Category Archives: Driving * Manejando

Stuff that just bugs me…

Toothpaste and toothbrush

Image via Wikipedia

Maybe I’m just grumblier than usual these days, but for some reason, I’m noticing that certain pet peeves are bugging me more than usual lately. So I thought I’d let you know. Here’s a list of gripes, pet peeves, and stuff that just plain bugs me. Bet some of these things tick you off too! Continue reading


The Art of Artful Dodging: Avoiding Traffic Tickets in Chile

Carabinero-motoThe Chilean police—carabineros—are famous for being resistant to bribery. Forget everything you’ve ever heard about dealing with Latin American officials when you come to Chile. Don’t even THINK about offering them money; that’s a sure recipe for doom and a much closer look at the inner workings of a police station than you were bargaining for. But that doesn’t mean that carabineros always play it by the book. There are ways of getting out of that ticket looming large. I’ve heard plenty of stories about being let go…

Here are a few of my favorites:

Female Approach #1: Beautiful & Helpless
A very pretty young Chilean friend, a stunning model with no drivers’ license and little knowledge of driving, was, nonetheless, behind the wheel. She made an illegal left turn, entered the wrong way down a 1-way street, and was trying unsuccessfully to park in a no-parking zone when the local man-in-green asked her to step out of her car.

She’s a goner, right? No pu (which is Chilean for “nope”). Pretty and quick-witted, she flashes a big smile and puts on her very best gringa accent and says, “um… No…um… No sah-bair… estash-o-nahr…” (something that roughly resembles “no… to know…to park”), and throws in another big “I’m helpless” smile for good measure. He melted. Big bad meanie attitude out the window; Knight in Shining Armor to the rescue. Not only did she NOT get a ticket, but he actually stopped traffic and helped her back out and be on her way!

Now, would this work with a real gringa? Somehow I doubt it!

Female Approach #2: Turn on the Tears
In a word, cry. This seems to be the most common approach. Most of the women I know under 30 swear that this works every time. Most seem to discover this by accident the first time they get stopped and when they are really very scared and upset, “and I don’t have any money and my father’s going to kill me and I’ll never do it again, oh whatamIgonnadoooo boohoohoohoo…? Sob, sob, sob, look for tissues…sob, sob, sniff… Apparently it gets them every time, at least with the under-30s.

I can’t imagine cops anywhere falling for this kind of tactic from a man, who according to the universal rules of machismo, cannot cry or whine. And if they are even slightly intelligent, they should certainly know better than to show any sign of excess testosterone either. It’s man-to-man and one’s got the upper hand… and that hand’s holding a book of tickets. But still, there are ways…

Male Approach #1: The Absent-Minded Professor
Despite being stopped (and deservedly so) many more times than anyone could count, my husband has only received one ticket in his life… and that event is a story in itself, but I’ll save that for another day. He has an amazing ability to talk his way out of just about anything, usually without even realizing that that’s what he’s doing. He’s even had carabineros apologize for offending him, but that’s a tale that only he can tell…You see, he’s charming, intelligent, very polite… and extremely absent minded. Just the other day he was on the highway with his elderly mother in the car. It was about 4 pm when he got pulled over. The interaction went something like this:

“Your license and registration please.”

He pulls out all the papers he’s ever had related to the car and shuffles through them until the cop (or paco, in Chile), in desperation, points to what he wants. His papers are indeed in order and he knew he wasn’t speeding.

“Why don’t you have your lights on?”

He leans his head out of the window and looks up into the clear blue sky with a puzzled look on his face—completely oblivious to the law that has been in place for about 2 years that says that headlights must be on at all times while driving on the highway.

“But I’m just taking my mother on an errand…” (like that has anything to do with anything). She smiles (no tears, but now that I think of it, that would probably have worked very well too).

“You need to use your headlights on the highway.”

“Really? But I was just taking my mother…”

Realizing that my husband is a pretty harmless kinda guy, and perhaps confounded by what logic could possibly lie behind this clearly futile and seemingly endless loop of circular conversation, the paco shed mercy…

“Ok, don’t worry. You can go.”

“Thank you sir…” and puts the car in gear and starts to go. The carabinero stops him again…

“Turn your lights on… NOW!”

Oops! Red faced, lights on, and on his way…

Male Approach #1: Have a Charming Kid
Another friend, let’s call him Pedro, got stopped and knew he was doomed…went through that stop sign just a little too fast before he saw those ominous red lights atop the green and white car. His 3-year-old daughter sat in the back seat singing quietly to herself as he and the carabinero go through the required steps: the document checking, the accusation, the “Really? I didn’t see it” routine that they both know is expected but going nowhere, when suddenly the carabinero hears what the little one is singing… the Carabinero National Hymn!

The carabinero couldn’t believe his ears, and Pedro couldn’t believe his luck! It’s hard to tell who was most pleased.

You’ve got a nice little girl there mister. You have a nice day and be more careful next time.”

It turns out that the carabineros had recently visited her daycare center and taught them the song. She saw the uniform, made the association, and very innocently started on what well may be a long career of convincing carabineros to look kindly on wayward drivers.

