There are many differences between any 2 cultures, so when you move to Chile there are some things about life in Chile that you’ll learn, sometimes the hard way. I’ve compiled a list of things that would have been nice to have known beforehand. I’m not a huge fan of being unprepared or feeling stupid because I have no idea what’s going on. So in light of that, I have complied some information about some differences between the US and Chile that can be helpful to know.
No heat/air conditioning
I knew not to expect air conditioning in Chile, because the US seems to be the only country in the world that has air conditioning everywhere all the time. So not surprisingly, Chile is different from the US in that regard. What I did not expect though, was for there not to be central heating in buildings – even newer buildings. Apartments just don’t have heat or radiators in general, so you have to use space heaters in the winter. Weird, but knowing that you can pack extra winter clothes because you will probably be cold inside in the winter.
Take a number
Most stores here you will need to take a number to be attended to, and most products are behind the counter. When your number is called you go up to the desk and ask for whatever you need, and then you have to go to a separate counter to pay before you receive your items. It’s weird but you’ll get used to it, and sometimes it is actually more efficient. If you are the only one in the store though you can go up to the counter and skip the number. They aren’t going to ask you if you need anything – in Chile you have to ask for what you want…don’t wait around to be “helped” (or you’ll be there a while).
Save yourself some frustrations and just lower your standards now. Sorry, but I think the US wins on customer service (not just over Chile, but most places). Going back to the previous tidbit, I had an experience in a coffee shop that I think highlights the cultural differences between the US and Chile with customer service. There’s a coffee shop I go to every time I’m near the office of the company I teach for, and every time I went it I felt really awkward because the baristas would never say anything to me, even if I was standing in front of the register waiting to order. So one day I had a bit of a confused stare down with the barista, because to me I felt like if I said something first then I would be interrupting her (she was doing something). But from her perspective, I probably just looked like a weirdo standing there not ordering…she was waiting for me to say something first so as not to rush me or whatever. It was just interesting because my first thought was that the customer service was just bad, but after thinking about it I think it’s just a cultural difference that you’ll get used to. Differences don’t bother me – but not knowing or understanding a difference bothers me because I often feel stupid and confused (that is going to happen a lot when moving to another country).
Saying the word “American”
Just try to avoid saying that you’re American…opt for “I’m from the US” instead. Some Latin Americans are offended by this because South America is also America and we’re all Americans. What they don’t understand is that we don’t have another word in English to describe our nationality…we just have the word “American”. I understand their point, and I never want or try to offend anyone, but just save yourself the trouble and judgment and avoid using the word.
The 24 hour clock
It is used here, so save yourself the trouble and learn times in the 24 hour clock. When people speak they will speak in the 12 hour clock language, but in writing it’s almost always in the 24 hour format. (24 hour clock is better anyway!)
Weighing fruit and bread in the grocery
Most foreigners go through looking like a dummy at the cash register, trying to buy something and not understanding what they’re saying/the concept in general. Most fruits, veggies, and bread will need to be weighed and have a label printed before checking out. There are scales for you to do it (in the section where you are getting your food from, not near the check out), and there are pictures of the items as well as the names to help you find what you’re looking for. Then a label will print out and you can be on your way. Just don’t forget to do this!
You can’t pay online with a foreign card
Web Pay, which is the platform virtually every chilean business uses (including Groupon), won’t process foreign cards. This can make life difficult, especially if you make money from your home country. Uber and Uber Eats are one of the only things I have found that I can use my American accounts for. If you have a CuentaRUT with Banco Estado, you can use that card for online purchases.
It is common for restaurants not to open for lunch until 1:00 PM and for dinner at 7:30-8:00 PM. So plan accordingly or look up the restaurant’s hours ahead of time.
This is another thing you will be asked any time you buy something with a card, and even if you know Spanish this is just a foreign concept for us. You can split any purchase into monthly payments, usually with interest. Even 1 candy bar you can pay for it over a couple of months. It’s weird, but they may ask “con o sin cuotas” just say no/sin when they ask and select “sin cuotas” on the card machine. For a larger purchase, maybe cuotas will be appropriate for your situation. Just be sure to ask about the interest rate.
I hope these tips/tidbits help you avoid some awkward situations while adjusting to life in Chile!