Monthly Archives: April 2009

May 1: Chilean Labor Day

May 1 is a holiday in Chile, and since it falls on a Friday this year, for many Chileans, it signals a 3-day exodus from smoggy Santiago. For many others, it will be a day of reflection, marches, and protest.

I always associated May 1—May Day—with a maypole and the jangling bells and clacking sticks of Morris dancers at dawn on the city’s highest hilltop. Dressed in white and dripping with brightly colored ribbons and bells, the dancers jumped and stomped and twirled and swirled their way through the steps passed down for centuries and distributed sweet cakes and sprigs of the first spring flowers to ensure the region’s fertility—a spectacle that made for a pretty darned good reason to get up early on a frosty morning in May (yes, it’s still frosty at 6am in Upstate NY).

It wasn’t until graduate school that I learned that a good part of the rest of the world called it Labor Day. An Indian classmate and I stared at each other in mutual disbelief. I had no idea, and she couldn’t believe it. “But it started in the US!” she insisted. “But Labor Day is in September!” Slowly it started to make sense.

Briefly, a workers’ strike gone very wrong in Chicago ended in what is now known as the Haymarket Massacre of 1886. Someone threw a bomb, and the police fired onto the crowd, killing a dozen people and inciting horrified protest around the world. The anniversary was commemorated and eventually became an official holiday in many countries around the world. The US, with its fear of communism, socialism, and anarchism, and other movements associated with breaking the status quo, chose to divert attention from the fateful event and declared its decidedly non-political Labor Day to be the first Monday in September. For greater details, see: International Workers Day.

Chile is among the countries that marks May 1 as Labor Day since 1931. For some it’s a day of rest, for others, particularly supporters of the CUT (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores) it is a day of protest, demonstration, and marches in favor of workers’ rights.

Given the current global economic crisis, the CUT expects a record crowd this year for an authorized march in downtown Santiago that will begin at 10:00 AM in Estación Central (in front of USACH, the Universidad de Santiago de Chile) and move down Alameda to Avenida Brasil, where a stage will be set up for the event at 11:00. The primary goal of this year’s event is to initiate a petition with a goal of a million signatures, “Para que la crisis no la paguen los trabajadores” (Literally: So that the workers don’t pay for the crisis), that calls for major improvements in working conditions, such as putting an end to out-sourcing, temporary employment, and fixed-length contracts.

Some aspects of Chilean Labor Laws:

Ironically, the Haymarket Riots began as a result of workers striking for an 8-hour work week back in 1886, something that Chilean workers still have not accomplished. The standard work week in Chile is 45 hours (down from 48 just a few years ago). By the way, restaurant and hotel workers do 60 hours, often with grueling split shifts.

Chilean workers do, however, have a number of rights that workers in the US don’t even dare to dream of, such as a mandatory 3 weeks vacation after 1 year of service, up to 18 legal holidays, and maternity benefits do die for: 6 weeks prenatal and 3 months post-natal leave (dad’s get 5 days), with a special clause that stipulates that a woman cannot be fired or laid off from the moment her pregnancy begins until 1 year after her post-natal leave terminates (when the child is 1 year, 84 days old).

Workers who are laid off are entitled to a pretty attractive severance package that includes 1 month’s pay for every year of service and unemployment for up to 5 months.

See more at DT, the Dirección de Trabajo.

Swine Flu Part 2: Update on Chile

An update on the Swine Flu situation in Chile:

See more recent updates posted on:

May 28, 2009: AH1N1 (Swine Flu) in Chile: Update Part 4
May 21, 2009: Swine Flu in Chile: Update Part 3
See also April 28, Part 1:  Swine Flu in Chile: so far, so good

For a Related Post, see:

May 29, 2009: AH1N1 in Chile, a Scientist’s Perspective

Swine Flu Part 2:

OK, OK, I SWEAR that Cachando Chile is not going to turn into another one of those hum-drum news blogs… I’ll post something fun again very soon, but in the meantime,  C’mon… Admit it… You’re curious, right? The whole WORLD is watching this thing… We ALL want to know where it’s going… Are you planning your face mask style (plain white? blue? decorated) Thinking about wearing gloves in the subway? Are you singing 2 rounds of Happy Birthday as you wash your hands with soap?

