I’ve been in Santiago for about six weeks now, and the culture shock is just now slowly beginning to wear off. I came here knowing Chile was of the wealthiest and most stable countries in South America, but all the same the term “developing country” is a catchall phrase for a lot of different degrees of standards. Although I’ve been gingerly taking care not to assume any standard of quality, there are few things that I’ve been surprised to have to adjust to. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been so pampered as a middle-class American, I’ve found that I’ve taken a lot of things for granted.
1. The water can cause trouble
The pH value of the water is different because it’s not treated with the same processes of the U.S. And it takes the body a while to adjust- my hands/knuckles have a zillion little tiny cuts that bleed occasionally, and I now have dandruff. DANDRUFF! I never had any hair problems in the States, so trying to be mindful of little white flakes is quite hard. I feel as if my entire body needs a good long soak in a tub full of lotion. But seeings as avoiding the water is impossible, there is little I can do. The good news is that the body naturally balances and adjusts to the new pH levels, it just takes a few months. For the irritation that doesn’t go away, there are lots of places in Chile to buy specialized shampoos and soaps (imported from the U.S., of course).
SIDE NOTE: The water is completely safe and sanitary; It’s fine to drink water from the tap, unlike in most other South American countries.
2. Central heating/air doesn’t exist
The most wonderful invention of central heat/air is a thing of the past. Even in the nicest houses, the most common method of changing the temperature is essentially a lot of baseboard heaters which operate on gas. Chile has very little natural resources of it’s own, so energy has be to be imported and is very expensive. If you pack warm clothes it isn’t a problem- I just bundle up with fuzzy socks and sweaters all the time in the winter, especially at night.
3. Public bathrooms aren’t always free
Albeit it’s a genius way to make money, I’m not used to having to dish out cash to piddle. Not every public bathroom charges for its use, but it is quite common at fairs, fondas and other temporary events with large groups of people. The dollar-peso exchange rate is currently about 500-1, so at this particular fonda which was celebrating Chilean Independence Day, my trip was about $.50. Not too bad at all, it’s just startling to think that it’s a privilege to use to porter john.
4. Contracts aren’t as wordy
I went paragliding a couple weekends ago, a fairly popular adventure activity around Santiago, and the paperwork I had to sign was a joke compared to the adventure companies in the U.S. When I went skydiving in North Carolina, I signed my life away on about 30 dotted lines and 20 different pages (I’m not exaggerating). Here, everything was summed up nicely in one concise paragraph. I’m sure it’s more simplistic because the average person in Chile doesn’t have the money to sue companies or others on a whim, but the basic-ness is refreshing.