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Published: August 4th 2015
I am going to live in Chile when it is our summer, fall, and winter, and their winter, spring, and summer. I hope to learn how Chileans feel about rain. Do they despise it in their cities, feel its apparition to be a nuisance? Or do they go out to the sidewalks and gutters and squares to revel in the miracle? Will someone join me in dancing bachata in the rain?
I hope to learn how Chileans greet each other. In Spain they kiss on both cheeks with either smacking gusto or cool delicacy, depending on how much they like you. In the Philippines they kiss only one cheek, taking a deep breath through their nose to bring the scent of you into their soul. In America they sometimes hug, sometimes high five, sometimes interlock in secret handshakes. Do Chileans mind if I hug them out of sheer excitement over sharing their home for a few seasons? Will they mind if I ask to dance bachata in the rain?
I hope to learn how Chileans drink wine. How they eat fish. How they share meals and dinner tables and how their days went. Does one sip wine in Chile, or gulp it down (if one is so inclined on a Friday night)? Are Tuesday nights like American Friday nights, like Spanish any-day-of-the-week nights? Can I ask to help cook, do they sing while they wash dishes? Can I ask to go grocery shopping with them, and exclaim over every peculiarity in the deli aisle?
I hope to learn how Chileans insult each other. Do they argue like Italians, trading insults like a duet between angry prima donnas? Or do they slouch and stare daggers, throw cold shoulders to the room? How does one speak Spanish as a Chilean, as an American in Chile? How does the language taste on the tongue, the accent on the lips? Is Neruda all the more delicious when savored in his hometown and tongue?
I hope to learn what my own culture is. Am I any American tourist to all Chileans? Will I be seen as American or will they see my tint of Philippine skin and think I am exotic? (I hope so.)Will I be an emissary of every stereotype they hold of Americans? Or will they look at me, hear my Mexican slang, see my hapa skin, and think I am altogether, indefinably worldly? (I hope so.) I hope I feel my foreignness at once with my at-home-ness.
What will I do with all these answered questions, come return to America and home? I expect I will not settle for firm handshakes, instead blessing acquaintances with kisses. I expect I will sip wine wistfully, and learn to treat some Tuesday nights as if they were Fridays. I expect I will walk through Los Angeles and Tijuana and finally comprehend the Spanish bubbling up around me. I expect I will miss the Andes.
Will I know my culture then? I expect with a new accent and culture tingeing my words and thoughts I will be even more of a melting pot—which is to say, more American. I expect “America” will come to mean two homes on two continents. I expect the rain will fall differently, as a memory of bachata dances on Santiago sidewalks.
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