5 things Nobody WARNED me about when I moved to Santiago

5 things Nobody WARNED me about when I moved to Santiago.

There are some things that I definitely wish that people would have warned me about when I moved to Chile. I had read a lot about Chile and its culture and people before arriving and thought that I was quite prepared for what was to come. But within the first week I realized that I was quite ill prepared for the little custom differences.

Some of the unexpected things that happened to me that nobody warned me about:

5 things Nobody WARNED me about when I moved to Santiago
Santiago is covered with graffiti

 1.           Chilean people greet you by grabbing your hand, pulling you close to them, placing the other hand on your shoulder and then kiss you on the cheek!! I don’t really do public affection and definitely don’t like strangers touching me. Having strangers touch me makes me very, very uncomfortable and I usually respond by pulling away. And actually having strangers kissing me is freaking me out a lot!! The morning of my first class, when I met my student (male) for the first time, I went to shake his hand and he leaned in to try and kiss me on the cheek. I immediately stepped back and ducked this, thinking weirdo!! For the whole first lesson I thought my student was some kind of pervert who tried to kiss me the first time he met me!!

My second class started off the same way and I had 3 students grabbing hold of my hand and shoulder and placing kisses on my cheek. I was freaked out!!!

I was only told later that day that this is the normal way for Chileans to greet each other. It would have been nice to have been warned beforehand just so that I could have prepared myself for all this unwanted physical contact from strangers.

5 things Nobody WARNED me about when I moved to Santiago
Santiago is filled with beautiful street art!

 2.          I know that each country has different dishes and prepare things differently and I usually have loads of fun trying out all the weird things they dish up. But every once in a while I am in need of some comfort food, something familiar that in my mind is “normal”. You do expect some things like hot-dogs or hamburgers to basically be the same all over the world. So I was definitely not pleasantly surprised when I ordered these dishes when I needed some comfort food and they ended up not being what I expected.

  • Hot dogs here are served with salsa, guacamole, mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard! It is not a very tasty combination and I had to force myself to actually eat it. If I wasn’t so hungry that afternoon I would have thrown it away!

Why would you combine guacamole and mayonnaise?

  • I ordered a normal chicken burger one Sunday afternoon and it arrived with a combination that I would never have suspected in a million years. On my burger I had chicken, tomato and NOT lettuce but GREEN BEANS!! Yes, green beans and this all they covered with mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard!! After I scraped off the green beans I could actually eat the burger. My students told me that this is normal for them and couldn’t believe that I didn’t enjoy it.

3.       Chilean people start their evenings very late and a lot of the restaurants in the Bellavista area only open up around 7pm. They then stay up most of the evening thus sleep in very late, especially on weekends. During my first couple of weekends here I would go walking around the city early Saturday and Sunday morning around 8 or 9am. Santiago looks and feels like a ghost town that time of the morning!! There are no people around, the streets are deserted and you can not find anyplace open for a nice morning coffee. This made me really skeptical about this place I had chosen to live in for a while. People only appear out doors after 12am in the mornings. Something that will definitely take me a very long time to get used to.

4.        Chilean people are very relaxed and take things very easy. Don’t get me wring I think that living a chilled life is excellent, but them being so relaxed about everything has caused me some irritation.

  • First of all they are never on time!! They are always late and cancel things at the last minute!! For someone like me who always arrives on time or even early this is a big irritation.
  • Secondly, they permanently walk like they are on a Sunday stroll. Most of the time this is ok but during rush hour when I am trying to get to work on time this does irritate me endlessly. I am always swerving around people and feel like I am the only one rushing somewhere or trying to be on time for work!!

Maybe in time I will be able to adopt this relaxed attitude, although I do think it will take quite a while.

5 things Nobody WARNED me about when I moved to Santiago
Mural close to Pablo Nevruda’s house here in Santiag

5.         It is very, very hard to find a good cup of coffee in Santiago! I can not start my day without a cup of coffee and usually end up having about 3 or 4 cups of coffee during my day. I love sitting in café’s with a cup of coffee and a good book on weekends. I have tried a couple of different coffee shops and I have basically given up on a cup of good coffee at a local cafe  Which is quite sad as Santiago has quite a couple of cafes with lovely outside seating. Chilean cappuccinos have more cream on top than there is coffee in the cappuccino and the coffee is very bitter. I have now started looking out for Starbucks cafes as here you know exactly what you are going to get when you order a cappuccino or latte!! 