I think our curiosity is driven by a combination of things: there’s that oh-so-horribly-human morbidity factor, and then there’s the “Oh My God, What if it Happens to ME???” element. And then of course, there are those of us here at the ends of the Earth, in Chile, where we’re doing battle to convince the world of our non-third-world status, and some damned-flu-bug-comes-along-and-could-blow-us-all-out-of-the-water so we’re rooting for the home team (that being Chile, of course)… hoping that this wonderful enchanted land manages to steer clear of this ugly porcine beast that’s managing to wreak havoc on the world’s imagination right now. And I’m sure that I’m not the only one to feel a certain twisted pleasure in knowing that SO FAR, we’re faring better than the big guys (US, Mexico, Spain, UK, Austria,

So let’s get one thing straight right up front…. So Far… Even though the WHO (World Health Organization) has upgraded the Swine Flu to a Phase 5 Pandemic status, today, April 29, there are still no confirmed cases in Chile. 42 cases have been presented for evaluation; 16 have already been discarded, and 26 remain under study. Sixteen of those cases are in the Metropolitan Region (Santiago & surrounding area), 2 in Valparaíso, and the remainder, from north to south: Atacama (2), O’Higgins (4), Bío Bío (1), and Araucanía (1).

It is important to bear in mind that as the Southern Hemisphere is currently in transition between autumn and winter, and as such Chile is also within its normal seasonal flu period, which is predicted to peak in mid-May. The symptoms of both flu types are similar, but people who have NOT traveled to affected zones should follow the normal indications for seasonal flu.

The Chilean Ministry of Health asks the population to remain calm and not rush to Health Service Centers unless it is necessary. If a patient is experiencing high fever, respiratory difficulty, cough, and muscular pain, call the “Salud Responde” Health Response Hotline number: 600-360-7777 prior to going to a health center.

Governmental Actions:

  • Primary Attention Centers are currently being defined, with at least 1 per comuna (municipality) to evaluate patients
  • Hospital Attention: 60 hospitals have been defined in isolated zones
  • Antiviral Treatments: Of the 255,000 treatments in stock in Chile, 43,000 are currently being distributed in the public sector and 20,000 in the private sector.

The public is urged not to self-medicate; antiviral medications administered without a prescription can provoke resistance to that medication.

Health Barriers:

All international ports of entry (land, air, or sea) will continue to be closely monitored, and all of the country’s 15 regions now have a Regional Outbreak Response and Health Emergency Committee in place.

International Situation:

As of 6:00 PM today, April 29, the WHO reported that 9 countries have officially reported numerous cases of swine flu in: Mexico (1614 suspected cases, 26 confirmed, 7 deaths), USA (91 cases, 1 death), Canada (13 cases), United Kingdom (5 cases), New Zeland (3 cases), Austria (1 case), , and Israel (number of cases unknown as of this writing).

Health Response Hotline:  600-360-7777

Additional Information:

Chilean Health Ministry:  & (Spanish)
CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention)  (English)

Swine flu in Chile: so far, so good

This post has been updated, see also:

May 28, 2009: AH1N1 (Swine Flu) in Chile: Update Part 4
May 22, 2009:  Swine Flu in Chile: Update Part 3
April 29, 2009: Swine Flu Part 2

For a Related Post, see:

May 29, 2009: AH1N1 in Chile, a Scientist’s Perspective

Original Post April 28, 2009: Swine flu in Chile Part 1: so far, so good

This is not the kind of post that would normally appear in Cachando Chile, but with all the furor about Swine Flu (Influenza Porcina in Spanish), this information may be useful.

The good news is that as of this writing, no cases have been confirmed in Chile. Five cases have been discarded and another 8 are being investigated. All people entering the country from Mexico and the US are being screened to prevent a local outbreak.  Like everywhere else in the world, the news is full of reports on the flu (“gripe,” pronounced GREE-pay), but I’ve yet to see any face masks on the street or any signs that daily activity has altered. Life continues as usual here in Santiago.

The US Embassy sent out a Warden Message yesterday, April 27, that included the following information:

The Government of Chile has taken measures in response to the outbreak of swine flu in the United States and Mexico. Officials of the Chilean Health Ministry have begun screening passengers arriving in Chile from the U.S. and Mexico, both by ship and by airplane, for symptoms of flu. Screening includes the use of passive infrared fever scanners.

If necessary, adult travelers arriving in the Metropolitan Region (Santiago) who are suspected of having swine flu will be transferred immediately for evaluation to¨the “Hospital del Tórax,” and minor travelers will be taken to “Hospital Calvo Mackenna,” and all travelers arriving at Regions outside the Metropolitan Region will be transferred to the tertiary care hospitals (base hospitals) in those regions.

More information on the Chilean Government measures is available in Spanish on the Ministry of Health‘s web site.

