Tag Archives: work

33 Miners: Comin’ Up!


Rescate Minero- 1º en salir, Florencio Ávalos

12:15 AM Miner Florencio Ávalos, the first miner to reach the surface


Back Story: Copiapó, northern Chile. A shaft in the San José copper and gold mine collapsed on Aug 5, trapping 33 miners inside. Early attempts to rescue them failed, apparently sealing their fate. Days passed. Hope dwindled. Whispers of “no air,” “extreme heat,” “no food; no water; no light” made the rounds. More time passed. Talk of stopping the rescue efforts began, but the families of these 33 men refused to give up hope.

“They’re miners,” they said. “They know what they’re doing, and they are alive down there,” they insisted. And they were right. 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!

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.

A Little Business Etiquette Please!

Forget punctuality… is a bit of honesty too much to ask? Chilean “Business Meeting Etiquette” has a long way to go!

I’ll admit it right up front. This post comes from anger. I’m not going to say that this is a “Chilean thing” and I’m not even saying that this is common here, but I will say that the only times I have ever seen this happen have been right here in Santiago. Just bad practice and an incredible lack of respect for others.

I’m talking about business meetings… how hard is it to schedule an appointment and stick with it? We’re professionals. We’re all busy, but c’mon, how about a little respect please? I’m not talking about people showing up a half hour late without acknowledgement (or apology) for the hour. You get used to that here. I’m not even talking about meetings that get canceled at the last minute  or even those that get forgotten (I admit my own guilt there). Something happened today that has me shaking my head and wondering how some people look themselves in the mirror…

Here’s the story. My boss (Chilean) and I went to a meeting last week and were told upon arriving that it had been cancelled. A pain, a long drive wasted, but it happens. The exchange of emails that ensued determined that the receptionist had been confused, that it was the meeting BEFORE ours that had been canceled, so sorry. Ok. It happens. We rescheduled.

A couple days ago we confirmed and reconfirmed the meeting for today. This time the receptionist informed us that the person was in a meeting and would we wait? Half hour. Ok. We had come a long way and didn’t want to waste the opportunity (again), so ok. It happens. We settled in to wait. Read the paper—half hour—discussed other projects—another half hour—so we ask again. “Sorry, should be any time.” So we wait some more and I’m really regretting not having my laptop along to be able to do some real work. Another half hour and now we’re playing poker on the blackberry.

Why would we wait so long? Because it was an important meeting to present an important project and we really think this place is the right fit, so we waited, I’m embarrassed to say, more than 2 hours before we finally gave up.

In the meantime our own secretary was calling their office to see what she could find out. It turns out that an hour and a half into our wait the managers had all gone to lunch and wouldn’t be back til 3:00… All this time with us (and a dozen other people) waiting in reception. Total lack of respect.

Back at the office, more email swapping… this time with the lame excuse that “I sent you a mail this morning to call off the meeting.” Does this person think we’re idiots? Apparently.

But we’ll go back again next week, smiley faces in place. These are difficult times. Everyone wants to do business and there’s just so much to go around… but what does it take to keep a little bit of common courtesy in place? How hard would it be to say to the secretary… “please cancel my appointments for this morning”? Why is it so hard to put oneself in the other person’s shoes? C’mon!

Llegó Marzo (March is upon us)

Llegó Marzo, literally, March has arrived… or rather, it is upon us.
Llegó Marzo. Two little words imbued with so much cultural significance.

It’s March. And in Chile, March is a rough month. Here in the southern hemisphere it means that summer is over and it’s time to get back to a real world that’s been waiting with a vengeance. Playtime’s over and we must buckle down, tote that barge and lift that bale once again.

Most real work seems to get done in the winter months, between April and August. Things start winding down in September with the arrival of spring and the extended Independence Day holidays. October starts the slippery slide toward the summer homestretch. November: school is wrapping up and the wedding season is on. December means graduations, shopping, holiday parties, and Christmas. January kicks off literally with a bang (fireworks), and let the summer begin. Vacations. Beach time. Travel time. Can’t get much done at work because people are already on mental vacation. February: the world comes to a screeching halt as the city bails and takes its urban hustle-bustle on the road. Mostly to the beach.

And then comes March. Reality kicks in… hard… Back to work, back to school, back to routine. Back to traffic jams, crowded subways and buses and long lines for colectivos.

And back to the bills-in-waiting after months of celebrations. Back to the bank for a loan. The ghost of Christmas (and summer) past stands shoulder to shoulder with the specter of costs to come. And as if back to school expenses weren’t brutal enough (registration, tuition, uniforms, books, schools supplies, etc.), someone got the bright idea that every car registration in the country must be renewed–you guessed it–in March (more lines, more bills). And taxes aren’t far behind.

March. It’s a government plot, I tell ya…
Hear that whip cracking? My theory is that it’s the government’s way of forcing us all back to work after such a long hiatus… Making sure that everyone is up to their necks in debt from the get-go to ensure another year of production!