I Moved to Chile 5 Years Ago, and Here’s What Life at the End of the World Is Like

3 years ago

Hi everyone! My name is Anastasia Polosina and 5 years ago, I moved to Santiago from Moscow. Before, I worked as a magazine editor, and now I guide tours in South America, have a travel blog, and even wrote a book about Chile.

I’ve had enough time to learn a lot about the habits of people living in Chile and the amazing things in this country. Exclusively for Bright Side, I want to talk about the most unusual things that bust the myths about this country and help others to discover new sides of it.

1. Chile is the most economically developed country in Latin America.

Some people call Chile “The Switzerland of South America”. There are many reasons for this: Chile is in 24th place on the list of the Global Peace Index. This country has the lowest level of corruption in all of Latin America and the highest level of economic development. Chile is in 33rd place on the list of the Press Freedom Index. There are effective funds that support small companies. Chile is very economically and socially developed — its level can be compared to many European countries and it is very safe and comfortable for traveling.

2. There are official social classes in Chile.

There are official social classes in Chile: A, B, C, D, and E. For every letter, there are special features like a place of living, education level, type of medical insurance, and a profession. And social mobility is very low, so few people can actually move from one class to another.

This classification is often used both in everyday speech and, for example, when someone is talking about the target audience for a product or a service. Very conservative employers can even ask where you live in the city. Not because they mean something bad but because it is a habit. Of course, these letters are not written in any documents. As a result, this segregation affects the mentality of Chileans and separates social groups from each other.

3. The unusual habits of locals

Just like any other nation, Chileans have their own habits and mentality. Here are some of the examples:

  • Chileans can’t really park cars well: they don’t care about scratches much and park instinctively. Cars have a lot of damage here. By the way, it is considered perfectly normal to drive after drinking a couple glasses of wine.
  • Chileans love to replace a full dinner with a late lunch — like sandwiches with tea or coffee. There is no such thing as a normal dinner in Chile. Speaking of dinner, I’ve got to talk about the food. Chileans are willing to pay anything to get a piece of grilled meat. Barbecue here is like a second religion. But unlike the popular myth, they don’t add a lot of red pepper.
  • Men who work in offices love carrying backpacks even when they wear suits. Allegedly, such backpacks are better for the back. They also wear pants that are way too short. And women love wearing high boots no matter how hot it is outside and they even dress like hippies.
  • Don’t be surprised if a Chilean will interrogate you with questions like, “What school did you go to?” or “Where do you live?” the first time you meet them.
  • Chileans often have Croatian, German, English, and French last names. They have diverse DNA.
  • In Chile, everything is upside down. It’s cold in the South and hot in the North; it’s summer in January and winter in July.

4. Water in the ocean is cold the entire year.

Many people imagine palm trees, warm oceans, and rainforests when they hear the words “Latin America”. This is true for the biggest part of the continent, but Chile is an exception. You can swim in the ocean in Chile only on Easter Island. On the continent part of the country, the temperature of the air near the ocean is around 60° F, there are huge waves, and it is almost impossible to swim. However, there are no sharks here: they don’t like cold water. Resting on the beach means having sunbaths. When a Chilean gets into a warm sea or ocean, they’re surprised that it’s even possible. When they want to have a real beach vacation, they travel to Brazil.

At the same time, Chilean nature is incredibly diverse: there, you’ll find the driest desert in the world, mountains, and thousands of volcanos, lakes, evergreen forests, glaciers, and islands with penguins. The country is very different in its different places which is why there are a lot of tourists.

5. You may not feel an earthquake lower than a 7 magnitude.

Chile is located in a seismically active zone. Earthquakes here are so mundane that many people don’t even notice them. Over time, I got used to them too. The buildings here are constructed according to special standards which protect them from cracks and other damage. Most earthquakes don’t lead to any consequences and I learned about them only from the news. The thing is, most of them seem like a light vibration and most Chileans are very calm about them.

6. The distances between cities are way bigger than we imagine.

For some reason, many people think that distances in Latin America are not very long. And Chile seems to be a small country. Chile is the narrowest country in the world but this doesn’t mean that the country is small. It’s 4,300 km long. It’s also important not to forget how far it is from other countries. For example, it is cheaper to fly from Russia to Cuba than from Santiago to Cuba even though the distance is about the same. The flight from Santiago to New York is 10.5 hours long, and Santiago to Rio de Janeiro is 5 hours long. The same goes for traveling across Chile: if you have just 2 weeks and you want to see as much as possible here, you’ll need to take planes.

