Restaurants and Eating Out

I might be one of the few people who over thinks impressively about eating out, but in the United States, there are so many considerations that you have to take into account whenever you go eat at a restaurant. When you walk in, will you seat yourselves or will the hostess seat you? Can you sit at the bar/is food served at the bar/are you allowed to sit at the bar if you’re not 21? Where are the menus located – will the waitress bring you one or are they at the table or do you have to go up to the counter and grab one? How do you pay – does the waiter bring the check to your table or do you have to go up front to pay? Who can pay – does the waiter automatically split the check? Are they able to split the check? Are you able to pay in card or do you have to pay in cash? How much do you tip? What do you do with your plates when you’re done – do you leave them at the table or do you bus your trays yourself?

There are so very many factors to take into consideration that for the most part, we assume and we take for granted. We know the restaurants that are near us, we know the different styles of restaurants, and for the most part we are able to follow our old patterns and social cues in order to figure it out. There might be a few times when you’re eating at a new restaurant and you might trip up, but for the most part, everything is pretty much already sorted out for you. You know your culture, you know your location, you know your restaurants, and you know your foods.

However, I had the most difficult time going to Chile and eating out. I didn’t want to look like the idiot American who didn’t understand the culture of eating out, but yet, I stuck out like a sore thumb. All of those questions ran through my head every time I ate out. I was not familiar with the culture of eating out, I didn’t know how the wait staff operated, and I didn’t know the food.

Walking into a restaurant, sometimes you would have a waiter tell you where to sit but for the most part, you sat yourself. You could sit wherever you wanted, and eventually a waiter would come and bring you a menu. You could get a drink, but water isn’t free like it is in the United States, and it’s more common for the water to be carbonated than not carbonated, so when you ordered water, you had to order “water sin gas” or water without carbonation. The waiter would come back with your drinks, take you order (which always seemed to have avocado or mayonnaise on it – Chileans love that stuff), and then return back with your food. That would most likely be the last time you saw your waiter for the duration of your meal. It was not common to have your waiter check in every 15 minutes to make sure you’re doing okay. You would generally have to flag them down to get your check – if you paid at the table. The hardest part of eating out for me was always the check. It was always unclear to me where you paid – depending on the level of elegance of the restaurant, you could pay in so many different areas or the waiter could bring you your check. It was also a hit or miss as to whether or not they took card or your specific type of credit card, so for the most part I paid in cash (although the nicer restaurants seemed to be able to take card the majority of the time). It was also a tossup as to whether or not they could/would split your check for you. One of the nice things about cash is you can just throw it into the pot of money if they can’t split your check, or you can pay your friend back if they paid for the meal. It was also difficult to figure out how much you should tip, if you should tip at all. Sometimes it was hard to figure out that percentage rate, so I just went with the standard American tip, and that ended up working out even if I overtipped.

Meals in Chile also took longer. Life there is a lot slower and more relaxed – people take time to sip their drinks, sample their food, and enjoy peoples’ company. It’s very different from the United States, where waiters rushed you out the door to make room for the next table and where you sit in silence and just devour your food. It was a good change of pace, and definitely a learning experience.

International Brands

Since being in South America, I have traveled through all of Chile, as well as parts of Argentina, Urguay, and Peru. I’ve gone to some rather remote places in South America where towns can only exist because of tourism as well as huge, diverse cities where business and international cultures thrive. One thing that I found fascinating, as an international business major, was the amount of brands and companies that I am used to seeing in the States that were all over South America. I was in Iguazu, a small town in the very northern part of Argentina that hosts the Iguazu Falls, and there was a Ford dealership in the middle of town. In Atacama, a little town right on the fringes of the Atacama Desert that exists purely for people wanting to see the Atacama Desert, there was an old Exxon Mobile gas station. It’s absolutely incredible to me that businesses that I generally associate with the United States somehow have staked their claim all over the world. It makes me curious as to how the parent company maintains relations with their stores all around the world. What is the supply chain for the parent company like? How much control does the parent company have over the store? Are there specific standards that the stores must adhere to or is it completely up to the manager? There are so many factors involved in taking a company international, and for some reason it both surprised and heartened me to know that even in the most remote parts of the world, you can find a way to make an international business survive.