Greetings from Chile!

So you’re driving along the winding roads of Chile’s Coastal Mountains near Lago Rapel and come upon this scene… What goes through your mind… Safety issues? Joy ride? Dumb move? Having fun? It’s all relative… culturally relative, that is.

Matt Wilson: On the Road

Greetings from Chile! Photo by Matt Wilson

My friend, photographer Matt Wilson, sent this picture around this morning, calling it “Only in Chile.”  It’s not, of course. I’m sure scenes like this can be found in many places around the world, but it made me stop and wonder… These guys are clearly having a great time, and I have to admit, riding around backwards in a car jacked up on the back of a flatbed truck does seem like a fun and larky,  once-in-a-lifetime-thing-to-remember kind of thing to do… but then I get this “oh my god you can’t be serious” voice in my head shouting “Danger Will Robinson!”  (True, I don’t always listen to this voice, but it’s there).

And that controlling little voice has been nagging at me all day. I’ve been thinking about this picture and asking myself,  “What is it about this scene?” “What do these guys think about what they’re doing?”  “What do the other drivers on the road think about what they’re doing?” Clearly they’re having a great time, so why do I get this weird feeling about it?

It’s very much a cultural thing, and it’s all tied up with conceptions of “common sense,” of right and wrong, and just plain dumb. Somehow we “know” what we can-can’t, should-shouldn’t, could-couldn’t, must-mustn’t, ought or ought not to do in any given circumstance. We’ve been taught directly and indirectly throughout the course of an entire lifetime to think that something is or is not a good idea. And then there are the things where the jury is still out. And in Chile, the jury seems to be out quite a bit.

Responsibility is an issue that keeps coming to mind. The truck is winding its way through the sinuous roads of central Chile’s Coastal Mountains (near Lago Rapel), where  the hills are steep and visibility is limited. If there were an accident and these guys got hurt, who would be to blame? Who would take responsibility? Or to state it bluntly (and gringoesquely), who could they sue? The answer is probably no one.  They take responsibility for themselves. They’ve chosen to trust the driver and put their faith in the straps that fasten the car to the truck and ride who knows how many miles through the hills. They know what can happen, but they’ve tossed their proverbial caution to the wind. They’re just along for the ride.

The truth is, I’m not even sure there are laws against this kind of thing in Chile. And if there are, who knows if they would ever be enforced. It’s very common to see people of all ages riding in the back of trucks and vans–often with no doors or gates to protect them from sliding off or out, and until fairly recently, it was common to see people hanging off the sides of overstuffed city buses during rush hour.  Beats walking, I suppose.

Of course the news is full of tragedies, and everyone clucks their tongues and recites “what a shame,” until the next time around. But in the end, people, adult people, make their decisions and abide by their consequences. No one has forced them into that car, and if they get hurt as a result, who is to blame but themselves? (Of course it’s an altogether different story when bad decisions affect third-party innocents, but then that’s an entierly different post).

So where am I going with this? Once again the concept of cultural relativity comes up. (OK- yes, in the spirit of full disclosure, I AM an anthropologist). The culture we grow up in frames our ways of thinking for our entire lifetime. It instills that controlling voice in our heads that guides us through our lives and even tells us what to think about what other people are doing.

My little voice looks at these guys and tells me “don’t do that”… but then there’s that other voice (probably the one that convinced me to move to Chile in the first place), that says, what the hell, go for it! Have fun!  Enjoy life! We all have to go sometime, so why not enjoy the ride in the meantime?

Why not indeed.

Driving Tips, Chilean Style (Manejar, a la chilena)

The topic is drivingagain… But this time it’s not my opinion, but rather a tongue-in-cheek look at Chilean driving styles written by Chilean journalist Marcela Recabarren and translated from the February 7, 2009 edition of Paula magazine (page 81). It’s always interesting to have some insight into what Chileans think about themselves.

Nuevamente el tema se trata de los modos de conducir de los chilenos, pero esta vez no es opinión mía. Se trata de unas observaciones de la periodista Marcela Recabarren, publicadas en la revista Paula. Ver la versión original en el primer comentario abajo.

Driving behaviors that show just how far we are from living a civilized lifestyle:
1. You’re in a traffic jam and someone signals that they want to change lanes.
Response: speed up so they can’t move in.

2. The driver in front of you lets another car slide in ahead of him.
Response: blow your horn in protest against the jerk that lets others cut ahead.

3. You try to change lanes, but no one lets you in.
Response: swear at the idiots who won’t let you in, although they can’t hear you because your window is rolled up.

4. You see a car with a “Student Driver” sign.
Response: speed past with your foot to the floor so that she understands how to really drive.

5. A pedestrian attempts to cross the street at a crosswalk and no one lets him pass.
Response: stop and let them cross, just to make yourself feel good. The effect will last all day, although you continue to practically run over every other pedestrian you see.