Wash your hands…with soap

I’m a hand-washer. What can I say? I like to wash my handsoften. I don’t go all Jack Nicholson about it or anything, but I confess that as I make my way among Santiago’s other 6 million people every day, I really try not to think about how many hands have gone before mine, gliding along the handrails, caressing the door knobs, clutching the subway grab-poles, counting out their money, and pinching, poking, and otherwise fondling the products in the grocery store… Y’know, if you let your imagination get away from you, the whole Howard Hughes angle starts to come right into focus—No! Stop that! Get a grip…

I’m exaggerating, of course, but all this recent talk about swine flu with its corresponding and constant “wash your hands with soap” message has had me extra aware of the issue these days… Here are a few things that have gone through my mind on the subject:

When someone in Chile says Quiero lavarme las manos, (I want to wash my hands)and they will almost always show you their hands while they say itwhat that really means is that they want to powder their nose…

Hot water:
I was at one of Santiago’s spiffy new medical centers today and had a big surprise when I went to lavarme las manosthe water was hot! As in deliciously, wonderfully warm. So what, you ask? What’s the big deal? Hot water is rare in public places.

For that matter, most homes don’t have the hot water turned on during the day either. Instead of those big 30- or 40- or 50-gallon round-the-clock water heaters we all use in the States, Chileans, like Europeans, use something called a calefont that hangs on the wall in the kitchen or bathroom and heats the water as you use it. Most people turn it on in the morning to take showers and then turn it off for the rest of the day. So naturally, handwashing (and, it seems quite often dishwashing as well) is done with cold water.

In fact, I remember one man (educated, well-to-do) telling me he couldn’t stand washing his hands with hot water, that it was very weird, like brushing your teeth with hot water… just not done! (Others tell me they only shower with cold water, but that story’s for another day).

Did you know:
…that there is actually a Global Handwashing Day? The GHD folks (honest, I swear they really use the acronym!) are pretty worked up about it and provide all kinds of information about correct technique  (ex: use soap and wash for as long as it takes to sing happy birthday) Check out the site, they’ll be happy to explain far more than you ever imagined needing to know about the fine art of handwashing.  And, if this gets you excited, you too can revel with the GHD crew on Thursday, October 15, 2009.

On a more serious note (remove tongue from cheek), the folks at GHD seem to be doing wonderful work on educating people on basic health issues. Thankfully, Chile is not on the list of 73 target countries where diseases that are controllable by washing with soap, but then again neither is Mexico, the epicenter of the swine flu outbreak.

Earthquake? Waiting for the “Big One”

The Earth moved last night. Happens a lot around here. A bit of late-night shake, rattle, and roll that heightens all the senses and leaves us momentarily breathless. No, I’m not revealing any personal information here… I’m talking about Santiago’s latest temblor, or tremor, that literally jolted us awake at 4:05 this morning. (I know Abby   felt it too!)

It wasn’t a big onejust IV (Moderate) on the Mercalli Scale in Santiago (IIISlightin Valparaíso). But the thing about earthquakes is that they are absolutely unpredictable, and once they start there’s no way to know if this is “the Big One.”

Think about it. Hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, cyclones, floods, tidal waves, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and any other kind of potentially disastrous natural phenomenon you can come up with gives some kind of warning, but not an earthquake. It just sneaks up on you when you’re least expecting it at any time at all. Just happens, and in Chile, it happens a lot. Chile has more seismic activity (tremors and earthquakes) than any other country on Earth. Yep! Not only the most, but the biggest too… The 1960 earthquake in Valdivia (southern Chile) registered 9.5 on the Richter scale, the highest in recorded history!

So, it seems reasonable enough to believe that this kind of terrestrial instability would have to have some kind of psychological effect on people, right? And that it could-should-might ripple out to a more globalized cultural effect, wouldn’t it?

I can’t help but wonder if the seemingly generalized tendency toward short- rather than long-term planning, toward patching over fixing, toward the “we could die tomorrow” attitude that I get from my husband whenever I talk about retirement planning has anything to do with the constant awareness that the chain can be yanked, the plug pulled, the rug whisked from under your feet at any moment has anything to do with it. And it just seems to fit.

It’s not easy to make plans when you know that the world can turn upside down at any moment. There you are, just minding your own business, going about your life and wham… London Bridge Puente Arzobispo comes falling down, along with everything else around you… or then again, not… you just never know.

Central Chile’s last big-big earthquake was in March 1985. They say the big ones come every 15 or 20 years, so doing the math, it looks like we’re now overdue for a beaut! But then again, you never know. There’s no way at all to tell. You just have to learn to live with things you can’t control and accept that the things you think you control can come undone in the blink of an eye or a point on the Richter scale.

Richter vs Mercalli?

The Richter Scale measures the magnitude of the energy released at the source of an earthquake and is indicated by numbers generally ranging from <2 to 10+.

The Mercalli Scale  is a more subjective measurement of the perceived intensity of the event  and is indicated in Roman numerals (I-IX).

Cynical or Cínico?

