Thursday, 6 August 2015

An Ande Guide to Cultural Differences Between The UK And Chile

Having spent a short time in Chile there were a few cultural things that notably stood out to me as I travelled around the country. I put together this post as a short overview of the things that were really quite different to what I was used to in my home country or different to what I expected.

Bread Is A Big Deal

Part of the staple of a Chilean diet is lots of bread, and other carbs, but mostly from what I've seen bread is a much bigger deal in Chile than in the UK. Often bread will be available for most meals. Many of the national dishes are also wheat based, such as Empanadas (similar to Cornish pasties), Sopaipillas (similar to Carribean bakes) and the Completo (a hotdog with lots of guacamole and mayonnaise.) The Pastalerias (pastry shops) and Panaderias (bakeries) even stay open much, much later than their British counterparts, highlighting how much of a keystone these shops are in the Chilean culture.

This, of course, makes it a little difficult for people who have problems with gluten. I recommend anyone with these issues speak to their representatives, co-ordinators and homestay parents to make sure their dietary needs are met.

Odd Fusion Foods Are A Thing 

One of the odd things I kept seeing everywhere in Vina and Valpo were strange fusion restaurants, the most common being sushi and pizza shops. By the sheer abundance of pizza places and sushi shops everywhere I don't think I'm mistaken in saying they love these foods, but only Chile is brave enough to combine these two rather different foods. The strangest fusion place I saw was a sushi and waffles place, I can't say whether it was any good because I never tried it, and I'm still wondering if the menu just so happens to have 'sushi ... and waffles' separately or dishes are combined into strange mixes of 'sushi and waffles' combinations. Even if it's the latter it's still a bit of an odd thing to see and I don't think I'd ever see it in the UK.


The first time you step onto a Micro ("me-cro" - a small local bus) you will be in for a surprise. I hope at this point you have your change out as likely you will be standing at the bottom of the steps fumbling around for change while the driver has already started driving off at a furious pace while the doors are still open. The micros seem to be a law unto themselves frequently speeding off with no thoughts of health an safety and rules of the road. On the plus side if you're based in Vina or Valpo central you will get to where you're going incredibly fast, and the micros are a very cheap option to travel around (At the time of writing about 400 to 500 pesos (40 to 50p) ).

Another interesting transportation  to get around the city are Collectivos (A Collectivo is basically a shared taxi that follows a route) these are often very quick to get where you're going to as they don't roam as far as the micros. Be aware though that the collectivo will stop to fill all its seats along a route so it's likely you could be crammed in the back seat with two strangers either side of you. It's a quick way to travel but slightly more expensive than micros at 500 pesos+ (50p and up), and, if I remember right, Collectivos will often charge you more to go slightly out of the way of their route and at later times prices do rise. so always ask before setting off how much it will cost to get to your destination.

Water With And Without Gas

Often you'll see in supermarkets or be offered in restaurants 'agua con gas', this is carbonated water. Not a big deal, but what makes the difference is how it is far more popular here than in the UK. I think wherever I went there was always an option of with or without gas, whereas in the UK when we ask for water we expect 100% of the time that it will be uncarbonated. If you're in Chile and not a fan of carbonated water then ask for 'agua sin gas' which is water without gas.


You will often see lots of stray dogs roaming the streets (a lot of them wearing fashionable doggy jackets) and just chilling on the grass sunbathing, sometimes they will even follow you around. It goes against natural instinct but it is really not a good idea to feed or pet these animals as you you don't know if they will respond badly and bite you.

Western Culture 

Wandering around the Vina area I couldn't help but notice the vast amount of American fast food restaurant chains, sushi places, Mexican restaurants, Chinese places; the DJ Wilkinson playing in the supermarket; the people playing Elton John and Robbie Williams on the radio; the people telling me they love rock music, Madonna and French artists. Western culture is very much part of the city. This isn't a bad thing, I actually think it's really cool that Chileans are interested in international cultures and listening to a lot of foreign music. It's something we can all relate to.

The People

Maybe it's just where I was based in Chile and where I come from in the UK, but I found Chileans are far more friendly to foreign strangers. I often had people come up and take an active interest in where I was from, help me out with language learning and even take the time to give me directions - one guy even showed me where to get coffee and bought me a coffee because I couldn't find my change. I can't say enough good things about the Chilean people, they are warm and friendly people to meet.

Well that's it for the post on major differences. Thanks for reading and chao!

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