Friday, April 10, 2009

Expat life, those pesky and repetitive questions.

Inspired by the blog of a France-to-Canada expat who's an adult TCK (third culture kid) which I found through someone I don't know (@expatify)who started following me on twitter, which is maybe less serendipitous than the fact that I met an exboyfriend's exgirlfriend at a party not too long ago (oh! and did we have things to talk about). But that did not inspire a blog entry, so back to this one. In the linked entry, Emmanuelle discusses the top six most annoying questions she's asked as an expat living in Vancouver.

I thought I'd do something similar, with seven questions (because I really couldn't narrow them down), with a little analysis of how I perceive the question and how I field it.

Top seven FAQs asked of expats living in Chile.

1. Oye... Y por qué Chile? (hey, and so why Chile?) or alternatively: Cómo llegaste a Chile? (How'd you end up here?).

I think this question is based in a disbelief that anyone would purposely choose Chile. It's perhaps a mix of lack of country-based pride and a hope-upon-hope that maybe you'll say something complimentary about the country the asker was born in. I have a pat answer. I wanted to take a spell out of United States, to a Spanish-speaking country with economic and political stability, where it was possible to make a living and live reasonably well, and which had a stunning geography.

2. Te acostumbraste ya? (Are you used to it here, do you feel comfortable?) or: Te costó acostumbrarte? (Was it hard to get used to it here?)

I guess people here want to know if an outsider can really like Chile. Part of this is based in the same incredulousness as question 1, about why someone would choose Chile. They also want to know that you feel acogido (comforted, supported, hosted) by Chile, as hospitality is very important in this country. My answer here is, for the most part, yes. Sometimes I get impatient, and that doesn't mix terribly well with Chilean culture and causes conflict, but for the most part, I have adjusted, and I also don't expect to fit in fully. People seem to like this answer.

3. Qué tal los hombres chilenos? (How's about Chilean men, nudge nudge)

Here I don't have alot to report. Despite early efforts, I have yet to date even a small percentage of Chilean men, though that doesn't stop me from running into two of them on the street within a week of one another, which was kind of frightening. I never really know if I'm supposed to say they're fabulous dancers or incredible gentlemen or look good in snug jeans. So I just kind of say, yeah, they're fine. I mean, it's not like I know everyone in the whole country, and while I do make broad generalizations in general, this does not seem like an area in which it would be wise to do so.

4. Tení pololo? (Got a boyfriend (in Chilean slang)?)

This question used to annoy me, until I realized it was just that people wanted me to be well taken-care of. If I had a Chilean boyfriend (see question 3, above), there would be a reason for me to be here, and also they would know that I had a standing invitation to my suegra's (mother-in-law's) house on Sundays and someone to take care of the cat (if I had one) when I went away for the weekend. I think this question is based on conformity rather than an actual interest in whether or not I'm getting any. At any rate, no one has ever offered to introduce me to their son, brother or cousin upon hearing that I am single. (Though this may be due to my "caracter fuerte" (strong personality) about which I am constantly harrangued.)

5. Te gusta la comida chilena? (Do you like Chilean food?)

A point of connection, I suppose, that is, if I ate meat. The fact that I don't eat meat is a bit of a mystery, an insult. They wonder what my suegra (see question 4) feeds me when I come to visit on Sundays. I usually save face by talking about how good the fruits and vegetables are (and OMG, are they ever), and also how much I like porotos granados (or the blogsherpa version here, which I seriously could eat twice a week for the rest of my life and it would not be too much. This question usually devolves into a question about seafood, which though I technically do eat, in practice I don't really chow down on too much.

6. Te quedas? (Gonna stay?) or Te radicaste ya? (Are you here permanently?)

Here I guess what my interviewer is wondering is whether it makes sense to become friends, make an effort, etc. If I'm leaving, it might make sense to say hello and add me on facebook, but if I stay, from there I could come to a barbecue (and eat bread and freeze to death as the nighttime temperatures drop), go on a bike ride, be included in a night on the town, etc. There's also probably an element of testing country pride again. If someone from New York (albeit Brooklyn, which leads to great disappointment and actual physical steps back at times) chooses Santiago, well then maybe it's not a bad place to be (it totally isn't, you should visit sometime).