The streets of Santiago are deserted before 10am in the morning
The streets of Santiago are deserted before 10am in the morning

I am sure that there will be a few more surprises for me before I leave Santiago and actually look forward to experiencing them. 


  1. Great writing and post. The coffee issue reminds me of when I traveled to Japan in the 80’s. Eventually found good coffee. A good breakfast is hard to find also in Japan. We take coffee and breakfast for granted in the states.


    • It is these small differences that make other countries so interesting but it can be a bit frustrating at times while abroad. It takes some time to get used to all the small differences and to find ways around it if you just cannot adjust to them….


  2. I can’t believe that you’re complaining about a relaxed, chilled-out way of being! Most people I know would give anything to slow down; I live in NYC. After so many years of spending time in India, I’m on a different wavelength and always get hell for being late. I travel with my own small coffee pot, too…and usually have a small jar of instant in my purse to top-up the milky version I get in India. It is soo worth it. Enjoy what is. Soon it will feel normal.


    • I agree NINAGRANDIOSE that each country and city is different and that it takes time to adjust. After living in a place for a while these small differences will have disappeared and become normal for me.


    • The first week of experiencing a different culture while starting work just got to me a bit in the beginning but after a while I did get used to it all and even enjoyed their guacamole covered burgers!


  3. I completely understanding about the kissing thing, it isn’t a huge part of our culture and my personal space is quite large compared to people who live in more crowded places. My morning coffee is also important but having a good, strong coffee at home will often suffice so I’m happy staying in on the weekends although I do love meeting friends for brunch on occasion and often prefer that to dining out in the evening, I would have to turn my habits upside down in Santiago 🙂


    • Thanks for understanding. Coffee is definitely also a huge part of my everyday life! One of the first things I do after waking up in the morning is to have a lovely big cup of coffee. I think what made it a bit difficult was the fact that I was staying in a hostel while working so it was difficult to make my own coffee in the mornings. While on holiday I wouldn’t have minded but having my whole world turned upside down and then also having to work made small things like having a cup of coffee in the morning an issue for me.


  4. Hi Janaline. Nice to meet you. What a wonderful blog you have here. And thanks for the above information as we’ll be going to Chile (including Santiago) later this year.
    Thanks for visiting our blog and for the ‘like’ on the post about Burma. If you’re interested in Burma, there are a few more previous posts, and quite a few more to come. I would highly recommend going to Burma – fascinating country.
    Going have a look at all your posts on Chile 🙂
    And Turkey – we want to go there next summer.


    • Thanks Alison!! Glad you enjoyed my posts and found them helpful. I would love to travel to Burma someday. There are still so many places that I want to visit and countries I would love to explore. I just hope that I get to them all!!


  5. First impressions are so potent; it’s one of the things I most love about traveling to new places. The customs, the food, the art . . . it’s all there, and I love your attitude: if places are closed in the morning, take your pictures of all the amazing street art! What a collection you’ll have!!! As for coffee: perhaps the answer is to brew your own (you can get it from anywhere, after all) and take your coffee to a pleasant spot to sit. If a cafe, can you order a perrier or something to make it work? Always a work-around . . . 🙂


    • I agree Sarah, there are always ways to adapt and to make a place work for you. I think you do get to learn a lot about a country and its culture through their food and drinks and do actually enjoy trying out new dishes and drinks….as long as I know that what I’m ordering is going to be different from what Im used to, I am prepared.


  6. Hi Jananine, good post. I especially agree with number 4. – It’s bad in the metro, they don’t even stand on one side of the escalators! I’d add to your list.

    6. After market car alarms.


    • Thanks!! Yes, I experienced this in the metro, it can be quite frustrating in the morning when you are on your way to work! I can vouch for number 6! At night I have heard a lot of car alarm go off…and it feels like they are just left and that nobody actually turns them off!!


