First Impressions (of Chile)

Cachando Chile had a great idea to do a first impressions post.  Since I have been off the blogging bandwagon for a while, I thought this would be a great way to get back on.  If nothing else, because it can be a bullet post!

Background: I arrived in Rancagua, Chile in 1996 as a Rotary exchange student. I was one of 9 in Rancauga which is a very small place.  Over the course of the year, I would change schools, change host families, and change my life.  I would meet life long friends (mi familia, Lu, Seba, K-ro, Maca, Marisol, estoy mirando uds.), I would meet my husband, I would obtain a Spanish accent that would drive my Spanish proffessors in the states crazy, I would learn to eat and then to love mayonnaise, and I would dance to my heart’s content.

But… impressions change, but here were some of mine:

  • The food is so salty!
  • People do not understand what vegetarian means (except Maca).  I repeatedly was told I was being served a hot dog because I was vegetarian.
  • All the houses were such bright, beautiful colors.
  • I certainly learned that I did not speak Spanish as well as I thought I did — or really at all.
  • I learned that being told I danced like a Chilean was not a complement (so I took classes on cueca, merengue, salsa).  Being able to dance cueca as a gringa automatically makes you a huge hit (in fact, at a chilean friend’s wedding, she didn’t know how to dance it– so she threw me in!).
  • Cold coffee with ice cream and whip cream is delicious! Cafe helado!
  • Chile winning any soccer game would immediately make the night the best of my life.  In Rancagua, it meant getting a big flag and going out into the streets.  It meant meeting your neighbor and sharing something beautiful with them.  It meant car horns and spontaneous parades.  I had never experienced anything like it.  Even in other larger Chilean cities– I preferred for the big Chile games to return to Rancagua.
  • People had all kinds of crazy ideas about America. No I do not know the stars. No I do not live in a mansion. Yes, I have seen a robbery before; it is not necessary to have the cops give me a tour when the neighbors house is broken into. Yes, white people can and do live in Chicago.
  • I learned, as most did, that pisco is stronger than it seems.
  • I learned that in 1996 people were still not ready to talk about Chile’s recent political past.  I watched this change over the years. I watched people who were still afraid to speak out vote for a communist candidate, not because they were communist, but because they didn’t want to feel defeated or silenced or inconsequential anymore. I was there in 2000 when Pinochet was in custody in London.  I was there for the last elections. I have seen all three of the last presidents in person.

A quick photo of me way back when:

Clare cueca

Other bloggers on this topic (please add a comment if you decide to participate):

  1. Margaret at Cachando Chile: Chile June 1991
  2. Vicki at Futalandia:   Chile September 2006- First Impressions (Santiago and Chile’s  deep south, 2006)
  3. Lydia at Just Smile and Nod: First Impressions of Chile (Santiago and Valparaíso)
  4. Abby at Abby’s Line: Thoughts on my First Day in Chile (Santiago, January 2007)
  5. Eileen at bearshapedsphere: Pucha I don’t speak Cellphone! (Santiago, April 2004)
  6. Emily at Don’t Call Me Gringa: First Impressions (arrived in Santiago, June 2005)


  1. Wow! I love it! You hit on so many things I forgot to mention! The mayo! the salt! Deliciously dangerous pisco sours (and their disgusting counterpart the Vaina) and cafe helado! And congratulations on dancing cueca… The Cueca Urbana is high-high-high on this year’s to-do list!

  2. Hi Clare
    Really pleased to see you again ! As you will notice I’ve got an addiction to Salsa dancing.

  3. I like Vaina— but I didn’t discover it until later in life so I couldn’t add it as a first impression. I should, however, have added fanta & beer as a drink or coke & red wine.

  4. I love the cueca! You go Claire! First time I saw the dance I thought to myself, “Looks like chickens dancing.” I enjoy your blog though I hadn’t visited lately. I like how you jumped into Chile feet first.

  5. I really liked reading about your “first impressions”. 🙂
    BTW , you did not get an Spanish accent, you got a Chilean accent, cachai??
    un beso grande Clare

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