News, features, and commentary from the biggest city in the Americas, Mexico City.
By Darren M. Popik
(SANTIAGO de CHILE) — Random observations from the past few days …
Chile is a country of English, Germans, French, and Italians — oh, and the Spanish, too
Campaign season is just getting underway for November’s Presidential race. And the leading candidates? Former Cabinet Minister (under current President Sebastián Piñera) Laurence Golborne, and former President, Michelle Bachelet.
If I gave you those two names randomly, you might suspect these individuals might be candidates in oh, say some English country (Golborne) or French nation (Bachelet). But I can assure you that they are both 100% Chilean.
And this is the reality of Chile. Unlike much of Spanish-speaking Latin America (save for Argentina and Uruguay), people’s roots in this Pacific rim nation go beyond just Spainish or indigenous ancestry. In the 1800’s, big waves of English and German immigrants arrived in Chile. The French and Italians also arrived in large numbers.
And these very non-Spanish surnames (and often first names too, as in the aforementioned examples) live on to this day.
By the way, the man regarded as the “founding father” of the nation was an individual by the name of Bernardo O’Higgins.
Yes, that’s right — Chile was founded by an Irishman. (His mother was Spanish, though.)
Argentine Pesos: Not Welcome
Here’s graphic evidence of how little the Argentine Peso is valued at in Santiago.
The sign shows today’s currency exchange rates, at Santiago’s new Costanera Center.
The sign of course references Chilean pesos, but to convert the prices, it means Argentines would have to pay 8.5 Argentine pesos to get just one US dollar.
The “official” rate is 5.1 to the dollar. But that’s only in the land of make-believe.
Like black market rates in Buenos Aires — where the “real” US dollar rate is referred to as the “Dólar Blue” — currency exchange houses in Chile go by the actual street value.
Fact: In the real world, there is no market to buy Argentine pesos — only to sell them.
In chatting with a number of acquaintances within the tourism sector in Chile (at hotels, restaurants, etc), I’ve found that nobody will accept the rapidly declining Argentine peso.
You may pay with Chilean pesos or dollars. Period.
(MARCH 26, 11 am UPDATE: The Argentine peso continues to drop. This morning’s exchange house rates have hit a new low of 53 Chilean pesos, not 55 as was yesterday’s case, giving a new US Dollar rate of 8.83 Argentine pesos to the dollar.)
I can’t help but notice how much English I find around Santiago these days.
Riding the Metro system, signs are posted in Spanish and English.
I found the same thing in public parks, and in a number of other public spaces.
The other thing I noticed is that the translations are in perfect English — not the kind of amateur or awkward English you will often see in tourist zones.
And I’ve had many encounters with locals who — completely unprompted — proceeded to speak English once they discovered I was not from here.
In fact, I hear the language frequently, in so many places that I’ve been visiting.
Yes, if you can’t speak the local language here, you can manage just fine in English.
And though I generally speak Spanish here, no locals have been rude to me for not speaking the perfect local dialect — unlike my experiences in Buenos Aires, where I got a very snobbish (and downright rude) reaction from many locals for not speaking their version of Spanish.
But Chileans? They get a big ‘A+’ for making visitors feel very welcome.
They Want How Much for my Drink???
Finally, a comment about some prices — specifically, speaking of the worldwide phenomenon known as “Starbucks”.
I mentioned in the first part of my Notes from Chile that a simple tall coffee of the day goes for CLP$1,200 (USD$2.50) in Santiago.
But what I didn’t mention is how much the most expensive drink on the menu costs.
This honor goes to the venti version of their frappuccino drinks — available in dulce de leche, frutilla (strawberry), or chocolate chip. These will cost you CLP$3,450 each.
That’s about USD$7.35. Yikes!