Category Archives: Work * Trabajo

Gasfiterfobia & How the ark almost made it to the 19th floor

Unfinished plumbingWe all have our monsters in the closet. Things that make us shudder. The stuff of phobias. Maybe yours is a fear of flying (aviophobia), or of snakes (herpetophobia) or even a fear of foreigners (xenophobia), although I hope not. I confess my fear is a Chile-based phobia–which makes it a fobia–and I had to invent its name, although anyone who has lived here any length of time will not only recognize it, but probably share it.

I suffer from gasfiterfobiaContinue reading


Chilean Olive Oil: a day on the job

A visit to the Olave organic olive groves and almazara (olive oil mill) prompted this photo essay on one of my favorite products: fresh Chilean olive oil.

Organic olives, Olave Farm, Melipilla, Chile. © 2011 Margaret Snook

Continue reading

Reguleque and Twitter-whining: How to Commit “Twittercide” in just 35 Characters

A lot can be said in the standard 140 Twitter characters, but Chile saw a political career crash and burn this week in just 35 characters. One now-famous word—reguleque—was all it took to finally put Ximena Ossandon on the bench for good.

Ximena Ossandon, Reguleque, JUNI, JUNI-Gate,

Chilensis vocabulary lesson for the day:

Reguleque (reh-goo-LEH-kay): (adj/adv) From “regular,” which in Spanish does not mean “average” as it does in English, but rather “poor” (See Beware the Fake False Cognates). Adding the “eque” suffix adds further emphasis, so something that is reguleque is REALLY not very good. Example: Es un profe reguleque. (He’s a pretty so-so teacher)…

Here’s an example that’s ringing a bell in Chile this week:

“Mi pega la he hecho bastante bien, ahora la paga es bastante reguleque!! Sniff”
(I’ve done my job quite well, although the pay is not very good!! Sniff.
(Tweet sent by @ximenaossandon on Tuesday, December 28, 2010).

If you’ve seen the Chilean news in the last day or two, you know where this is going. If not, settle in… you’re going to love this one. If you’re a Spanish-speaking Twitterer, go ahead and do a search on reguleque—you’ll find plenty going on. Continue reading

Miners & Media: True Life Reality Show

Where is the fine line between bringing human interest into the news and invasion of privacy? As the world hungered for more of the unfolding story of Chile’s 33 trapped miners, media coverage of this tragedy with a happy ending drew its share of criticism. And now that the excitement has wound down and these guys are heading into the aftermath, I can’t help but reflect on what lies ahead for them.

President Sebastian Piñera & 33 miners in Copiapó Hospital (Photo by José Manuel de la Maza, courtesy of the Presidencia de la República de Chile)

Privacy, Human Interest, or Media Circus

I hopped into a Santiago taxi shortly before 8:00 PM on Tuesday, October 12, anxious to get home. The rescue mission was scheduled to begin, and I had 33 miners on my mind. I asked the driver about the news. And, as often happens when I talk with cabbies, he gave me something to think about. Continue reading


Chile by Air (and coolest job in the world)

This gallery contains 11 photos.

I love my job. For me, it just doesn’t get better than this–a day’s work that includes flying over the mountains, through the valley, out over the sea and back again for a day of wine tasting in the Colchagua Valley, with good food and great company to boot! Check out the view! Continue reading

Working like an Immigrant

I haven’t been paying as much attention to Cachando Chile as I’d like to lately because I’ve been putting in long, long hours trying to dig my way out from under a ton of work and projects, all of which seem to be top priority. I’m not really complaining; I actually love my work, and of course I’m very happy to have the work in these uncertain times, but the pace has definitely been grueling. I can’t help but remember a conversation with a gringa friend a while back. We were both complaining about how hard we work here in Chile. We came to the conclusion that we work like immigrants… But then of course, we ARE immigrants!

Most of us who grow up in the States are raised on stories of poor immigrants—often ancestors—who arrived with the proverbial shirts on their backs and worked hard to make a life for themselves and their families. Work hard; get ahead. The American Dream. Fast forward to Chile… same story… Take a stroll through the Plaza de Armas any Sunday afternoon. It’s packed with immigrants from other South American countries, particularly Perú, enjoying their one day off a week. Their stories are tales of sacrifice, hard work, and dreams of a better future. It’s something I can certainly identify with. While my friend and I (and so many other gringas I know) didn’t come here for economic reasons, we still find ourselves working day and night and weekends and holidays to make a place for ourselves in this new world.

