Tag Archives: family

Celebrating Latin America at Ground Level: Travel e-book

Celebrating Latin America at Ground Level e-book

Click on the image to download a free copy of Celebrating Latin America at Ground Level (Nov 2010)

Steven Roll, of Travel Ojos, just released his first e-book: Celebrating Latin America at Ground Level, a collection of tales from 29 expats and travel writers on just about every imaginable aspect of life in Latin America, from food and drink, to life and love, to family and work and leisure, to getting things done and just hanging around, to  speaking (or trying to) to playing and dancing, and most of all, just enjoying this wonderful region, from Mexico to Patagonia. Continue reading


Ya mi niña: who do YOU belong to?

Mi, mi, mi… A few thoughts on linguistic ownership today.

Ya mi niña, nos vemos…

¿Mi niña? I thought, there it is again… Mi niña—my girl—an oddly common expression in Chilean vernacular. I had really tried not be drawn into the cell phone conversation going on next to me in the crowded waiting room yesterday and was pretty successful until the blah-blah-blah, ha-ha-ha, turned to “ya mi niña.” It’s one of those expressions that often seems to signal the end of a conversation and always grabs my attention. I knew she was not talking to her daughter.

Mi niña, mi hija, mi reina, mi general, mi mamá…. who do YOU belong to? Continue reading

Cachando Chile: a Year in Review

Writing the landmark 100th post is a bit of a daunting task. I had intended to post this on December 1, which I had declared Cachando Chile’s 1-year blogiversary, but with all the hoopla over the Alienating Chileans post (which hit and passed the 100 comments mark that day), followed by an enormous amount of real-life events—you know the kind—all those things that get in the way of blogging, but that end up becoming “blog fodder*’ anyway. (*Eileen gets credit for coining this extremely apropos term).

In honor of this landmark, I wanted to look back over my first year of blogging. Continue reading

Finding your way into Chile

Today is Cachando Chile’s 1st “blogiversary,” and I had hoped to put up my 100th post today, but I didn’t quite make it. This is number 99, but that’s fine. I was absolutely stunned by the amount and types of response that my recent post “Ways to Alienate a Chilean” received. And now, with a few days to reflect upon it all, it seems only fitting that that post, which details our many and often humorous failed attempts to fit in, be followed by its more positive counterpart…

There are different ways to experience a new culture. I divide them into 3 categories: tourist, missionary, and participant-observer. Continue reading

Family Affairs: Chilean Demographics, Marriage, Divorce & Inheritance

Santiago Radio www.santiagoradio.cl

Recap of Cachando Chile on the Air radio show on Santiago Radio: Wednesday, November 12, 2009

Tonight’s “Cachando Chile on the Air” session on Santiago Radio explored the concept of family… let’s face it; my case of Baby Brain is not going to wear off any time soon, so it seemed like a fitting topic.

We approached the subject from a number of different angles, from demographics, marriage laws, gay marriage, birth control, inheritance, divorce, number of children, and religion’s role in personal decisions and public-policy on families, as well has family holiday celebrations, and also touched on peripheral topics such as the cost of education in Chile. And through in some personal theories, of course!

I will be writing some of these topics up in more detail, but in the meantime, as promised on the air, here are some links to the topics discussed:

For those who may not know this, the CIA does more than snoop around where they aren’t wanted and keep secret files about you—they also have plenty of info that they share with anyone who’s interested.

Check out the CIA World Fact Book for solid (and thankfully up-to-date) info on any country that happens to interest you. Chile, for example: CIA World Fact Book on Chile, which is updated through July 2009, for information on Chile’s Geography, People (demographics), Government, Economy, Communications, Transportation, Military, Transnational Issues, and more.

More on this issue coming up “Al Tiro“!! but for a few quick details:

Chile’s population: 16,601,707 (July 2009 estimate)
Population growth rate:  0.881%
Urban population: 88%
Life expectancy: 77.34 years (total population)

Marriage in Chile:

I’ll be writing more on marriage in the future, but for now:

Chilean law requires a “civil marriage,” performed by a public official (justice of the peace), and may or may not be followed by a religious ceremony.