  7. Hahaha… these observations are all so true 😀 One of thing that frustrates me about the “Sunday stroll syndrome” (which, you may notice, does NOT apply to drivers) is not being able to walk up escalators. Where I’m from, all the people that want to stand on escalators stand to the left side, and those that are in a rush go into the fast lane–up the right side. Not so in Chile.

    And the kissing thing… I am a very cariñosa person and am fine with physical contact, but it definitely freaked me out on two occasions: when I met with a psychologist and when my professors said goodbye to me after I asked a post-class question.

    Thanks for posting! Gave me a good laugh.


    • I am so glad other people agree with me. It is quite something to get used to. Yes its amazing that they all take a “sunday stroll” but when it comes to driving they all drive like maniacs and speed down the streets!


  8. Enjoyed reading your stories and looking at your pictures. I can identify with you regarding the relaxed walking speed, when I was working I seemed to walk everywhere at speed, but having recently retired I have no need to get anywhere urgently and have settled into a relaxed walk with frequent stops to look around me, this is much to the annoyance of my wife who always seems to be walking a long way in front of me shouting back trying to have a conversation. I have added a poem written by a local poet WH Davies, this come to mind whenever I am out walking.

    What is this life if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare.

    No time to stand beneath the boughs
    And stare as long as sheep or cows.

    No time to see, when woods we pass,
    Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

    No time to see, in broad day light,
    Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

    No time to turn at beauty’s glance,
    And watch her feet, how they can dance.

    No time to wait till her mouth can
    Enrich that smile her eyes began.

    A poor life this if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare.


    • Thank you, its a lovely poem! I like stroling around on weekends, taking my time and I am usually the one stopping to take pictures of everything. I agree that we should relax more and take things at a bit of a slower pace. But unfortunately during the week most people work and unfortunately that puts us into a state of rush where we walk fast and hurry from one place to the next. Maybe I should learn to relax a bit more during the week aswell….this might take some time though.


  9. Early days, you will get used to it all. I really sympathise on the slow walking bit though. I walk fast all of the time. If I’m going to relax over a coffee I want to do it now! Life is too short to dawdle around! I am following your blog now so I’ll be watching your trip with admiration.


    • Thanks Debbie!! I agree, I relax when I am sitting down with a cup of coffee or while walking through a park or forest, not while walking through the city streets!! Thanks for foillowing and welcome to my journey!!


  10. hahaha…you should try reading “surely you are joking, mr. feynman” in which feynman talks about his experience of teaching in brazil.. 🙂


    • I will have a look if I can find the book. First experiences of a different country is often very comival so would like to hear how other people found different places in South-America. Will definitely be comparing it to my experiences!!


    • I know that and trying to accept it all with a smile but not being able to get good coffee is driving me a bit nuts at the moment!! Had another starbucks coffee this weekend just to calm my caffiene craving a bit!!


  11. Oh the laid back attitude and late nights are a Spanish heritage that are proudly followed in every former colony! I found it frustrating to have to wait till midday to start my sightseeing 🙂 The other issues never bothered me. In fact Buenos Aires had the best coffee I had ever tested anywhere else, and great food and gelato too. Beans in a hamburger does sound yuck 🙂


    • I agree, waiting till midday aqnd wasting a beautiful morning make much sense to me. So I do spend a lot of morning walking through tyhe quiet streets of Santiago and taking pictures of all the street art they have!


    • The whole hugging and kissing thing freaks me out the most. Got around it the past 2 weeks by having a cold and telling people I dont want them to get sick!! First time ever a cold has worked to my advantage!!


  12. Ha ha…reminded me of my visit to Guadalajara, especially the greeting part. Freaked me out too, but after a day I just let it go since I know I couldn’t do anything about it. But took me a lot of mental effort every time someone said Hi


  13. Sweetie…just go with the flow…you will be alright, the world has been your playground, this is just another wonderful ride, windows down radio on…


    ( me calling you sweetie was just a test…what have you learned today ? on this side and yours )


Please share your thoughts,I would love to know what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.