I knew coming to Chile I was going to stick out. I have blond hair, am 5 feet 10 inches tall, and speak Spanish with a Wisconsin accent. How could anyone not know I was from the United States? Still, it surprises me on a daily basis just how little diversity there is here. Literally everyone here has the same dark hair, short stature, dark skin, and lightening-fast speech. Which makes it just that much more obvious when someone like me comes to Santiago and doesn’t fit into the mold. Most people try to be subtle about it, but they really are curious about me- the mysterious blonde stranger who is trying to make her life in Santiago. Everywhere I go, people glance back over their shoulder at me as I pass, as if they are checking to see if they imagined my presence of if I am really there. They think I don’t notice, but when it happens about 100 times a day, it becomes pretty obvious.
Then there are some people who really don’t care about being subtle, they just want to learn more about the one ‘gringa’ in a sea of Chileans. The other day, I was taking the metro and I noticed a little girl of 6 or 7 years who was literally just staring up at me, looking shocked. Apparently she had never seen a girl with blonde hair who was as tall as me, or so it seemed. The really crazy thing was, instead of telling her daughter to stop staring, the mom was looking at me too! None of these people ever look upset, or scared, simply confused and surprised.
On the bright side, being the one blond-haired girl in a city of almost 5 million people does have its perks. People notice me and are nice to me– if I look confused, people will ask me if I need help, and talk to me about where I am from. Some people even give me presents!
One night I was waiting at the bus stop around midnight with a few of my other American friends. It was dark, and it was cold, but I had my winter jacket and mittens, so I really wasn’t too frozen. All of a sudden a man who was probably around 50 came up to the bus stop, approached me, and started talking about how cold I must be. Before I knew what had happened, he had given me his winter hat, kissed my cheek, and ran off. Quite the surprise. Needless to say, however, the winter hat did not make it with me onto the bus– I left it at the bus stop for another cold victim who would appreciate it more than me!
One last present story: But before I tell this adventure, you should know that nobody here talks on the metro. NOBODY. Even if you are on the metro with your best friends or your entire family, you stand there silently and do not move. That is just the protocol here, I guess. I have basically never seen someone strike up a random conversation with a stranger on the Metro. Bus stops, yes, but Metro, no. It’s just not done.
But that is exactly what happened to me yesterday when I was taking the Metro home after a long day of classes. I was sitting there silently, listening to my iPod, when the young guy sitting next to me tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I wanted a Hals cough drop. I was really confused because I hadn’t been coughing at all, when I realized that he was sitting there eating the entire pack like candy. I didn’t want to be rude, so I took the cough drop, and he instantly started chatting away to me. I pretty much just sat there and nodded every now and then, pretending to enjoy the conversation. Thankfully, my station was only about 10 minutes away, so I was able to escape before he asked me anything I didn’t want to answer! He looked a little disappointed as I left, like I had been a waste of a perfectly good cough drop! What he doesn’t know is that I still have the cough drop sitting in my room- maybe I will use it to try to make some friends of my own, if people really like them that much here!