One item I knew that I needed upon arriving in Chile was a phone (along with data plan). During my previous trips, I’d been completely dependent upon Wifi connections in the apartments and hostels where I stayed. This is fine until I’m trying to connect with a friend while out (and we miss each other) or I miss a street and cannot look to my handy smartphone to assist with navigation, because once I left the apartment or hostel, I had no connectivity. This was occasionally frustrating. Everything would all be much easier if I had an inexpensive phone plan. (Seriously, how did we all survive life before the advent of smartphones? I often wonder)
Keep in mind – I hate buying phones or dealing with the cell phone representatives even in the U.S., in English! Just the idea of walking into the store and attempting to ask for what I want causes my heart rate to rise and my throat to go dry. Technology does not come naturally to me. Things that other people feel are obvious or “super easy” are mind-bendingly difficult for me. I also know that even in the U.S. (in English!), the phone reps are likely to want to take advantage of me. I inherently don’t trust them. The prospect of trying to do this in Spanish, in a foreign country, fairly petrified me.
So I began where I always do when I don’t know what to do – with research. I did some online research on “anti-plans”. These are pre-paid plans in Chile. I checked the expat blogs (of which there are many). I did some research on pre-paid phones in the U.S. (never having had a pre-paid phone before). I got a little help from a Chilean friend (Francisco), who found a plan for me that looked like it would fit all my needs. I found a few vocabulary words that might be helpful.
Saturday was the day. I was still nervous. But this needed to get done. So I remembered that I was a Marine, that I had deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, had briefed senior leaders at the highest levels of the Marine Corps and the Navy, that I had gone ice climbing in Alaska and scuba diving on Easter Island. Something as small and simple as getting a phone with data plan (even if it WAS in a foreign language) was not going to intimidate me.
I planned strategically, arriving at the store early in the hopes they would not yet be too busy. I started off in Spanish easily enough. When I asked the gentleman if he might help me, he smiled and said yes. Oh thank goodness! I went a bit further and asked his name (so proud of myself to have the ability to think in this moment) as he worked with my phone. Javier was so very patient with my halting Spanish, explaining that his English was very bad, though he would like to learn.
We discovered that my U.S. phone was actually NOT unlocked (despite my efforts to do so prior to leaving the U.S.). I would have to purchase a phone. Javier helped me here too, pointing out two different phones (relatively inexpensive) that would give me basic capabilities. He continued to help me set up the phone, getting WhatsApp (absolutely necessary here in Chile) and Internet connectivity before sending me on my way. We managed to talk and laugh our way through the entire transaction. He spent at least 20-25 minutes with me, was so helpful and so friendly, that I felt very good about the entire experience. The knot in my stomach had disappeared.
Big sigh of relief. Success!! J I was so happy, and began sharing my new phone number with friends.
Two days later, I try to send a text to a realtor. It doesn’t go through. I am perplexed. I turn off the phone and turn it on again. Still no luck. I’m starting to worry, because I don’t know what’s happening. I fiddle with the phone for a few moments, and then decide I should simply return to the store. This is so me! Only I would somehow break a phone in two days. A Chilean friend later joked with me, “Technology is not your friend.” No, it certainly wasn’t.
I was so upset, but Javier had told me, very specifically, that if I had any issues I should come back to the store. Well, I decided, let’s see if he really meant it. I steeled my courage and set off. (more Spanish!)
Javier was not there, but Nicolas was equally friendly. He explained that I had used all my data. I managed to convey shock and explain that I had just bought the phone on Saturday. He spent a few moments looking through my phone, and alternatively tried to tell me that I had my location running in the background, (which could have used up data) or that I inadvertently downloaded a system update (which would have used up a ton of data). I was dismayed, not really wanting to put more money on this brand new pre-paid plan but not seeing any other options.
Without a word, Nicolas pulled out a brand new chip and inserted it into my phone. I had a new number (a slight hassle) but I essentially got to start over on my pre-paid plan. Again, all in Spanish, and I felt so well cared for. I was stunned (and grateful!) that I received such courtesy from a cell phone representative. Another gentleman who worked there happened to overhear my troubles and asked if I spoke English. I said yes gratefully, and Felipe helped to translate some of the vocabulary, which at this point simply proved far too much for my nascent skills.
The whole experience (despite the loss of data) was so wonderful. All three gentlemen were so patiently helpful and friendly. I am eternally grateful, and feeling so good about this little adventure.