What do you need to know to get your bearings in Chile? This is the first in a series of posts on the basics of getting acquainted with everyday aspects of life in Chile… in other words “Cachando Chile 101.”
I don’t get a lot of visitors from “back home.”
I have to admit—we really aren’t kidding when we say that Chile is at the ends of the Earth! But I am very happy to report that my best friend from grad school, Kathleen Skoczen (now Chair of the Anthropology Dept at Southern Connecticut University) is here for research (and pleasure), and I’m doing my best to bring her up to speed on the do’s and don’t of getting around. It’s not the Spanish that will get her, but rather Chile’s particular quirks.
The following is something of a fast-track Intro to Chile, with some very basic yet vital information about how to get started in Chile, from the airport to your door to the street…
Cachando Chile Tips: 1st Steps
Arriving in chile:
I had warned her that as a first-time visitor from the United States, she’d have to pay US$140 for a visa at the airport—it’s a reciprocal tax that Chile charges US citizens. The last I knew they only accepted cash. She was prepared, but oops—first she was directed to the wrong line, then when she found the right line, they seemed confused that she wanted to pay cash rather than put it on a credit card. She also said that the clerk inspected each bill very carefully and refused to accept any that was even slightly less than perfect.
Bottom line: expect to pay up and be ready for the amount and method to change at will.
Want to know in advance if YOU will have to pay an entrance fee? Check the Santiago Airport (SCL) site for a list of countries subject to the reciprocity tax. And THANKS to Pepe of Pepe’s Chile for providing the link–and be sure to check his site for loads of useful info on Chile.
Also VERY IMPORTANT to know: do NOT try to bring in fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, plants, seeds, spices, honey, or a whole host of other agricultural items. You will have to fill out a form on the plane. If you have ANY doubts, be sure to mention it after you pick up your luggage and are about to go through the final security check before leaving the airport. That’s where a SAG (Chile’s Agricultural & Livestock Service) official will take that form you filled out. It’s better to declare and ask than try and sneak something through and get caught–that nice bag of dried chili peppers could cost you plenty! (See: SAG and the No Spice for Chile Campaign)
Here in Chile people (2 women or a woman and a man) greet each other with a kiss on the cheek—just one—right cheek to right cheek, kiss in the air. Two men will shake hands. If they are good friends, they’ll pull each other in to a shoulder-to-shoulder half-hug (their right hands still clasped in the shake) and pat each other on the back with the left hand as they do it. It’s interesting to note the body language here. The closer they are, the harder they’ll do this. A light pat-pat is kind of a “yeah, yeah, good to see ya” and a hearty thump-thump-thump indicates a close friendship.
Younger guys (late teens and 20s) have started the cheek-kissing bit too—but a foreigner should not take the first step in this regard. In a formal situation a woman and man may shake hands as well. You don’t kiss people who are providing services for you (store clerks, hotel employees, your building concierge, housekeeper, the mail carrier, etc. unless you really get to know them), although a surprising number of doctors will greet their patients with a kiss. A good rule of thumb is if in doubt, let the Chilean take the lead.
When you answer the phone say “Aló,” which technically should sound like ah-LOW, but often sounds more like “AHH-low.” Not “Diga,” (as they do in Mexico) which means “speak” and sounds like an order and is therefore rude. Not “Saludos” (as Kathleen informs me is the proper greeting in the Dominican Republic, because in Chile “Saludos” is used at the end of a conversation (ex: Manda mis saludos a la familia! Send my regards to the family). BTW, we don’t say Aló when greeting someone in person or in writing; then a simple “Hola” is fine.
The most common way to say goodbye is “Chao” (pronounced Chow), and variations such as Chao-chao and chaoito (chow-EE-toh) are common, but sound pretty funny when they come with an accent (or from a man). More standard leave-takings are hasta luego and the more formal–and more religious–Adios, which literally means “to God” (along the lines of “may God be with you”).
Money honey: Get your lucas straight
Watch those dots and commas! Before we even think about exchange rates, let’s start with the decimal system. Of course Chile uses it… but its written form is just the opposite of the one we use in the US, so a thousand is “1.000″ and a tenth is “,10″. This can be confusing when someone is quoting prices for a room at, for example, $25.000 per night—which is about double the $US25.00 that you might think it means.
Dollars into Pesos: Next step, money exchange. We set out looking for the Casa de Cambio (Money Exchange) that was supposed to be a block away, but ended up finding a bank instead. Both work. Chile’s currency is the peso, and, as I told her, 1 peso is worth about dust. More specifically, yesterday, she received a rate of $483 pesos to the dollar. Post-graduate studies in Anthropology don’t delve deeply into the fine art of dividing by 483, so my advice was to just get a rough idea of what things cost by dividing the price by 500, which is the same as doubling it and lopping off a couple zeros. Close enough.
Chile’s money is pretty cool. Really. Each coin is a different size and each bill a different color and comes with fancy holograms, designs that are only visible when held up to the light, and peep-holes and shiny security strips (long before the US did). (There’s a peso-inspired post in the works there, but if you want to know more, for the time being you can stop over to the Central Bank for a look at Chilean coins and bills).
How many bucks to the luca? Even though the currency is officially based on a peso, it’s the $1000-peso bill that grabs the attention. All bills are in increments of $1000 (the $500 bill of old has since gone metal—bi-metal in fact). The smallest is worth $1000 and just as one US dollar is called a buck, in Chile, $1000 is known as a luca, and prices are often informally quoted as lucas. Diez lucas are $10,000 pesos.
FYI: you may well hear dee-eh LOO-kah instead of diez lucas because Chilean speakers often drop their esses and New World Spanish zzzz’s sound just like esses–or would if you could hear them, which you can’t–but they’re there, lurking around at the tip of a pen, waiting to be written out!
And while we’re at it, here’s another FYI (although most likely thoroughly unnecessary for a visitor to know): a gamba refers to $100 pesos—although it can also be $100,000 pesos (context will clue you in) and a million pesos is a palo (a stick. No clue why!).
Ok- so far, so good. She’s here, got a visa, lucas in her pocket, an apartment, and knows who, where, when, and how to kiss aló and chao. Next up: getting out and around…