Motivation to Stay Off the Roads in Chile

I can drive.  I don’t really mind it.  But I am certain that if I were to take to the streets of Chile in a nice, eco-friendly car, or even my bike, my survival would be a flip of the coin.  Here are some of the factors that motivate me to stick to the metro when possible:

1.  The lines make NO SENSE.

'MURICA (Image taken from

Dear United States, How do you know if you are on a street with two-way traffic?  That’s right, double yellow lines.  How do you know in Chile?  Spidey sense.

Now, let’s head to Chile, where the line that tells you it’s ok to pass between lanes of one-way traffic is also the line that indicates passing zones in two-way traffic: a dotted white line.  That has made crossing streets complicated, forget about driving.Stop?  Something doesn't seem right....

2.  Ambulance lights. They’re on whether there’s an emergency or not.  People will usually either casually move out of the ambulance’s way, or try drafting the ambulance, taking the easy fast lane that opens up behind it.

3.  This are precursors to events.Eventos. It’s worse than a pothole; it’s an event.

4.  Lomos de Toro.  If the eventos don’t get you, the speed humps will.  They’re not smooth or gradual, like they might be in the States.  They are called “bulls’ backs” because they emulate the thrilling sport of bull riding.  Seems like something I want on the street.

5.  It never rains, but FLOODS.  Carlos Dittborn after some light showers.To translate my friend, Brent’s, adroit commentary: “Is there anyone that could lend me one of those machines to make holes in the street?  We seem to lack storm drains here, so I’m thinking about making them myself, thank you. There’s a DIY for storm drains, right?”

6.  Taxi drivers with death wishes.

7.  Motorcycles with death wishes.

8.  Drunk pedestrians abroad with death wishes. (See also: Soccer fans.)

9.  Micros wishing for the death of all the drunk thirteen-year-olds that just hopped aboard.  Keep in mind, they most likely didn’t pay and are probably banging makeshift instruments, yelling, and smoking.  On the bus.

10.  Soccer fans.  There are three kinds of soccer fans you’ll find hazardous to traffic.  One, the drunk and obnoxious pedestrians (with vuvuzelas, perhaps.)  Two, the reckless drivers that won’t stop honking their flipping horns.  And three, a combination of both (See: Johnny Herrera).

If my argument doesn’t seem convincing yet, don’t worry.  There’s more: “Ten More Reasons Not to Drive in Santiago.”

As always, stay safe.


Please Take a Number: Introduction to Trámites

I am back in Chile.  I love Chile.  The ever-present mountains, the mote con huesillo on a hot summer day, the sopaipillas on rainy winter days, the impossibly infectious timbre of Chilean Spanish, and the impossible abundance of quirky Chilean-isms.  It’s great.  There is, however, one aspect of Chile that I cannot stand.  The red tape, the paperwork, the processes and processing…bureaucracy.  While there is no one word with which we as Americans can so ubiquitously identify the experience of processes, paperwork, and proceedings, in Chile the word is trámites.  And it’s all too common a word.


I expect that over the next several years, I will have quite a bit to say about trámites.  But before I take out my machete to cut through all this red tape, I’d like to provide some brief ground rules to give you a basic understanding of trámites in Chile.

  • Everything closes at 2pm.  The banks, the government offices, any building you would need to be able to successfully get through trámites closes.  And not for lunch and a siesta.  For the day.
  • Get there early.  Find out when the building opens and get there either early or during a time when there won’t be many people.  Sometimes it’s good to get there about a half hour after they open so that you don’t have to deal with the people that rushed to get there as soon as the doors opened.  But regardless…
  • Bring something to read.  Or a game to play.  Or someone whose company you enjoy.  Because you’re going to be there for at least a couple hours.  Which also means that when they send you to another building, you will have to wait for another day, because it will already be 1:30pm.
  • You must take a number for everything.  If you think this might not be the case because there is no number board and the number dispenser is empty, think again.  A woman with a roll of numbers might just pop out of that closed office door to hand out numbers to the few people waiting.  And then she will call the numbers out of order.
  • In spite of the very long processes described above, face-to-face interactions are often the fastest way to get an answer.  For example, if you want to know the price of sending a letter to your family back in the United States, the post office’s website probably won’t give you the answer.  If you call the number provided on the website, they will probably direct you to another number.  If you call that number, it probably won’t exist.  When you call back, you will be told that you will simply have to go into a local branch.  By the time you get there, the branch will probably be closed.  With the post box inside the building.  Hypothetically.
  • Pitutos: the express tickets.  Pituto means having an “in” with someone.  It means you can show up and have that person give you all the information you need and rush you through the process in a much more expedient fashion.  Which is probably why the rest of us without pitutos have been staring at a number board that has changed six numbers in two hours.
  • You might get the wrong information.  If someone doesn’t know the solution to your problem, they will either send you somewhere else, tell you it can’t be done, or advise you with whatever solution occurs to them as a feasible possibility.  They also may do all of these three things in one conversation.  Also, they might tell you something is impossible when really it’s only complicated.  Even if you know the process already and you’re just looking for them to give you the go ahead.

I think you’re now basically ready for your first trámites.  Remember:

  • Call, but don’t expect them to answer.
  • If they answer, don’t expect them to know the information you’re looking for.
  • They are going to send you somewhere else.

I hope these guidelines serve you well.  Knowledge is power.  More specifically, possession of what the culture of power deems to be knowledge grants you the cultural capital to be able to play the trámites game well.  But really, you’re just better off knowing someone on the inside…social capital ftw.

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.