Our 4 years’ stay in Chile was one of the most beautiful expat experiences we’ve ever had. We tied deep friendship bonds with both foreign and Chilean friends and got acquainted with a very different culture and a very different mentality. Following two periods in The Canary Islands, Spain, we considered ourselves pretty used to the Latino way of seeing things and – not least – getting things done. Mañana, right? We could live with that. Chileans might be Latinos, but it wasn’t mere time conception that would cause the culture clash this time around.
Culture clash teaches you a life lesson
We settled in Santiago de Chile in a typically residential, middle-class neighborhood. Chilean society might be more balanced than other South American ones, but calling it even wouldn’t do it justice. We quickly learned that remembering the house key when leaving the home wasn’t enough. The key to the gate(s) was just as important. Once I got caught between a slammed front door and two locked iron gates – besides the 2+ meter high combination of concrete wall and iron fence surrounding every inch of the lot. Looking out through the bars, I could just hope for one of my neighbors to peep in. This didn’t happen, logically enough according to the Chilean rules of conduct, but not so to me at the time. I never let the door slam again.
Chilean rules of conduct
How come the neighbors didn’t notice me standing there? Well, high walls and barred gates might not be the ideal, shared space for “talking story”, as they would say in Hawai’i. Second, not unlike what we witnessed in the US, walking was mostly done to cover the distance between the car and the building. Taking a walk down the street for leisure, gazing in through your neighbor’s gate, striking up a conversation … this all seemed rather suspicious in a residential street without any shops to look at. Walking in general was seen as a somewhat suspicious activity: during our 20 minutes’ walk to school, the kids and I would be offered up to several rides. Walking meant not being able to afford transportation.
Biggest Chilean culture clash: unexpected suspicion
Before going away on vacation, I asked a neighbor we were on quite friendly terms with if I could leave the key with her in case of emergency. She declined right away, stating matter-of-factly that “should something happen, she’d be the first to be suspected”. That experience embodied one of the biggest culture clashes in my mind, since I had honestly never thought that thought before, never seen it from that perspective. That the state of possessing a foreign neighbor’s house key was something obviously suspicious – after a year of what I considered friendly neighborship. But even more foreign to me seemed the thought that she would expect people to suspect her without any reason at all. Hmm, Pinochet surely left a trace.
Culture clash the other way round: Chileans in Europe
Nothing in this world is one-sided, and this past week we were lucky to welcome Chilean friends here in Munich. Our 3 young travelers – all around 20 and children of some of our dearest Chilean friends, are touring Europe while for the first time experiencing what it’s like to be foreign. Really foreign. They shared some of their culture clash moments with us: How they’d missed a train arriving at the station only 3 minutes late! How they, after being told of the German fees for crossing pedestrian crossings by red light, took great care to cross every street outside these areas for the rest of that day.
Culture clash makes culture fusion
Besides being a lot of fun, it’s always healthy to hear and experience both sides. Mutually lived and shared culture clash experiences pave the way for culture fusion in the end. It’s not a question of being able to understand and adapt to the foreign culture – or make the foreign culture more like you. Cause we might never come to understand why we cannot trust a neighbor, or why trains cannot wait just 3 minutes. It’s more about accepting and trying genuinely to see it from the other person’s or culture’s perspective. You always learn a little bit, whether you’re the foreign or the local in that given spot on earth.
Did you ever experience a culture clash in a foreign country … or maybe even in your own country?