Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The same, and yet different

You have to REALLY squeeze to get on the subway at rush hour (note: this is a photo from Brazil, thanks to 
André Gustavo on Flickr. I will try to take a picture in Santiago soon)

Caroline and I have both been commenting on how much being in Santiago feels the same as home in many ways...but obviously different in some crucial ways as well. I thought it would be interesting to write out some of the main differences and similarities, and that it would help all of you get a better sense of what our life is like here.

  • Everything is very modern and as clean as you'd expect from any major city. Walking through our neighborhood in Providencia, things are green, quiet and fairly pretty. There are tons of high apartments, with a few smaller homes scattered throughout. If I had to compare it to somewhere I've been in the US, I'd say it's kind of similar to Lakeview in Chicago - nice, upscale, spacious, but not the super-wealthy area (that is Los Condes), just a lot of residences on quiet clean blocks.
  • Grocery stores are exactly the same as in the US. Obviously the item selection is different, but the stores feel very similar to home, unlike in Europe where everything is so cramped and squished in the grocery stores. There are some differences, however:
    • In the produce section, after you put some potatoes (or whatever) into a plastic sack, you need to put it on a scale and get a sticker for the bag so they can ring it up at the front. Some stores have a clerk to do this, some are self-serve.
    • A lot of sauces come in tear-open plastic packs that kind of look like a Capri Sun bag. This is how you buy tomato sauce, salad dressing, mayonnaise, etc. It seems like a bad system for something that might have left overs, but it's good for us because our place does not have a can opener!
    • Milk comes in small rectangular cartons and are not kept in the fridge section. This is similar to Europe I believe...I think they pasteurize the milk differently or something for a longer shelf life.
  • The Metro (subway) is waaaaay better here than in nearly any city I've seen in the US. The trains come very frequently, like every 2 minutes, and they move really fast between stops. It definitely puts Boston's red line to shame :(  The price is right too - it's only like $1.30 per trip. However, all that good news comes with a catch: the trains are extremely crowded at rush hour. A train will arrive at the platform all the way full, and you just have to push yourself on. If you aren't willing to push, you might find yourself waiting for like 5 trains before you see some open space.
  • We have seen quite a lot of cycling, but it's a little different than cities in the US. Bikers seem divided - about half bike on the sidewalks and half bike in the roads. Once I get a bike, I think I'll do a combination, depending on busy the street is.
  • When you walk around the main street in our area (Avenida Providencia), it feels more like NY or Europe than anywhere else. Lots of small shops along a block, interspersed with plenty of banks and some larger chain stores. There are tons of sidewalk cafes, but not super nice or fancy. Just a place to get an empenada and a coffee.
  • Obviously the biggest difference is that everything is in Spanish, and this is true to a larger extent than we realized. In Europe, you have a range, from countries where everyone speaks English in addition to their home language (like Denmark or the Netherlands) to countries where you only find some people who speak English in addition (like France, Italy, etc). Here in Santiago, it is even farther off the English charts than France. You could probably go into ten random stores here looking for a clerk who speaks English, and not find even one.

    I'm very grateful that my job is teaching English and my colleagues are native English speakers, because I would be lost otherwise. At Caroline's job, everyone is Chilean and almost no one can even speak English, so she has a more challenging environment at work. I'll let her tell more about that.
Anyway, this post makes me realize that I need to start taking more pictures to share with you guys. I will try and do that soon. Leave comments if you want to see pictures of anything in particular!

No comments:

Post a Comment