Chile’s Library of Congress explains that Chile’s Civil Code defines Civil Matrimony as:

“…a solemn contract through which a man and a woman join together indissolubly, for their entire lives, to live together, procreate, and provide mutual aid to each other.” (art.102 of the Library of Congress explanation of Civil Matrimony in Chile (Spanish)

In other words, the law specifies that marriage:

  • Is between a man and a woman (no gay marriage in Chile)
  • Is til death do ye part (although divorce was just recently made legal in 2004)
  • Takes place under one roof (the couple is expected to live together)
  • Children are expected
  • Is for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health (the love and cherish part is not so explicit here)

Chilean marriage also has its own system of prenuptial agreements built in, and when asking for the appointment for their civil wedding the couple must stipulate one of 3 options for how their belongings will be divided.

For more information, you can download the entire Ley del Registro Civil (Spanish)

Click here for more on the issue of Gay Marriage in Chile (Spanish)

Chilean Inheritance Laws:

This is a topic that all foreigners should familiarize themselves with. We are planning to invite an expert onto the show to cover this topic in more detail**

Basically, the law says that upon a person’s death, half of his or her estate goes to the spouse, a quarter is divided among the children of the deceased, and the remaining quarter can be designated for distribution as the deceased saw fit.

By the way, couples that live together but who are not married, are not entitled to receive an inheritance.

Click here for the Library of Congress explanation of Testamentos (Wills) (Spanish)

Also check out the Library of Congress FAQs on Inheritance (Spanish)

** Be sure to our Interview with tax attorney Dario Romero: Is the Heir a Parent? Demystifying Chilean Inheritance Laws

Family Rights & Responsibilities:

And finally, we wrapped up with my own “Baby Theory,” which I explained in a previous post named The Dance Card’s Full: Group Loyalty in Chile.

Baby Brain

Ok, so I’ve been slacking off on my posts this past week, but for very good reason…It has absolutely nothing to do with Chile, but everything to do with my life. I’ve been afflicted with a bad case of Baby Brain!

I’ve just come back from a whirlwind trip to the States to join my daughter and her husband for the birth of their first son, who decided to show up more than 3 weeks early.

Please welcome to the world Robert Patrick Moore, son of Amber & Michael Moore of Upstate New York… (and then I promise to get back on board with regular postings!)

Robert Patrick Moore

Robert Patrick Moore

ABuela & Robert Patrick Moore

Robert in Maleta

I tried to bring him home with me, but I got caught in the act!

Eileen Shea: the funniest gringa in Chile

Eileen Shea1Canadian gringa Eileen Shea has been reflecting on Chileans and their culture since she first met her husband in Montreal in 1977, and she sure has a lot to say. In fact, she turned her insights into a career and can be found pretty regularly doing stand up comedy around town. Her hilarious routines on national TV and work with Chilean humorist Coco Legrand have earned her plenty of laughs—along with considerable respect—among Chileans and gringos alike.  She originally performed only in Spanish,  but now also performs in English and French as well.

When we did the group blog on First Impressions of Chile, I asked Eileen (who has been here for 21 years now) to sit down and do what she does best… reflect on her own first impressions of Chileans at home and abroad. I’m sure you’ll want to hear even more—so be sure to check out her next appearances and her own website (listed below).

MS: I know you met your husband in Canada in 1977, but when did you first come to Chile?

ES: I first visited Chile in the early eighties (I don’t remember the exact year—I was raising two small boys at the time—all of the late seventies and early eighties is but a blur). We came to visit several times before moving here in 1988. When you visit, you spend the first half of your trip being invited to welcoming meals in people’s homes and being served pastel de choclo (in the summer) or asados (winter) with lots of pisco and wine, and the second half saying goodbye with lots of pisco and wine, which is very bad for the liver.