English in Chile

Use of English in Ads:

One thing that surprised me a lot when I first came over here was how little English most people spoke (my previous international experience was in Europe, where I was surprised at how many people spoke at least some English). It was great for me, because I spoke Spanish and I wanted as many opportunities to speak Spanish as I could get.

As time went on, I became more aware of the random flashes of English around the city. For example, there were a lot of shirts or jackets with English lettering on them. There was the stereotypical “I love New York” shirts, but there were also really random shirts that made me wonder if the people wearing the clothes understood what the words meant (the best example I can think of was when I saw a young man wearing an “I just pooped today!” sweatshirt. There would be shirts with horrible grammar (not the deliberate, but missing an article or something along those lines) or shirts that just completely did not make sense. It seemed almost to me like English shirts were something exotic, almost like how Americans get Chinese tattoos that look cool and are supposed to mean “Peace” or “Love” but actually end up meaning “Duck” or “Pool”.

The entire first month that I was in Chile, I was quite disgruntled because I knew that “Beauty and the Beast” was coming out in the States in March, and I wouldn’t be able to see it (I’m a rather high key Disney fanatic). Then I found out that it would be coming out in a theater very near my Chilean house, and I was hesitantly excited. I didn’t know if the movie would still be in English, or if it would be dubbed in Spanish. My friend and I ended up going to the mall where the movie theater was located to go see a movie there as a sort of “test run”. If the movie was subtitled in Spanish but the speaking was still done in English, “Beauty and the Beast” would be a go.

When we got to the mall, the first thing that I noticed were the advertisements. There were so many advertisements for all of these major international brands plastered around the store fronts as well as throughout the mall – but the advertisements were all in English. It seemed rather strange to me that companies would be advertising in English to a population that didn’t really speak English…

After asking some of my Chilean professors about this phenomenon, it seems that international marketers will use English in their advertisements to imply a sense of status and a sense of luxury. There was actually a campaign called “Lenga madre solo hay una” against this very same trend by the Real Academia Espanola. Apparently Anglicisms (English words and phrases) have become very popular in the Spanish speaking world, and products marketed with English words can often be viewed as “trendy” or “cool”. I found this trend to be quite fascinating, both from a cultural standpoint as well as a marketing standpoint. It doesn’t always pay off to have ads in the country’s native language (although if you want to advertise SALE, make sure you use “LIQUIDACIÓN” and not “SALE”, because “sale” means “he left” in Spanish.

And for the record, we found out on that excursion that movie theaters in Chile have Hollywood movies with Spanish subtitles in addition to having the movies be dubbed with Spanish voice. We did get to see Beauty and the Beast – and it was awesome!

Miscellaneous Differences

Since I first got to Chile, I’ve been taking notes on my phone on all of the little things that I’ve noticed are different. Things related to food, to words, to businesses, to overall culture – all jotted down in a little notepad on my phone. Listed and explained below are a few of those differences.

1) I NEVER KNOW IF I CAN FLUSH TOILET PAPER DOWN THE TOILET OR NOT. One of the things that I’m most excited about when I get back to the United States is being able to consistently flush toilet paper down the toilet. The uncertainty of where I can put my toilet paper in all of the random bathrooms that I’ve gone to around the continent really is doing things for my stress levels. I’m so conditioned to putting it in the toilet, but then there’s this little fear in the back of my head that says “Ooh but if you do that you could blow up the entire sewage system of this establishment”. So toilet paper in toilets is something that I’m looking forward to, if only to decrease my stress levels.

2)  Pharmacies. In their big supermarkets, there are places where you can get tooth brushes, deodorant, soap, razors, lotions – all that jazz. But you can’t get sunscreen at the supermarket. You have to go to the pharmacy and ask the lady behind the counter for it. She’ll bring out multiple types of sunscreen if you don’t know which one specifically that you want, and you pick from her selections. Or if you have allergies – you go to the pharmacy and describe what’s wrong with you, and then she’ll go back into the depths of the shelves and pick out a medicine for you. I am a very visual shopper – often times I don’t know what I want or need until I see the item on the shelf. These types of pharmacies throw me off in a major way.

