Chilean Culture: Child’s Play

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After spending over 4 years total living in Santiago, I managed to understand most things about Chilean culture. Now, I’ve gotten to the stage where I understand most of the headlines of satirical paper The Clinic which pretty much means that I’ve got Chile down.

You’ve got to be up on your current events and Chilean slang to have a prayer of catching the jokes

There is, however, a rather large blind spot in my otherwise decent knowledge of Chilean culture: the essentials of childhood. I will never forget the day Rodolfo asked me over and over again if I had REALLY never heard of El Chavo del Ocho, a popular TV show that every Chilean grew up watching. “But it’s from Mexico!” he insisted. “You live right by Mexico!” I had to explain that while Californians may love our Mexican food, for the most part we don’t pay attention to the rest of the culture.

It’s not just a TV show. I had to have the phenomenon of albums explained to me. These apparently were little magazine-type books that you could buy at the local news kiosk. You’d then buy the corresponding sticker package to try to “illustrate” the scenes in your album…I think. To be totally honest, I’m not 100% clear on the concept because while I’m sure it’s great fun as a kid, as a grown-up it just seemed a little weird. I think albums are still around, but from what I’ve gathered they are no longer the craze they were when Rodolfo was younger. But don’t trust me on that.

Luckily for me, I can get through about 99% of my daily life without knowledge of things people did when they were 6. And over time, as they come up, I am learning about those references to childhood, it’s just that they don’t come up very often, so I’ve still got plenty to learn.

Case in point: yesterday at soccer practice, our coach explained that we would each have a ball and need to dribble inside a certain area. One person would paint, and when she painted someone, that person would paint too. I’m sorry – what? Turns out that pintar in that context means tag, as in “tag, you’re it.” A lesson I learned when the coach blew the whistle, I stood still waiting to see what everyone else did and was promptly the first person to be tagged.

I have also learned through soccer that what I would call monkey in the middle is known here as tontito, which translates to “dummy.” I don’t know that two kids keeping the ball away from a third kid being referred to as dummy would fly on the PC playgrounds in the US these days.

So I admit it: I have a weak spot when it comes to thinking I’m an expert on Chile. Luckily I have already found a solution. Yesterday I was playing with a friend’s 2 and a half year old daughter, and she is pretty much the most adorable thing in the world and decided I was her friend, so I will steal her and learn about childhood through her eyes. It’s a foolproof plan!

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