The Left Lane is MINE

Another quick note about driving in Chile…

Just back from a wonderful long weekend on the coast…along with thousands of other Santiaguinos who took advantage of a gorgeous 5-day mini-vacation. Valparaíso has spectacular fireworks displays on New Years Eve, as do the other cities along the coast, so the exodus on the 31st produced tacos (traffic jams) of up to 5 hours for what would normally be a trip of little over an hour and a half.

The mass return took place yesterday, January 4. We usually avoid the Sunday afternoon traffic by heading back first thing on Monday morning, but we needed to be in Santiago early this morning, so we left the coast at 11:15 last night. Traffic was still heavy, but flowed easily–for the most part–which brings me to my point.

Somehow it seems that driving schools do not teach the “left lane is for passing” rule, and even though the national news sees fit to broadcast reminders at the start of each vacation season, people just don’t seem to get it… everyone packs up the car, heads for the highway, and the battle for the left lane is on.

The highway speed limit is 120 km (about 75 mi) per hour, which pretty much means the traffic will range from 80 to 140 km (50-90 mi).  True, the right lane has the usual slow-crawling traffic: big trucks, tractors, grandpas, and ancient vans packed to the hilt with every member of the family in living memory. Then there are those who stick to the “100 km/hr saves gas” philosophy. That leaves the rest of us… those who want to move along at 120 (ok, 125)… and those who seem to think they are on the Audobahn and who barely avoid clipping fenders and rear view mirrors as they weave streaks through the two lanes.

The problem is the prevailing I-can-do-whatever-I-want-and-the-rest-is-your-problem attitude that leads many drivers (and yes, men are worse than women on this count) to hang in the left lane and refuse to move over to let faster-moving traffic zip along. What’s so hard about sliding over, letting the faster traffic whiz through, and then slipping back into the left lane to buzz pass the slower traffic again?

Here’s a typical scene.  Driver A moves into the passing lane and gets comfortable at say 110. Driver B comes up behind at 125 and A stays put. B flashes his/her lights, but A seems to have forgotten the existence of the rear-view mirror. Tension rises; no one budges. B is on A’s tail, but now A is getting stubborn (“I have as much right to this road as THAT jerk”) and even slows down–just a bit–to make the point. The gauntlet has been tossed. Driver B accepts the duel and speeds up onto A’s bumper, squeezes between cars in the right lane, speeds up and swerves back into the left lane cutting off Driver A, and causing everyone else to slam on brakes and blow horns…

What really amazes me, however, is not how often this happens, but just how seldom this results in major accidents!

For more on driving in Chile see “Unwritten Driving Laws”  and “Driving Tips, Chilean style

Las leyes del conductor no escritas

Manejar (conducir) en Santiago de Chile tiene sus propias reglas.

For English, use the tanslator tool or see the English summary below.

Aprendí a manejar (conducir) en Chile. Cuando vivía en mi ciudad natal nunca tuve necesidad de hacerlo, pero Santiago es amplia en avenidas y en distancias y resulta muy cómodo andar en auto. Antes no sabía manejar, pero sí conocía muchas de las normas de conducción europeas. Por eso me sorprendieron muchas de las “leyes” del conductor que aprendí acá.

monito verde

"Cuando el monito verde comience a tintinear, mete la primera."

Es cierto que en Santiago, por lo general, hay muchos temerarios al volante. Lo común es ver adelantamientos peligrosos y autos que se saltan señales de disco pare o ceda el paso. Me parecía ciertamente desordenado el tráfico. Pero mi mayor sorpresa fue comenzar a conocer los códigos no escritos de los conductores, son ciertas mañas que se deben tener claras para comunicarse unos con otros.

Lo primero fue en la escuela de manejo de automóviles. Cuando estaba en mi primera sesión práctica, llegué al primer semáforo en rojo y el profesor me indicó: “Cuando el monito verde de los peatones comience a tintinear, tú pisas el embriague, metes la primera y te preparas, porque al tiro se va a poner verde para ti”.

¡Temerarios! Pensé. Me pareció como una preparación para el estrés, anticipándose a la luz verde mirando para el lado, a la de los peatones. ¿El profesor enseñándome una ley que no se aprende en los libros? ¡No podía creerlo! Además, esto no siempre funciona, puesto que hay muchos semáforos de tres tiempos en los que al ponerse rojo el monito del peatón, no puedes partir todavía porque continúa en rojo tu semáforo y se le da el paso a los que llegan al cruce por otra calle. ¡Qué locura sería si todos hiciéramos eso en lugar de esperar pacientemente!

¿Conocen más códigos no escritos sobre el manejo de autos en Santiago? Sería bueno hacer un listado y publicar un manual de conducción “no institucional”.



El Viejo learned to drive in Chile, and was he ever in for a surprise when he learned the rules of the road, Chilean style! He had always noticed that many drivers jump the gun on light changes or simply slide through stop signs, but was very surprised when his driving teacher instructed him: “When you see the green ‘walk’ sign start to blink, step on the clutch and put it in first so you can take off immediately when the light changes. He couldn’t believe his ears- what stress! and what about those 3-way stops where you simply can’t judge by the color of the pedestrian crossing sign!

Do you have stories about driving in Chile? Let us know!