I remember that first flight down. The stewardess did her nails shortly after supper was served, so anyone wanting a second glass of Eileen Shea2wine was instructed to just serve himself while she pointed with wet nails to the various drawers and fridges.

I remember the biblical irony of the deplaning process: people pushing and shoving to be the first off the plane, only to be put on a bus from which they would be last to disembark.

It was my husband’s first trip back to Chile since leaving after a stint in several different detention centres and prison camps. I had half the money and a large photograph of him that I thought could be used if he were arrested at the airport and taken away and I had to hold a press conference, since there was no way to know if he was being sought by the authorities. As we stood in line to show our passports, an official shouted “Sr. Francisco Ruiz, Sr. Francisco Ruiz” and my heart sank, since that was his name.

“Come with me, please,” said the official when Francisco identified himself.

And off they went. Minutes later, he came back for me and I thought I was a goner. “I know your brother-in-law,” the man whispered, “I can get you through faster.” And thus I was introduced to my first “pituto”, a favour done for someone just because you know someone they know. Chile turned out to be a six-degrees-of-separation little world where the magic words “Me mandó el Flaco” could open almost any door. I still say that when I need a favour and have never been challenged to say just what “Flaco” I am referring to, since it is a common nickname and so almost anyone is likely to know someone with that name and let you through the barrier or stamp that document. Many a favour has been bestowed on me since then in Chile thanks to my old friend, Flaco, whoever he is.

When we came out to where people were awaiting arriving passengers, only my husband’s closest relatives were there. All four hundred of them. The guy has 6 grandmothers—and all these years later, it still isn’t clear to me how this could have happened.

We piled in—8 to a taxi. As the guest of honour, I got to sit on the clutch. And off we went, to meet the characters in what would eventually be my new life.

So you finally moved here for good in 1988. Have you found these “characters” to be very different from the characters at home?

Well, just as an example: twice in my life, I have had a close girlfriend call me after discovering her husband had been unfaithful. The first one was Chilean and the second one was Canadian. Both were in a terrible state, weeping and desperate and in both cases, I told them to jump into a cab and come right over. When it happened to my Chilean girlfriend, she arrived with her eyeliner smeared all over her face, bawling her eyes out, lashing out at the philanderer and wiping her tears on her sleeve. When it was the turn of my Canadian girlfriend, she arrived at my door with a family-size box of Kleenexs she had stopped to buy on the way over. I opened the door, saw her looking like she had been run over by a bus, saw the box of Kleenex in her hand, and thought to myself that the box of tissues and the ability to think straight enough to ask the taxi driver to stop along the way somehow embodied an essential difference between gringos and latinos.

When I first got to know Chileans, they were Chileans living outside their country. After meeting my Chilean husband in Montréal in 1977, half my social life took place in the Chilean community. After eleven years of moving in circles of Chileans living outside Chile, we moved to Chile in 1988. Chileans have often remarked to me “You gringos are so cold – you take your old parents and grandparents and put them in institutions rather than allow them to live with you.”

It seems they had seen a documentary about the Inuit in the Canadian Arctic and how the old folk would be set onto ice floes and pushed out to sea, and the Chileans understood this to be a national tradition, but I did my best to dispel the misunderstanding. “After all,” I would argue, “why would I send my poor mother out to freeze to death in sub-zero cold when I could have her with me at home … taking care of my children and cooking for free…?”

Another rude awakening had to do with how Chileans dragged their children everywhere. I once invited a Chilean woman and a Chilean couple for supper and I did not mention their children in the invitation. My people think the whole purpose of a Saturday night is NOT to be with your children. I splurged on a chicken (we had no money). I figured one scrawny bird would feed about 5 adults. When the guests arrived, I counted 13 people … all the extras’ extremely badly behaved toddlers on some sort of caffeine-induced sugar rush, crawling all over my furniture (okay – boards and bricks and a futon), demanding food, drink, and attention. It was the supper from hell.

The concept of a bedtime did not seem to have penetrated Chilean culture. The children whined, fought, screamed, and ate all the food. They were all still awake when the adults left about 2 in the morning. Paying a stranger to care for a child was seen as another example of cold North American behavior… My husband said he hoped we would never have to do something as awful as hiring one ourselves.

