Breakfast is a small meal, usually only a coffee and a roll with butter, cheese, jam, or manjar (a.k.a., “dulce de leche,” or caramel cream), depending on the day. After breakfast, I take a micro (bus) to the university, because it is about a 40-minute walk. Drivers in South America have a reputation, and the Chilean micros don’t disappoint. They push their whining engines hard, come to screeching halts six inches behind another car, cut other cars and pedestrians off, and honk to get other cars moving, to say hello, or to say that you just pissed them off. Everyone sits with their bags on their laps, but I have not heard of anyone getting pick pocketed.
After going to class, I return home for lunch. In Chile, lunch is the big meal of the day and everyone gathers to share it. I eat with the nine boarders in the dining room. They are your typical male college students. They speak quickly, use a lot of slang, and swear fluently. At first, I literally could not follow their conversations, but my ears have adjusted to the Chilean accent, so I can usually get the main ideas and contribute something to the conversation. A typical lunch starts with more rolls and a bowl of soup. Next, we are served a main course. Food in Chile is typically hearty. Meat or cheese empanadas, red meat, chicken, some sort of seafood, and lasagna are often served, accompanied by rice or French fries. Afterward, a dessert is served; fresh fruit is very common.
The food is not startlingly different, but we eat three courses for each lunch and often spend an hour at the table, talking and eating. I often feel like I spend my entire day just eating. My family also has a maid, Nilda, who helps with cleaning and cooking. Unlike in the U.S., maids are extremely common in Chile. Despite my protestations, she makes my bed and folds my clothes every day.
At about 3 p.m., I return to the university most days for my afternoon classes. I will talk about my classes in more detail in a later post. After classes, I take the micro home or walk along the Costanera, depending upon the weather. At home, we have once—afternoon tea—anytime from 4 to 5 p.m. Once consists of instant coffee and rolls. Almost all coffee in Chile is instant. In Spanish “once” means “eleven.” There are at least three theories for how this tradition got its name, the most interesting of which is that in the past, Chilean men would slip into the kitchen for a sip of aguardiente, a grape spirit, instead of tea. However, the men didn’t want to say they were drinking liquor; since “aguardiente” has eleven letters, they called it once.
I often work on homework or other tasks after once, until dinner. Dinner in Chile is much later than in the U.S. It often does not take place until 8 or 9 p.m. and is usually a lighter meal. After dinner, the Chileans take to the pubs and discotecas in droves. Pisco, a clear spirit similar to brandy, flows freely and is mixed with Coca Cola in piscolas or into the famous pisco sour. It quickly gets you piscoed. Having drinks with friends to chat and catch up is very much a part of the culture. Despite this, Chileans can generally handle their alcohol and the frat-boy mentality of getting plastered in public appears pathetic and self-destructive here.
I do not partake in the national pastime of cigarette-smoking at the bars and clubs, but the packaging is worth noting. In enormous letters, the front of the cigarette pack reads: “Tú también puedes tener un INFARTO.” (“You too can have a HEART ATTACK.”) The word “infarto” is at least twice the size of the brand’s name. On the back, there is a horrifying picture of a baby hooked up to a respirator. I cannot say that this strategy appears to have deterred a single Chilean.
Dancing is popular and is often accompanied by salsa, reggaeton, or hits from the U.S. On weekends, staying out until sunrise is not uncommon; on week days, nights do not last this long, but they can go late.
I hope that this post gives a general idea of the life I am currently living. From now on, I will write about specific incidents.