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Traditions & Customs

Traditions & Customs

  • Although modern in many ways, Chile remains basically traditional. You will do far better if you do not openly denigrate or flout those traditions. People speak in conversational tones.
  • Unlike other countries in Latin America, the Chilean police force is admired for its honesty and competence. Report any complaints to the police the moment you receive them, including criminal activity. Bribes are not acceptable in Chile in contrast to the rest of Latin America, and you will likely get arrested if you attempt it.
  • Do not assume that your hosts in Chile will have a low opinion of Pinochet. May be a surprise, but his government still has many supporters, so be careful when raising the issue. Even if you want to talk other political subjects than Pinochet, people still can get very opinionated and even raise the tone when it comes to politics. Depending on your opinions, they can either call you "communist" or "fascist".
  • Chileans are very friendly people. Most of them will be willing to assist you with directions or advice in the street, bus stop, subway station, etc. Just use common sense to avoid danger.
  • Be careful with what you say: many younger people can speak and understand English, French, Italian or German, be polite.
  • Chileans hate arrogance. Be arrogant and you will have problems; be kind and everyone will try to help you.
  • Chileans will know that you are a foreigner no matter how good your Spanish is. Don't get upset if they call you "gringo" - most foreigners are called that, it's not meant to be offensive.
  • If you are of black race or dark skinned, you might be called "negro" in a friendly way. This is by no means similar to the n-word. Most Chileans are not racist, but unlike other South American countries, nearly every person of African heritage is a foreigner. Besides, "negro" is a common nickname for people with dark skin. (Negro is the Spanish word for black).
  • Chile was involed in the War of the Pacific between 1879-1883 against Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. Patagonia was once part of Chile but since Argentina threatened to to attack, the area was annexed by the Argentinians which angers many people even today. Both Peru and Bolivia lost territory in what today is northern Chile and the conflict still causes heated debates. Some even express racist comments towards guest workers and illegal inmigrants from either Peru or Bolivia. Bolivia still claims to get back lost territory or an "exit to the ocean", which has angered many Chileans. Some will agree on giving Bolivia a corridor with access to the sea but be careful saying that Bolivia or Peru has the right to have their old territory back from Chile, that will get you in a lot of problems! Ask questions rather than having your opinion since Chileans will become angry and have a heated debate with what they consider "an uneducated foreigner who have listened to propaganda from the enemy".
  • Chile has the largest Palestinian diaspora outside the Arab world and a lot of them express proudness over their heritage, but also their support for the Palestinian cause. You will also encounter some who knows very little about their ancestors, the conflict with Israel etc. Don't get upset, have in mind that they see themselves as Chilean in first hand and not Palestinian or Arab. It has been estimated that less than 1% speaks Arabic, so don't expect to talk with them in the language if you are from an Arabic-speaking country or have some knowledge in the language.
  • In the south of Chile there are a sizeable amount of people claiming German heritage and they are very proud of it. Even if they don't have a German surname and most likely having a grandmother or great grandmother from Germany, they will identify as Chilean-German. Like with the people of Palestinian heritage, very few speak German at all. Some southern villages have German-speaking population but you will not likely to visit them at all. Every single person speaks Spanish so there is no need to know some German if you want to travel to the south of Chile.

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Chile - Travel guide