I noticed that every single baby had to be greeted with—not words but rather—screams of amazement and celebration, and vowels stretched to the breaking point:

“Pero, qué cosa más riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiica! Mira que inmeeeeeeeeeensa esta guaguiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiita.! Me la voy a comeeeeeeeeeer!”

Every child was judged to be the largest child on record: “¡Pero está enoooorme!” was the standard appraisal. The more the 8-month old looked like a hog, the prouder the parents. If the child was bald, his baldness was celebrated and praised. If child had a full head of hair at birth, this was also celebrated and praised.

Women carrying children were so venerated that people began to rent out babies on voting day so that voters in a hurry could pretend to be the baby’s parent and would be ushered past everyone in the line-up – no questions asked.

I had lived in Chile for over 15 years when I overheard a couple of people talking, and one said to the other “Well, of course, Chile is a matriarchy.” All I could think was Why didn’t anyone mention this to me before? Twenty-six years married to a Chilean and I turn out to be the only woman in the country who is not running her man.

Chilean woman always seem to be sending their men on an errand. “Where’s Jaime?” I ask my neighbor, and she answers “I sent him to buy bread.” Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against this practice. I am just a little put off that no one told me you could do this. In fact, I think it’s a pretty fair deal, when you marry a Chilean: you get to send him out like a radio taxi, but you also spend lots of time doing things you would not have to do if you were married to a gringo – such as buying his underwear for him. I checked the legal books and it’s actually in the Civil Code that once you marry a Chilean man, you are responsible for buying him his underwear. This is a thing Chilean men do not do. You have to schlep down to El Rey del Calzoncillo and pick out the pattern and style you think he looks best in. I notice there are no men in these stores. This can be the only explanation.

The other thing you have to do when you marry a Chilean is make sopaipillas when it rains. This is so different from Canada where, if your basement floods or the entire kitchen gets washed away in a flash flood, you would not feel too great. But in Chile, there is a whole series of traditional dishes developed just for these occasions—and it is assumed that although it is highly likely that it will rain right in your living room, women are expected to hop out of bed and start making pastries.

And just in case you get through the task before sunset, ordinary recipes are stretched out in order to fill any time left – celery, for example, is to be peeled as are tomatoes. Older women will share their secret—boil the tomato for a minute before peeling it—but it still means that a BLT could require a half day’s work. If you’re thinking celery salad, forget it, take the week off and roll up your sleeves.

The traditional Chilean nebulousness is reflected in the literature: I actually read a recipe in Paula for roasted turkey that read “The turkey is done when it looks like it would like to shake hands.”

OK Eileen, it’s time to plug your upcoming shows at Akarana… Spill! Who, what, where, when?

Carl Hammond, a gringo musician-composer will play jazz on the keyboard and I will perform “I couldn’t make this up if I tried” at Akarana on Saturday June 20, and again on Saturday July4. The show is in English and starts at 8 p.m. and there’s a $5000 (peso) cover charge. You can eat a meal or just have a drink.

Check out more of Eileen Shea (which Chileans pronounce CHay-uh) and watch her videos at www.eileenshea.cl.

Akarana Restaurant
Reyes Lavalle 3310, corner of La Pastora, Las Condes (behind the Ritz)
(562) 231-9667

Isabel Sandoval Modas: a play that stands the test of time

"Isabel Sandoval Modas" at Teatro del Puente

"Isabel Sandoval Modas" at Teatro del Puente

Geografía Teatral does a stunning job of presenting their latest play at the Teatro del Puente in Santiago. Isabel Sandoval Modas reflects critically on Chilean culture, social class, family, group loyalty, and social immobility. Although this play by Chilean author Armando Moock first opened to rave reviews nearly 100 years ago (1915), it remains relevant today with only minor wardrobe and linguistic adaptations.