3) Bread and produce are SO DANG CHEAP HERE. Like I can get a massive carton of blueberries (don’t ask me for the weight, I’m absolutely hopeless when it comes to that) for less than $1 USD. Or I can get a big bag of bread for $1 USD. Everything else is a little more expensive, but I’m so down for cheap bread and produce. I’ve had to learn to be careful and not walk on certain streets when I’m hungry or else I pass by a ton of bread and pastry shops and they smell SO GOOD, and then I want to go and buy ALL THE THINGS. And then I would eat ALL THE THINGS, and it would just be a mess.

Those are a few random differences, more to come!

Know the Location of the Puke Bag

You would think that this is something obvious or unnecessary. But guys, when you’re on an airplane, KNOW THE LOCATION OF THE NEAREST PUKE BAG. BECAUSE SOMETIME STUFF HAPPENS.

I going to the Atacama desert where my friend and I were about to have 3 full days jam packed with excursions and tours. I was so psyched — I had heard so many awesome things about the desert, and you can live in Chile for only so long without hearing of all the wonders of the desert.

My friend and I had gotten to the airport without incident, made it through security and were waiting at our gate. We got a little hungry, and spotted a McDonald’s right next to us. Now the last time I had had McDonald’s at an airport, I had gotten just a smidgen/a lot nauseous on the airplane on the way to Santiago from the States, but I wasn’t worried about that. I was fine. It was fine. I got a fries and a double cheeseburger.

We were on the plane and had taken off and I noticed that I was a little nauseated. I ignored it, closed my eyes, and dozed for a while. Then, ten minutes before the plan was about to descend, disaster struck. My eyes flew open. I made eye contact with my friend next to me. She asked if I was okay. I shook my head and started to frantically try to get out of the seat to try and make it to the bathroom. She grabbed for the nearest puke bag and shoved it in front of me.

It was too late. It was mortifying. You have never known true mortification until you are sitting on a very crowded airplane covered in your own vomit. I hope you never have to know this level of mortification. Thank god for nice people because everyone was handing me towels and napkins, trying to help me out and get rid of the stench. And then we had to land. So I couldn’t go to the bathroom and clean up. I had to sit there. In the middle of the mess I made. And just wonder why do bad things happen to good people.

I ended up having to throw away the jacket and pants that I was wearing. I had only one more pair of pants for that weekend. Overpack. Don’t underpack. And know where your nearest puke bag is.

Being American Abroad

Being American abroad means that you’re associated with Donald Trump. It seemed like EVERYONE asked me about Trump. I’ve had kids in elementary schools here ask me what I think about Trump. For the first month and a half of classes, Trump was mentioned pretty much every day in at least one of my classes. My international classmates, my Chilean classmates, people that I would meet when I was out — everyone asked me what I thought about Trump. For a test in one class, we even did a case study on Trump. Every time he is mentioned, people always look to you. Some are sympathetic, some are judgmental, and some sneer. There was a commercial on TV mocking Trump. During Holy Week, the people of Vina del Mar normally burn an effigy of Judas, the man who betrayed Christ. Instead, this year, they burned an effigy of Donald Trump.

Being American abroad means that you are exposed to a lot that the United States public education system doesn’t really teach you or will teach you in a different light. Like about how neoliberalism was first tried out in Chile, and how Nixon and Reagan and Thatcher were all supporters of Pinochet, the dictator that killed thousands. Or about how Western big businesses are basically the devil in their eyes.

Being a white American abroad means that you often feel guilty for being white and from the Western world. We talked a lot in my classes (Socioeconomic Evolution of Latin America and Social Movements of Latin America) about colonialism, and how neoliberalism is just another form of colonialism. They tell you all about the horrible things that people of your color and origin have done, and how the consequences of those actions still persist today.