I’ve always been a worker (WASP complex with corresponding work ethic and all that), but the simple truth is that I’ve never worked harder in my life than I do in Chile. In large part it’s because wages are lower and expenses are generally higher here than in the US, and since I am not willing to live on the basic salary I could earn with the skills I have to offer, I do a lot of freelance writing and translating on the side. And this is the case for many ex-pats I know here (how many ESL teachers are reading this?? Been there!)

Freelance and Free time: oil and water.

Freelance work, by its very nature, is unstable. Up and down. Feast or famine. Turn a client away today, run the risk of losing them forever. It breeds an unhealthy sense of urgency and a certain aphasia when it comes to the word “no.” I practice saying it over and over in front of the mirror and hear it plain as day in my head, but then “yes” tumbles out of my mouth. And if I say I will do something, I will do everything in my power to keep my word, even if that means working on Saturday, Sunday, and Christmas. Rarely a day goes by (literally and seriously) that I do not work at least 3 or 4 hours. A normal day is more like 12 to 14, probably more.

I ask myself why it is that my friends and I end up putting in such long hours, while most of the Chileans we know work a single job and seem to make do with that. Here’s what I come up with:

Part of the reason is clearly personal. There’s a limit to how many sacrifices in lifestyle I am willing to make in order to live here. It’s not at all about luxury; my living conditions are simple, I do not own a car, and I’m certainly no clothes horse, but I do have my little extravagances—my wallet seems to have a hole in it when it comes to good food and wine, books (Amazon loves me), and photography, for example. And I insist on seeing my family at least once a year… and that means doing my share to keep Delta Airlines pilots out of the unemployment lines.

But there is also a very important part that is cultural. This side tends to be more problematic, because my Chilean friends and family have a much harder time getting a grasp on it.

No one is going to bail me out

I was raised to take responsibility for myself and for my actions. The members of my social networks do not owe me anything other than respect. (See “The Dance Card’s Full” post.) I must stand on my own two feet and pick myself up when I fall. When I married, the “I” became “we”… but only to a certain degree. We plan together and lean on each other through hard times and good, but in the end, I am still bottom-line responsible for me. And if I want something, I have to work for it. Stop working; deal with the consequences.

I do not have a social network that makes high demands on my time.

The flip side of bail-out networks and family-provided get-out-of-jail free cards is that my time is pretty much my time.  I don’t have to take my mother to the hairdresser or shop for my uncle or do my sister’s homework or go to my cousin’s birthday party (again, check out the Dance Card post). I don’t even have young kids at home, so if I want to work on Sunday, I can, which definitely has its upside and its downside.

I do not plan to get hit by a truck tomorrow.

Whenever I start planning for the future, my very Chilean husband starts with the “we could die tomorrow” argument. Sorry. We could also live another 50 years. That makes me nervous and brings out my worker-ant side, the one that works hard today to put away a little something for tomorrow… even though it often seems that I’m surrounded by cheery Chilean grasshoppers who just cannot understand why I’m working on a Sunday afternoon instead of enjoying a siesta. It’s all related to a fear of waking up under a bridge someday. I truly like the idea of a roof over my head and the occasional chicken in the pot.

So, in the end, this particular gringa immigrant is writing blog posts at 2:00 AM because it’s the first free moment of the day (okay, make that week) that I’ve been able to steal away just for me, time to write just because I want to. Overly WASP-ish you say? Gringa-style work gluttony? Immigrant behavior? Call it what you will… and look around—how many expats to you see in the same boat?

PS: Just for the record. Working freelance from home really does have significant benefits–no alarm clocks, no rush hour traffic, no time cards, no dress code (working in pajamas is perfectly acceptable), and the laptop at the beach house is as legit an office as the desk at home. In fact, once you get past the financial uncertainty and long hours, the working conditions are pretty hard to beat!

Good Customer Service- what a novel idea!

Today’s story is a tale of good service—in Chile no less!

Let’s face it, Chile is not known for good customer service. Oh, the stories I could tell—that we ALL could tell—about experiences ranging from frustrating to nightmarish… (For example, Lydia’s experience yesterday). Forget anything you ever heard about the customer always being right, in Chile, the customer—more often than not—is irrelevant.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I want to report a happy experience!