Social class is one of those overarching cultural issues that makes its mark on nearly every aspect of daily life in Latin America. This has been true since the original settlers brought their Spanish caste-like hierarchical system to the New World, and today, nearly 500 years later, little has changed. Kyle Hepp wrote a recent post on her blog on tensions between social classes, and I couldn’t help but think about it throughout the play.

The Story:

Señora Isabel Sandoval is a worker. Widowed with three adult children, she sews and rents rooms and manages to make ends meet. She doesn’t complain. It is her lot in life; she has faith that she’ll get her reward in the great beyond. But just to be on the safe side, she and her extended family pin their hopes on her son Juan, the law student, who will one day pull them all out of poverty.

All of the action of this 1-set play takes place in the combined living-dining-sewing room of the Sandoval family. While the story explores universal themes of young love, sibling rivalry, coming of age, future dreams, losing one’s way, and the prodigal son, it does so in a way that must be interpreted within the cultural constructs and constraints of Latin American culture. It reflects broadly on the three great cultural pillars of social class, family, and religion and provides insight into how they work together to define society and weave the inalterable destiny of those who live within it.

Each character is carefully defined to stereotypical precision: the doting, self-sacrificing mother Isabel, the down-to-earth yet envious sister Inés, the blue-collar brother Lalo, the future hope of the family Juan, the senior male Don Alejo whose authority is based on gender and age, his intelligent yet heartsick daughter Adriana who laments the impossibility of further study, and the upper-class (cuica) customer Doña Enriqueta. The interaction between them reveals cultural values of family ties and responsibility, group loyalty, faith-based resignation and fatalism, the importance of knowing one’s place, and the dangers of social climbing (arribismo).

The Production

The cast does an excellent job, although there are two aspects of the production that I found disconcerting. As it happens, both pertain to the character Lalo, the underappreciated brother, although I would attribute them more to script and direction than to the admirable performance of actor Rafael Contreras.

Lalo is the steady-Eddy of the family, a young mechanic, who, it turns out, is quite talented and on the rise, although his grease-stained blue-collar success earns him little respect from the others, who dream of having a professional in the family. Lalo is simple, decent, and kind, but lacks the good looks, commanding personality, and professional future of his brother Juan, who is the family darling despite being self-centered, inconsiderate, and completely charmless. Lalo also stutters and has problems expressing himself, further emphasizing the contrast with his brother who fancies himself a poet.

The problem with the Lalo character is two-fold, and without having read the original script, it is difficult to define precisely where the problem lies. Lalo is certainly socially inept and an odd duck, but he also comes across as intellectually limited, although the words that he does manage to stammer out and his success in his own work indicate that he does indeed have his wits about him and realistic dreams for the future. I suspect this is more a matter of the director’s interpretation than the author’s intent or actor’s presentation. The same words delivered with less hand-flailing and a slightly different intonation would lend the character more credibility. For example, when Lalo overhears Juan tell a third person to lie and say he wasn’t there, a simple alteration in inflection would change the emotion portrayed from bewilderment to a more believable hurt or anger.

The other problem results in two minutes of audience confusion toward the end of the play when Lalo attempts to reveal his innermost feelings and comes across as a potential mass murderer as he delivers a couple of lines that are completely out of sync with the rest of the character. Is he bungling and inept? Yes. Dangerous? Doubtful.

In Summary

Go see it. As simple as that. For anyone interested in a closer understanding of Chilean culture, not to mention a very rewarding way to spend a couple of hours, this is a must. It doesn’t say it all, but it will give you plenty to reflect upon for quite some time.

Your Turn! Got something to say?

Seen the play? Tell us what you think! Haven’t seen it but got something on your mind? here’s the place! We’d love to know what you think!

Teatro del Puente: Parque Forestal s/n ( just west of the Pio Nono bridge)
Access from Costanera and Santa María, with limited parking on each side.

Dates: May 14 – June 28, 2009  (Fri, Sat, Sun, 8 PM)

Tickets: $3000 CLP  (2 x 1 with Club de Lectores!)

Reservations: (56-2) 732-4883