Being an American abroad is an odd mixture of people being interested in you because you’re white and blonde and at the same time turning up their noses at you because you’re white and blonde. It’s this awful combination of being proud that you’re American and at the same time feeling guilty and hating where you’re from. You get the lovely condescending remarks of “Oh, you American” but you also get the people who are so fascinated by your country and want to learn about you and your life there.

It can be difficult being an American abroad. But at the same time it’s an amazing opportunity to break down barriers, to get rid of stereotypes, to learn about new cultures and have people learn about yours. Being an American abroad is hard, but it’s also a blessing.

Initial Homesickness

Before I get into this post, I have to give a little bit of a backstory. Five years ago, I suffered a brain injury (I got 2 concussions within about five minutes). It made a lot of things harder for a long time – walking by myself, talking, reading, writing, etc. I’m mostly all better now (thank you Mom and Dad and doctors), but whenever I get really tired or really stressed out or really anxious, my brain can have a lot harder time operating (when this happens, I say that my brain “crashes”). When that happens, I can have difficulty thinking, or I can lose my balance really easily, or sometimes I’ll slur my words. This can be rather difficult to explain to people, because, thank the lord, I’m pretty much back to normal and these instances are few and far in between, so people don’t really understand what I’m talking about when I explain it to them. I’m also a really proud person and don’t like to tell people about it because I don’t want them to judge me or think I’m faking it, and I’m not good at asking for help, so that does NOT help in the slightest – I’m working on it.

So back to the story. When I got to Vina, I was introduced to my host mom, Anita. She took me and my bags up to her apartment, and she started explaining the apartment and all of the appliances and my living situation. Anita doesn’t understand any English, so all communication with her happens in Spanish. When I first got here, my Spanish was pretty good, but there was definitely room for improvement. As she explained everything, I started to panic internally. I was so scared that I was going to misunderstand her or not understand her at all, and then my ability to speak Spanish was apparently super rusty at that point in time. I was tired, I was stressed, I was anxious, and I was totally out of my element. I thought that I was going to be elated when I first got there; I thought that I was immediately going to click with my host mom, be able to understand everything that she was saying, be able to speak back with her and not stumble too badly when I was speaking in Spanish. I didn’t think I was going to miss home, miss my family, miss my boyfriend at all – I thought I was going to be taken up with all of these new things and absolutely love it. I had been waiting for this experience for YEARS, and I had convinced myself that I was going to be awesome at studying abroad and integrating into a new culture.

And then all of a sudden, I was abroad, and it was nothing like I thought it would be. Then Anita explains something to me that she thinks is very important and keeps explaining it to me multiple times. I think, I THINK that she’s saying that I can’t flush any toilet paper down the toilet because if I do, the pipes will burst and it’ll be a big huge mess. I THINK that she’s telling me to throw any toilet paper that I use into a garbage can. But I’m not positive. And then thoughts started going around in my head: “oh my god, what if I forget and accidentally put something down the toilet and then the worst happens”, “oh my god, what if I make a huge, expensive mess”, and then “Oh my god, what if I’m misunderstanding her and then I throw my toilet paper in the trash can and then she cleans the trash can out and is so confused as to why I put toilet paper with unmentionables in the trash can and then has to have a really awkward conversation with me about putting that stuff down the toilet”……. and then the worst happened. I started to crash. Then I started freaking out even more, because I needed to be able to speak and make sense in another language, and I had to keep my balance, and Anita didn’t know anything about my head – I didn’t want her to think I was crazy or faking anything by suddenly having these symptoms. I finally managed to get to my room and lay down and call people from home so that I could speak English, and then rest. I slept for hours. When I woke up, the crash was over, I was back to normal, but I was still wary. This experience was not what I thought it was going to be at all, and it was less than 12 hours in. I had had this whole idea in my head of what studying abroad was going to be like, and it was so frustrating to me that I wasn’t living up to my expectations of myself.

