a gringo of the female persuasion.

Ok, we’ll start with the most obvious situation: you see someone who looks different.  Usually, it’s something obvious, like in her coloring or race.  She has blue eyes, is blonde, is black, is blindingly white, or looks another specific ethnicity. (I remember once I saw a woman in the airport that looked Irish… and therefore I knew she was American.)  So looks are usually your starting point.  How do you figure out if this mina is chilena or gringa?

One, if you’re casually walking through Santiago, there is probably a 75% chance that this person is gringa.  If you’re in La Universidad Católica, you’re screwed.  There is an equal probability of it being either.  That’s when you have to rely on the checklist.

¡Warning!  None of these factors can unequivocally and conclusively identify a gringa.  However, each of these factors is associated with a probability that represents a significant variation in the population**

Things to write off right off the bat…

  • Sports gear?  I don’t think most Chilean chicks would be caught in public dressed like that.  Moreover, if the gear is for a specific sport, it’s even more likely that it’s a gringa.  Soccer included.  Gringas play way more soccer than Chilenas.  A lot.  As in, we are number one in the world for soccer, and Chile is ranked forty-fifth.
  • Does she make you think: Woah, she’s tall.  It’s not a secret; Chileans (and many Latinoamericanos) are shorter than the average gringo.
  • Does she look confused? (Read: she is staring at some map in the metro while a sneaky Chilean is reaching into her purse…)
  • Do you recognize her brands?  American brands are usually a good hint, or rather, the presence of non-gringo brands will probably steer you away.  If she’s a student and has a backpack with the brands Head, Jansport, or Xtreme (or something else you don’t recognize), she’s probably Chilean.
  • Does she have thighs and/or junk in the trunk?  Probably not Chilean.  For some reason, Chileans tend to be petite and to have modest proportions.  It’s not the first time Chileans break Latino stereotypes…
  • Is she wearing bootcut or skinny?  Bootcut is a gringa, especially if they’re nice jeans.
  • There are just certain hairstyles that aren’t that common on Chilean gals (all of these rules are applied to the generic student population).  If her hair is all up in a messy bun, for example, that’s a gringa do.  Short hair, unless she’s clearly associated with a subculture that supports such a cut, probably indicates a gringa.
  • But the final and most telling check I make is: what do her shoes look like?  This has taken a long time to think about.  I remember always getting a definitive answer when I looked at her shoes, but it was hard to specify.  I mean, the most obvious footwear that just doesn’t make sense for a Chilean to be wearing is the flip-flop.  They’re hideous, let’s face it.  But gringas, especially some of the types that end up at la Católica, wear them everywhere.  Chileans are more likely to wear some ridiculous-looking thong sandal-type thing that crawls half-way up their calves than flip-flops.  “Regular,” athletic sneakers are also a no-go.  As are Uggs.  They’re gross.  Get over them.

That’s basically it.  Of course, any of these must be reconsidered if she’s also making out on the metro while donning a fanny pack, but hey, I do what I can.  Again, friends: knowledge is power.  Use it responsibly.

**This is a lie.  Not actually statistically or scientifically proven.  Kosher/Parve.