7. Great wine is produced in Chile.

Chile is the 4th biggest country in terms of wine production. Carménère is probably the most prominent kind of Chilean wine. There is even a beautiful story about greenflies that ate all the grapes in Europe and this kind of grape can only be found in Chile. The wine production here is great and Chile has fantastic natural conditions here. The narrow land between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean gets a lot of rainfall from the ocean. It comes to the mountains and ends up in the valleys with vineyards.

Chileans produce premium wine along with middle-class kind of wine that is still critically acclaimed. Chilean wine gets around 90/100 points from respectable critics. On top of that, Chilean red and white wine has both good quality and a great price. If you don’t like Chilean wine, it is probably because you haven’t tried a good kind. It’s funny but locals prefer beer or cocktails — they don’t drink wine all that much.

8. Chileans don’t need visas for almost any other country.

An owner of a Chilean passport rarely needs to have a visa: Chileans can visit 174 countries without a visa. People from Monaco can visit the same number of countries. Chile is the only Latin American country that has electronic authorization with the US. This means that all you have to do to go to the US is fill out an online questionnaire a day before your trip. My husband thinks that a visa is a bank card!

9. Chile is a country of contradictions.

  • The country that just 58 years ago experienced the most violent earthquake in human history has the tallest skyscraper in South America. It is 989 ft tall. By the way, it was fully constructed but most of it is not used — there is no infrastructure around the building yet.
  • Chilean women don’t change their last names when they get married. They just don’t have such a tradition.
  • Early marriages and a huge number of children are normal only for very poor and very rich families. Having a baby in Chile is pretty expensive. Private kindergartens, schools, colleges, and medical insurance are affordable for the middle class. This is why many Chileans tie the knot after just 10 years of having lived together. More than that, the average life expectancy in Chile is 80 years (only Canadians live longer in this part of the world). This is why they believe that a 35-year-old person is still very young.

10. The famous Easter Island is also a part of Chile.

Few people know for sure where this tiny island is located. The Chilean coast is the closest land to the island (it's 3,700 km away). This is why it's part of Chile. Just take a 5-hour flight from Santiago and you will get to the famous island. And Easter Island is the most remote part of Chile not just because of how far away it is.

  • The land on the island can only be bought by an indigenous person, others can only rent houses including the Chileans from the continent.
  • The income from the tickets to the local archaeological museum of the island is given to the Indian community.
  • There is no getting to the island without a hotel reservation and a return ticket. Only locals can get jobs here. This is Chile but not exactly.

Would you like to travel to Chile? Which part of this story amazed you the most? Give your opinions in the comment section below.

Preview photo credit chiletravelmag / instagram


#3 - The reason that Chileans eat sandwiches and drink tea and coffee around 4 pm - 6 pm is because we have a tradition called "once", our tea time. Our biggest meal of the day is our midday meal or lunch. Dinner traditionally is eaten late, around 8 or 9 pm. A lot of people don't bother to eat so late and just have their "once", or they may eat some left over food from their almuerzo at the traditional dinner hour.

Things in Chile are not "upside down". Upside down to whom? Chileans simply live in the southern hemisphere, so it will be warmer nearer the equator and colder away from it, therefore, it will be warmer in the north of Chile and colder in the south.

#4 You can swim in the ocean in Chile. Many people do. It is extremely cold though. Most people who can't handle the cold will only take a dip in the ocean, but there are people who enjoy swimming in the cold water, or if they enjoy surfing, they will wear body suits.

#9 It's not only Chilean women who don't traditionally change their last name after marriage. Many women in Latin America in general do not take their husband's name after marriage. Children take both their parents last names.

It is expensive to get married and start a family, so it's true that many people delay getting married. It's become much more common since the mid 2000's to not get married at all, but to co-habit, including when a couple decides to have children. Additionally, although a man may be seen as still young at 35, it's not so common for people to think that of women.
Just a few corrections:
- We've only had one female president
- Gay marriage is not legal here. What's legal is the civil union, which is similar but not quite the same
- Abortion has been legal here under certain circumstances since Sept. 2017
People from Chile love their wine so much, that they let their drivers drink a bit. Was an interesting article! Thanks for sharing :)

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