Those first few days were really isolating. I didn’t realize how much of a barrier that language was. It’s very isolating to not be able to speak the same language as someone. You lose so much of your personality, and while, thank goodness, I was able to speak a decent amount of Spanish, it was still very hard to operate constantly in Spanish. I hadn’t yet met anyone who could speak English (orientation hadn’t started yet). Eventually orientation started, I loosened up a lot, made friends, and my Spanish started to flow a lot more easily. Things got easier, and I developed a rhythm. The other exchange student who lived with Anita came back from traveling, and we became friends. Things became so much better.

I took away two big things from this whole ordeal: 1) I need to loosen up and be able to go with the flow a little more. 2) Communication is really important – about your past, about what you’re thinking/dealing with, about language differences. And especially about where you have to put your dirty toilet paper.

Driving to Vina — First Impressions

When I first got through customs at the Santiago airport, I went to look for the Universidad Vina del Mar shuttle that would be transporting me the hour and a half west to the city where I would be living for the next four months.

First of all, side note: make sure that you pay attention to the signs around you. I had gotten a message from the study abroad coordinator to look for him at Gate 5, so I was fixated on going to exactly that sign and going with no one else. I had a little bit of tunnel vision and entirely too much luggage. It got to the point where I got to the damn sign, couldn’t see the guy, was lugging my god-knows-how-heavy-it-was luggage around from one side of the hall to the other to follow different “leads”, and then I ended up sitting down underneath the sign on one side of the hall. I took a deep breath, looked up, and then saw the sign for Universidad Vina del Mar with about 8 other exchange students sitting right under it with their luggage. Directly across from me. So pay attention to your surroundings.

But back to the transfer. This was the first that I saw of Chile. I was in that state of awkward exhaustion when you’re so tired because you didn’t sleep a lick on the plane but you’re in a new country and so you’re so excited to see everything. And right off the bat I noticed something: there were SO MANY MOUNTAINS. And everything was this rather interesting greenish brownish color. I had never really seen mountains before, so that was a new one for me. I also noticed so many cacti along the mountain sides, like the stereotypical three pronged, green cacti that you’ll see always in like kids’ books about deserts.

In addition to just noticing the countryside, I also made random notes in my phone about things that caught my attention. The notes were random and disjointed and sometimes repetitive (for example, I started off making notes about the mountains, then halfway down the note page I wrote out “SO MANY MOUNTAINS. I’m tempted to go hiking”. Don’t worry, that uncharacteristic urge passed quickly.)

Some of the other notes remarked upon the large number of advertisements for wine and vineyards – as well as the large amount of vineyards that we passed. One note also read: “For some reason, it’s so weird to me to see a red, octagonal sign and instead of it saying STOP, it says PARE”. If I’m being honest, it still kind of gets me, and I’ve been here for 2 months. There was also a billboard that read (in Spanish, but I’m a dummy and didn’t write down the Spanish translation): Just Say No to Drugs. It’s kind of interesting how many things you find similar to your country in other countries. Some things that you think are solely found and are unique to only your country – red stop signs and that slogan – can actually be found elsewhere in the world.

Getting to Chile

It’s been a long time coming – one of the reasons that I chose the University of Oklahoma as the university that I wanted to attend was because of their international business program and how much they pushed and encouraged their students to study abroad. Since my first semester in college, I’ve wanted to study abroad in Chile. And now it’s finally here. I’m writing this from Vina del Mar, Chile. It’s a little beach town about 15 minutes north from Valparaiso and about 2 hours west of Santiago. I’ll be living here and studying here for the next four months! I’ve been here since February 25, so I have a lot of stuff to catch up on, but I wrote down a bunch of stuff on my phone that I’ll compile for these posts (thank goodness for technology).

So to start off: Getting to Vina

I was freaking out, but I didn’t know it. I was so excited to finally be doing something instead of just waiting around and packing, both dreading and being so excited for leaving. The adrenaline was finally kicking in, I was in the Dallas airport about to get onto my flight to Santiago, and it was awesome. Getting to Dallas had been a little rough – there had been problems with my original flight plan (the connecting flight was delayed, so when I checked in at the airport, I had had to change my flight plan up just a smidgen). But I got through security just fine, my bags were only a leeeeeeeetle bit over the weight limit (okay so one bag was 58 pounds, but I had a lot of cookies in there, don’t judge, I was able to fix it), and I got to the gate just fine. I was bothering the heck out of Trevor because I was so antsy and just wanted to take advantage of being able to talk to him without worrying about the constraints of Wifi (we take so much for granted in the U.S. – data and Wifi are two of those things), so I was texting him back at an annoyingly fast pace.