I had booked a flight with Lan Chile on-line and realized a few days later that I had a problem with it. I returned to the website, couldn’t remember my password, went through the normal steps to find the clave olvidada—no luck—it was registered under some long-forgotten email address, and finally I realized with a sinking feeling that I was going to have to speak to a human…
Knot in stomach begins here…

Have you noticed that most websites make it difficult to find a telephone number these days? Recent attempts to make human contact at Entel (a communications company no less) proved laborious (and in the end futile, because the person who finally answered could tell me no more than to come in and take a number), so I really dreaded having to try and go through all this with Lan Chile on a Saturday morning. I was sure that (1) I would never find a number, and that (2) if I did they would put me on hold for hours, and (3) when someone finally did pick up the phone they would tell me that they only provide information every other Thursday between 12:00 and 12:01.

I’m happy to report that this was not the case at all!

First, the telephone number is on the top right-hand side of the Lan Chile website! How logical! How helpful! Why should this be such a novel idea?

I called, and amazingly enough, an incredibly helpful man named Cristián picked up on the first ring, listened patiently to my drawn out story of woe and confusion, and then walked me through every step to correct my email and password situation, update my account information, give me the flight reservation number, show me where to download my itinerary, confirm that yes, I did in fact have frequent flyer kilometers accumulated, and answer every little question in between, and all with a calm, pleasant, and reassuring manner!

In a country known for placing insurmountable roadblocks between customer and service, where the company representatives who attend the public are often  indifferent, snide, and/or ignorant of the service they are supposed to offer, and then treat you as stupid to boot, or—going to the opposite extreme— are annoyingly ingratiating, it was just such a relief to get through a potentially stress-provoking situation and walk away calm and relieved with the problem resolved in less than 15 minutes with just 1 person and 1 phone call!

Kudos to Lan Chile and many thanks to service rep Cristián.

Santiago Cabbie Stories 1

I talk to taxi cab drivers (cabbies). I know there are other foreigners who dislike being singled out, who hate that “where are you from?” question that we always—always—get. But I really don’t mind. If I’m not in the mood to talk, I just say “Estados Unidos” and go back to whatever zoned out, tuned out pre-question place I was in … but usually I go for it… it’s an opportunity to get a tiny bit of insight into the life of someone I am not likely to cross paths with ever again. We’re a mutually captive audience for 10 or 15 minutes and I really like to hear their stories… and sometimes they want to hear mine.

Today my driver was a  nice grandfatherly type gent who proudly announced that he’d been working for 60 years. “Yep,” he said, in what I’m sure is a story he’s told a thousand times, “I started working when I was 10. I’m 70 now, and still going strong.” I urged him on as we zipped along through the public transportation fast lane in full-on rush hour. “I’ve been married for 44 years, and never an argument.”

“Aw, c’mon!” I tell him, “Everybody argues once in a while!” “Not once,” he insisted. “We didn’t own a thing when we got married, not even a plate, just the bed I slept on. She was 6 months pregnant, and we pulled together and did alright. Raised 4 kids and 12 grand children,” (while I’m thinking that this gentleman’s gentle wife probably would not be at all happy about him telling every gringa that comes along that she “had to get married” all those years ago…)

“I was a carabinero for 34 years,” he announced as we whizzed past the presidential palace. “I was right there inside La Moneda on September 11. It was really something.”

“I bet!” And I dared ask the question that we all learn quickly not to ask. “Were you an Allende supporter?” “Me? No, we were neutral!” Hmmm; a guarded answer if ever I heard one. I baited: “A friend of mine said that if it hadn’t been for the golpe, Allende would have simply been remembered as the worst President in Chilean history…”

I was fully aware that “golpe” is a very loaded word, and you can often spot a Pinochet supporter by their reaction. They call it the “pronunciamiento militar.” I wanted to see where he would go. He chuckled. “Yeah, he’s got a statue and everything.”

“A statue?” I’m really wondering where this is going…

“Here in Chile, everyone who screws up gets a statue!” Ah! Here we go! True colors! Not in any defensive or offensive kind of way. Just expressing his honest opinion to someone who genuinely wanted to know it.

“Do you know about President Balmaceda and the Revolution of 1891? 11,000 men died—11,000! And then he committed suicide—so what happens? He gets a statue… right there next to the obelisk in Plaza Italia (a key spot in the city).

He was just getting warmed up, and just as he gets to the part where he says, “yes indeed, it was once de septiembre that turned this country around, alright,” we came to my stop. Even so, I couldn’t help but notice that he was careful not to say it was Pinochet, but rather the events of the golpe that were responsible for the change.

Hmmm… whether or not he was truly “neutral” this particular carabinero was at least pretty diplomatic!