“If we tried to do everything our way, we wouldn’t be doing much here, so we are embracing it as much as possible.”
It’s International Women’s Day, March 8, 2017, and I’m in Chile! I just had a lovely lunch in the countryside outside Viña del Mar. The men raised their glasses and made a toast to all the women. Well, thank you!
After lunch, I’m helping out in the kitchen with the rest of the women. The men? Sitting outside talking.
While drying all the dishes, I couldn’t help myself saying that in Sweden we would get a bit more help from the men. They agreed: “Son muy manchistas aqui.” (They are very chauvinistic here.)
Of course, it’s not perfect in Sweden, but the differences are much more pronounced. It felt a bit weird, also for my husband outside. These situations are always a bit confusing. With a husband born here but raised in Sweden since he was 12 years old, it’s an interesting experience for both of us when we are now hanging out with his family he hasn’t seen in many, many years.
We took the chance to leave Sweden for five months to get to know Chile, and for the kids (aged 6 and nearly 4) and me to improve our Spanish. Since school is not mandatory until you’re seven years old in Sweden, it was now or never.
We are 2.5 months in, and so far it’s been going quite good. The four of us being together 24/7 can be difficult at times—we are not used to it! In Sweden, both of us work full time, and the kids are in Kindergarten/preschool, so it has been an adjustment in more ways than one. Chilean Spanish is not easy to learn either! We are getting into a routine here though, slowly getting better at Spanish and, of course, adapting to the way of life as it is right now.
After having travelled down south for a month, we are now hanging out in Viña del Mar. Fortunately, we have family here with whom we can stay. So now we see even more family, which is fantastic. It gives you added insight into the way of life here.
The differences between the classes in society are vast, and it’s quite apparent. Not much by way of government safety nets here either. There are some impoverished people that you see everywhere—they mostly must fend for themselves and do what they can to survive. I see people selling all kinds of things in the streets to make a buck—boiled eggs, cut-up fruit in bowls, homemade sandwiches, etc. Or, just standing with patches and serviettes in one hand and trying to sell them. Or why not put up a shed next to the highway and sell fruit, empanadas or cheese?!
Seeing these things, I realise how many rules we have back home in Sweden, how controlled everything is. More restrictions—but life is also safer, of course.
Like last week, we got picked up by a cousin to go to the countryside. He, the wife, and two kids sat in the front. The four of us plus an auntie sat in the back seat(!). And on the way back, their oldest son joined us too, but then the luggage space was empty, so he sat back there. Ten people in a car made for five! Not sure what reactions that would get back home, but one thing is for sure: nobody would even come up with the idea!
If we tried to do everything our way, we wouldn’t be doing much here, so we are embracing it as much as possible. When we rent cars, we do have car seats for the kids, of course, but in every other way, we try to adapt and get an authentic experience. And we are learning a lot. We’ve been impressed and humbled by kindness more times than we can count.
I must mention the food too — I’ve not been served one bad meal. In restaurants, yes, but in people’s homes, no. It’s been fish, chicken, meat, salads, potato salads and it always tastes DELICIOUS! A lot of lemon juice and coriander is the key, I think (paradise for a coriander lover like myself!).
As for our kids, they will have a hard time slowing down on the sugar when we go back. The kids’ birthday parties here are something else compared to Sweden. Kids, parents, relatives and people close to the family are all welcome! Bring your own water if you like some. It’s going to be sugar all the way to the end: a buffet of cakes, muffins, biscuits, cheesecakes and a lot more- usually lots of stuff with majar (dulce de leche) in it. Add some finger food like small pizzas and empanadas, etc. The goodie bags are about four times the size of the ones at home. Do I need to say that the kids are thrilled? And then throw in a pińata at the end as well.
Overall, it’s more sweets/candy all the time than back home. The intention in Sweden is just to eat sweets on Saturdays, a rule that many families try to uphold. Here, it’s whenever you feel like it.
- Just before dinner? Sure!
- Want a second ice cream? Sure!
- Thirsty? – Soda or fruit juice?
Our son says he is going to miss this when we go back, haha! I’m not going to miss the sugar, but I know there will be a lot of stuff that I wish we could take with us.
When you can see real life close up in another country, it opens up your eyes. Makes you think. Like how I grew up—or say, my husband—compared to some of his cousins. One family grew up in the tiniest house—a room, really: a room as big as our living room. Seven children and the parents! This is something I think about a lot. What would that be like? Since it’s people we know—family—it gets even closer, more real.
At the same time we are all so alike, wherever you go in the world. People feel, and act more or less the same. You eat, you talk, you have a drink and a laugh. All the families we’ve met so far have been so giving and kind. Happy to see us. Inviting us to birthday parties, dinners, staying over in their houses. Warm, loving people.
Above all, I will be very grateful for the perspective this trip has given me. I have learnt so much, seen so much. For that, I will be forever grateful. I love Chile!
Author - Marie Zamora
Marie Zamora is from Sweden. She is a business owner turned high school teacher. She and her husband Jaime have two beautiful children.
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