I got to Dallas. I was fine, I was excited, it was starting to sink in. I got my last meal in American (McDonald’s, because what else), and then ate by my gate and bombarded Trevor until about five minutes before boarding. Trevor called me to say bye before I left the country, and all of a sudden, I was freaking out and I knew it. I started tearing up at my gate (one poor American dad tried to get past me to plug his phone into the outlet column and he looked at me with such fear and uncertainty because males are generally not prepared with how to deal with a woman crying in public). Then I got on the plane and I couldn’t get comfortable. I thought that I should be so excited, maybe a little nervous, but mostly excited. But instead all I could focus on was the fact that I was in the middle seat, I was cramped, I was cold, and I was nauseous. I think I ate something off, because I woke up at 2 AM and felt like I was going to hurl. This feeling persisted the entire remaining seven hours of the flight. Pure stubbornness prevented me from hurling on that plane.

But then all of a sudden, we were almost there, I was filling out the customs form, and this was real. I was petrified about the whole visa thing (I wasn’t coming with a student visa but with a tourist visa) and apparently Chilean taxi drivers were supposed to be vicious and very persistent (they weren’t actually that bad, they just called you white girl and tried to get you to come with them but just master ignoring people and you should be good).

When I landed, I got onto the airport wifi and went through customs. That process went smoothly. Although the entire time I was lugging my 900 pounds of luggage around, I wished that I had brought less things (of course now that I’m settled into life here, I wish I had brought different things). I found the group of UVM students pretty well. At first I was looking for just our study abroad coordinator with a sign, so I ended up awkwardly sitting right under the exit sign that he said he would be at and failed to miss the group of UVM students sitting under the UVM sign. So I had to lug my 900 pounds of luggage across the airport hallway and then I just plopped down on the ground like a dignified lady, my suitcase standing blocks (the things that keep it from falling over) broke, so my luggage plopped down with me, and suddenly I was in Chile, about to start my new life for the next four months.

I Chose the Right Major

Despite being a person who really enjoys traveling and who has seen a fair amount of Europe, I realized this year that I haven’t seen any of the United States besides the Midwest. I’ve never been to either coast (besides Florida, but you don’t normally think of that as East Coast). Then this year, I got the chance to go to Boston. I was asked to be a part of a team that was representing the University of Oklahoma at the Consortium for Undergraduate International Business Education (CUIBE). CUIBE is an international business case competition. My three teammates and I would get a case involving some international business matter and would have twenty four hours to come up with a solution for the case, and then would present our findings the next morning.

This competition was so cool!!! The case that we analyzed dealt with different cultures, it dealt with expansion into different countries, it dealt with sales and marketing, and it dealt with financial analysis – this was everything that I learned in business school and was an actual application of those principles. This was a solid affirmation that I really liked what I was doing.

The part of the case that I mainly handled was dealing with the cultural implications of international expansion: how we would market our product in rural India and then take our product and market that product in other countries. In order to make international expansion easier, we wanted to analyze the cultural factors of rural India, figure out a marketing technique that worked with those cultural factors, and then find cultures elsewhere with those same cultural factors so that we could more easily replicate that marketing technique. This would mean that instead of creating a whole new marketing technique in order to expand into new countries, we would be able to take the same marketing strategy and simply tweak it depending on the country that we were in. For the presentation, we presented three countries with similar features: Brazil, South Africa, and China. They all had large populations who needed our product who were highly community-based and had a large presence of an organization with whom we were “planning” on partnering.

I can’t tell you how thankful I was for this competition. I got to work with an awesome team, represent the best university in the States, apply all of the principles that I had learned, and I enjoyed all of it, which validated my career choice.