In every country there is a learning curve, and this post will attempt to explain my experience with Chile’s learning curve thus far.
At this moment, I am sitting in a computer lab on campus, enjoying the internet for the first time since my last blog post. As I write this, I am constantly hitting wrong keys and putting accidental accent marks of various sorts on letters, as this key board is very different than what I am used to. I am still making a few mistakes here and there, but as I type more, I find that it is becoming easier and easier to avoid those wrong keys. However I am not completely free from typos yet, as it takes more than just a day to erase years of practiced hand-placement on a keyboard.
There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.
One thing I have found problematic here is finding my way around new parts of the city. It is not the public transportation’s fault–if nothing else, the metro has been an absolute lifesaver. The problem, I believe, lies in the Chileans’ ability (or lack thereof) to give good directions. Those who do know how to point me in the right direction tend to give poor explanations, such as “it is on that corner,” said while waving in a vague direction, meaning my destination could lie at any one of six different “corners.” Thanks.
And then there are those who don’t know the answer to my queries for directions. However, as I have learned, it is cultural to just give an answer, albeit absolutely false, instead of admiting that you don’t know your way around your own city. This has lead me down many an incorrect road. I realized today, after having to ask 5 different people how to get to a certain building downtown, that there must be a way to tell who actually knows where they are sending me and who is just being “polite.” My mission: figure out the difference; the small variations in intonation between those who know what they are saying and those who do not. I am sure I will still be given lots of incorrect information as I continue to navigate the city, but with experience, it should become easier to find my way flawlessly across this unfamilliar city, this strange keyboard.
The literature class I am taking here gives assigned readings every week, and to get the readings one must go to a little photocopy shop on campus where all the classes’ readings can be purchased. Last week I bought the readings for my lit class, intending to complete them this weekend. Yesterday, I opened up the readings only to find that they were about Greek cultural history. Quick check against the syllabus: suspicions confirmed. The photocopy center had given me the wrong thing. So today, despite not having any classes, I trekked my way down to campus to pick up the correct readings. I had to wait in line for an hour just to get to the front of the line. When I finally got my readings, I checked to make sure they were the real thing as I walked away. Wrong again. Turning around, I fought my way to the front to inform the guy behind the counter of the mistake. Long story short, I had to wait another half hour just for him to correct the mistake.
Lesson? Always check to make sure your photocopies are correct on the spot. One fewer typo to make as I go about my business every day here in Santiago.
I could go on and on with examples of how I have been slowly learning how things operate here in Chile, but they all tend to have the same moral at the end of the story. Learning how to live in another culture takes time. Now that I have been here going on three weeks, I have at least gotten to the point where I understand that the learning curve exists, and although I have learned a lot in the last few weeks, I have a long way to go. I still find myself getting frustrated by Chileans’ horrible directions, as well as their overall lack of promptness and efficiency, but I have learned enough now to feel confident in my ability to figure out the rest. But like typing on this godforsaken keyboard, I know it will take lots of practice before I am typo free here in Chile.