Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chilean Solidarity

All for one and one for all.

Once again, the topic of individuality vs. group think comes to center stage. This one triggered by a conversation I had with a friend of mine about arriving to the movies with some buddies and finding no set of seats together large enough to seat them all together, other than in the first two (uncomfortable) rows. There was confusion afoot, and everyone got separated, as the "individualist"(American) assumed they should all sit seperately but comfortably, and the "group-thinkers" thought they should all sit together in the first two rows, neckache included.

When I heard the story, I thought immediately of this thing that happened to me the other day, and how me extra├▒aba (sounds like it means "it stranged me" but actually means "it was so strange to me" at the time, but I couldn't quite figure out why.

I had to get into what to me is the upper reaches of the city, specifically to Vitacura. Well, more specifically, to El Mercurio. The best way for me to get close is to take a colectivo, or shared taxi. So I went to the corner where you wait for the colectivos, and traffic was crawling. And every colectivo that went by was already full. I got to talking to some women that were also waiting, about what to do next. Should we keep waiting? Call the company that sends the colectivos? Hope for the best?

Finally a colectivo went by and he told us that the one behind him had two seats. But our groupleader took it upon herself to decide that that was not enough. By virtue of the fact tht I'd talked to them, we were no longer a group that was two-strong, we were now a posse of three. And if there weren't three seats in the colectivo, then we'd share a taxi, each paying about two dollars more to get to our destination, it ws decided. No, I said, you guys go ahead, I'll wait for the next one. And then she thought about it again, and decided that no, if there weren't three seats in the next car, she would pay for the taxi herself.

It was all very curious, this getting subsumed into group think. Why did she think that my needs pertained to the group. Was it because I was nice? a gringa? a little stressed about getting where I was going late? I forgot to wonder, because then a colectivo came with three seats free, and we paid him a little extra to take a faster paid highway, and like that, I was spat out closeish to where I needed to go and I farewelled my new friends with an air kiss, pressing our right cheeks together.

And I forgot to even think about it or comment on it until my friend came up with the movie seat conundrum. In the case where group think was going to get me where I was going faster, I'm all for it. But I don't know, sitting in the first two rows of a movie? That's just uncomfortable. What does that make me, an opportunist individualist? It definitely makes me less Chilean than empanadas.

4 comments:

Michelle said...

I always find these cultural differences fascinating, especially since they're not explicit, yet completely ingrained. And, back to your post about being observant (in the noticing things sense, not in the religious sense) it requires some pretty strong skills of observation to pick up on these things. Members of a culture often have great difficulty describing such norms because to them they're so obvious. Yet, these are exactly the things that trip people up. Even in my NY to SF move I find myself slowly noticing and unraveling these subtle differences, even in a city made up of so many outsiders.

Abby said...

The movie thing is a great example, but I always wonder: if they're in it for the group, why not arrive early (or on time) to be able to find seats for everyone together? Maybe the lack of punctuality supersedes the interest of the group. Or maybe it was the interest of the group that made everyone late, because you can't leave Juanito behind, even though he's holding everyone up and is going to make everyone late. Anyway, I'll stop rambling now.

Sarah said...

At the end of a meal with friends, my automatic US raised assumption is to split the bill into parts...of course, in Chile, this is not what happens. My other thought during the meal is to order simply and on budget (thanks very much mid western upbringing) This also doesn't happen. All or nothing. I can't tell you how much this drives me crazy, and drives my Chilean husband even more crazy. Grrrrrr.

Sarah said...

At the end of a meal with friends, my automatic US raised assumption is to split the bill into parts...of course, in Chile, this is not what happens. My other thought during the meal is to order simply and on budget (thanks very much mid western upbringing) This also doesn't happen. All or nothing. I can't tell you how much this drives me crazy, and drives my Chilean husband even more crazy. Grrrrrr.