Another amazing weekend in Chile included homemade paella, good wine and new friends. I think I spoke briefly about the couple from Estonia (Juri) and Canada (Mylene) in last week’s blog about the birthday party. They are traveling the world together, finding their way without funding. They have been in Chile for nearly three months now, working odd jobs for accommodation and food, seeking ways to raise the money to cross the Pacific Ocean.
Their story made the local paper here, and a local couple hosted a party in their home, to help raise funds for the trans-Pacific journey. David could not go, but I asked if I could. I had only met them at the birthday party, but they were both lovely people and I was keen to see them again. So I made the trek on my own, navigating buses and streets to a quiet little neighborhood in Vina. I met a gentleman outside the door, and both of us seemed unsure if we were in the right spot. Neither of us was expecting an actual house, but perhaps a bar or restaurant, but we were welcomed in and ushered to the patio out back.
In Chile, I have found that greetings often include a light hug and kiss on the (right) cheek – even if you are meeting someone for the first time. I have also found that every new person entering a room makes a point of greeting every other person in the room, regardless of how many people are there or how far a person may be from their entry point. At first, this practice surprised me. We don’t really touch each other in the U.S. If any stranger or even casual acquaintance tried to come in for a hug and kiss on the cheek, we would likely wonder what was wrong with them.
Here, I have gotten used to it and now really like it. It’s so nice to feel like you are really seen when first meeting people. So often I think we miss actually seeing people because we get round the table introductions, or simply wave to friends as we walk in the door. The Chilean greeting requires effort, and focus, and presence (my perception). I am going to miss this.
So my Chilean hosts greet me with a light hug and kiss on the cheek, and immediately start speaking Spanish. I just go with it, trying for as long as possible to pretend I understand even half of what they are saying. It’s so nice to see Juri and Mylene again. We are having homemade paella for dinner, on a specially constructed strong grill in the middle of the patio. I captured each step of the process, keen to remember exactly how this was done. (Pictures below) I could not believe I was getting homemade paella!! I had only had it at Jaleo’s (in D.C.) before. It’s an expensive dish, and requires a significant amount of time to make, so only usually ordered if there are several people at the table, they are all hungry and willing to wait.
I can never again eat paella in the U.S. This was too good.
As we talked, my hosts asked what I did and shared their experiences in the U.S. (Luis got a master’s degree at Ohio State). He and his friend, Alejandro, are both retired Navy. So of course I had to tell them I was a Marine. (Soy de infantes de marina) What a neat connection! How did I happen to visit a home with two retired naval officers? It seems everywhere I go, I meet people who speak very good English, have lived in the U.S. U.K. Or Australia and were/are Navy. David comes from a naval family as well.
Perhaps it’s not that unusual, since Vina del Mar is a major city for the Chilean Navy. Their Naval War College is here, and I’ve seen at least two ships nearby. Regardless, it’s been fun to have an immediate connection when I meet people. And, Luis asked if I would like to meet any Chilean Marines. Would I?! Cross your fingers for me that I will get to meet some of our counterparts here in Chile.
My host also admitted later that he thought I was Chilena when he first met me, which is why he started speaking to me in Chilean (distinct from Spanish proper). What a compliment! I must be doing something right. I have noticed this other places as well. The grocery store, shopping, even the occasional bus driver does not seem to expect a gringa – until I speak, of course. Even then, most are nice and try to be helpful as I attempt communication in Spanish. I feel like I’m starting to fit in. And I love it.