7. Qué te gusta de Chile? (What do you like about Chile?) This question always reminds me of the letter I had to write to Extranjería (foreigners' office) about why I wanted to stay in Chile. I was counselled to say I liked empanadas and Chilean men (See questions numbers 4 and 5). Here any answer will do, so long as it's true. In my case, I love the quality of life, the freshness of fruits and veggies, the photo ops, the bikeability, the awesome landscape, the (mostly) warm people, the blogfodder (If I were a pastry, I'd be a proliferole).

The thing about the questions, which are predictably asked, everywhere from the doctor's office to the fruit stand at the market where they call me "casera, caserita" (homemaker!) is that you have to take them in good stead. In Santiago, you may be the first (or the tenth) foreigner someone has ever met, not the hundredth or the thousandth like in New York or LA. And for the most part, people mean well.

However, being asked the same questions literally hundreds of times is annoying. It's frustrating because it's like asking a tall person how tall she is, or a noncustodial mother if she misses her kids (like the air she breathes, according to one such mom I know). I love to talk (and about myself, even more), but I just wish people could put a little more research into their queries. In a way, I look at it as though my lame and soon-to-be-fired publicist has booked me on yet another night time talk show. I'd rather stay in the greenroom and eat M&Ms, but I must go on stage, be gracious and not show too much cleavage. It's all what's good for the public eye.

Or I could do what a friend of mine did not long ago at a party. When asked, "Cómo llegaste a Chile?" (how did you end up in Chile, question number one), she replied "En avión" (by plane). I bet her publicist doesn't book her on any more talk shows. Lucky girl. Now she can eat all the M&Ms she wants, from the comfort of her own home.

8 comments:

Emmanuelle said...

Hi there Eileen,

I am glad to meet you via retweeted blog post! We'll have to buy @expatify a virtual beer on Twitter for being a connector extraordinaire ;)

It sounds like the questions you are getting come from genuine curiosity and, like you said, a desire to make sure that you have a good support system in the country. That's really nice (even if it doesn't help with the repetitive nature of the questions!)

"How did you end up here?" seems to be a pretty universal question... next time I go back to France for a visit, I may just have to ask every expat I meet "You're from London? Mon dieu! How did you end up in Nice?" ;-p

Emmanuelle

www.ourexplorer.com said...

Interesting! I think they just take the presumption that people with a different look won't be local. If more expats living in the place, they will get used to it and not so much repetitive question. Like in Shanghai of China, some expats can be more local than a local. They know best places of the city, and they can speak fluent mandarin (some even Shanghai dialect). They are called new "Shanghaiese".


OurExplorer - Travel through the eyes of a local

Haiko said...

I've found that the best way to fend of repetitive boring questions is to retaliate after answering the first one.

This means: I put in the effort to figure out something about the person asking me, I have to ReALLY look at them and ask:
" Would you like to live in another country ? where ? "
" Where would you like to go ? visit France (or wherever the expat is from) ? "

Or I pick something that is likely to be relevant to the person in front of me, which depends totally and what I see. Eg: I try to figure out where in life they are at: kids, single, job a problem ??? and ask them about that...

Bystander said...

The best answer to the what do you like about Chile question is: the same things as you.

Shivani Saran said...

This list of questions is exactly what I was slammed with repeatedly when I was in Chile for two weeks last April. And.... I so expect to get another slamming later this June when I move to Chile permanently (finally!) to pursue my MBA. Thanks so much for the brush-up, I'll be needing it.

Keep the blog rolling, it's been a fun read for Chile enthusiast like me.

Cheers,
Saran

Abby said...

These are the exact same questions I get asked, except usually they also ask "when are you planning on leaving?" as well.

I loved your analysis of the pololo question. I also am here sans a Chilean significant other, and when Chileans hear that, I'm usually met with an incredulous stare or "Por qué no?!?!" But you're right, unless they are seriously jote, they just want to make sure I'm being taken care of.

I love your blog, by the way!

Emily said...

Oh yes to all of these. I especially feel like "what do you like about Chile" is hard to answer. I know that by now I should just have a pat answer, but it somehow never ceases to surprise me that Chileans think that I could sum up all my reasons for being here into a 30-second "well empanadas are good and the mountains are pretty and there's the beach close by" - don't they realize that it's more complex than that? And that maybe I don't even know what I like about Chile, but at the end of most days I'm happy with my life, and that's good enough for me?

Margaret said...

Yes, yes... the list... I think they must test them on that in school: can't graduate til you memorize the foreigner questions list!
I love the one about what I think about Chilean men... Well, I've only been with one and I like him quite a lot thank you very much...
How long you been here: 19 years: Ya like it here? um, well yeah, it would seem so, dontcha think?