Want to get yourself into some real hot water? Use the word “cínico” when you think you’re talking about “cynical.” Not, Not, NOT the same thing! Continue reading

Santiago Metro: the daily crush

I was one of the 2, 204,462 passengersnearly 37% of the city’s entire populationwho used the Santiago Metro (subway) system on Monday,
April 20, 2009. And although the Metro’s official figures say that spatial density is 5.67 people per square meter, I, for one, can tell you with all the confidence in the world, that in the Escuela Militar Station at 7:30 pm, that was definitely NOT the case. It felt like all 2 million plus were right there, right then.

Santiago Metro at rush hour, Escuela Militar Station, April 2009

Santiago Metro at rush hour, Escuela Militar Station, April 2009

In fact, I generally try very hard not to take public transportation at rush hour. I even changed my office hours to avoid peak travel times and, whenever possible, I prefer to work at home.


I want my “metro cuadrado”
In Chile, when people speak of a need for personal space, they refer to their metro cuadrado (square meter), but the simple fact is, that in Santiago, there seems to be a lot of spatial exaggeration going on… WHO, in reality, has a square meter all to themselves? Not many.

Santiago Metro- Manuel Montt Station-suck it in

Santiago Metro Suck it in!! (Manuel Montt Station)

According to the official Metro Santiago web site,  Line 1, which runs through the center of town and most of the length of Alameda (including all of its corresponding name changes) has a daily density of 5.67 people per square meter. Think about it as a space that’s 1 meter by 1 meter, or just about 10 feet square (3.3′ x 3.3′). I’m no math whiz, but while that seems a bit close, it still means that each person (please correct meanyone!) has a circle of about 1¾ feet in diameter around them… but that daily density must take in the average of all-day-everyday-including-Sundays-at-7 am when there’s only 1 person per car, cuz take a look at the freakin’ picture and tell me how many people are in any of THOSE square meters!

One of my favorite courses in grad school was on the anthropology of space, taught by a wonderful professor (Dr. Deborah Pellow) who had been a student of Edward T. Hall (the Hidden Dimension, the Dance of Time). At the time I enrolled, I thought it would be an interesting elective course, how little did I know how much it would come to shape my way of thinking.

Let’s face it. We (humans, that is) are territorial beings. Some more space than others, of course, but we all have a certain amount of distancethat free-space barrier that we need between us and the people around usin order to feel comfortable and safe. Cultural differences in the amount of space needed vary tremendously, as just about any westerner has noticed upon coming to Latin America.

Edward T. Hall on Proxemics

In a nutshell, Hall talked about proxemics as a way of defining our perceptions and sense of “ownership” of the space around us… who can do what and under what circumstances and within what distance.

Hall defines 4 spatial spheres and the amount of space that most North Americans need. (I would love to see the same study adapted to Latin America, specifically Chile, where those distances would certainly be smaller…Anyone have those figures?)

Edward T. Hall's Personal reaction bubbles(from Wikipedia)

Edward T. Hall's Personal reaction bubbles(from Wikipedia)

  • Intimate space-refers to our personal “bubble” of space, the space that we consider our own personal private space into which we only allow those closest to us to enter. For most people from the US and Europe, we’re happy with about an 1820″ (4650 cm) circle of “My Space” into which only those nearest and dearest to our hearts (and health, as in doctors) are allowed.
  • Personal Distance: This is the spaceabout ½4 ft (.51.2 m)that we allow our friends, co-workers, classmates, and general acquaintances to share. The usual US-style handshake (without the typical Chilean male back thumping and accompanying bear hug) takes place at about 24 feet (.61.2) of distance… so maybe we have longer arms than Chileans, but the idea is to keep the other at bay.
  • Social spaces: refers to the amount of space we consider normal and comfortable for more formal social and business interactions. This may be about 412 feet (1.23.7m).
  • Public space: the space over which we feel we have no claim. This refers to spaces that belong to no one in particular or everyone in general. We (being gringos) feel best with about 12 feet (3.7 m) between us and the next guy.

These are some important concepts for cultural understandingon or off the subwayand I’m sure I’ll come back to them time and again.

For anyone who’s interested, check out the topic of “proxemics” in general and the work of Edward T. Hall in particular, especially The Hidden Dimension. It very much brought home certain cultural differences with regard to the amount of personal space one needs to feel comfortable. And I, as a gringa born and raised in the country, need a heck of a lot more space than most Santiaguinos at rush hour.



Metro Update:

October 15, 2009: See also “Bye Bye Blackberry (Ode to the Santiago Metro)”


Chilean saying: Nació con la marraqueta bajo el brazo… “Born with a hard roll under the arm…?”

Chile has a lot of “dichos,” popular sayings that enrich the language. I came across a new one today: “Nació con la marraqueta bajo el brazo” (Born with a hard roll under his/her arm). Excuse me?  Continue reading