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I took off my shoes after I entered a friend's house and received stares.

"No necesitas sacar tus zapatos," she said. "You don’t need to take off your shoes."

These simple differences fascinate me. After one month in Chile, my most memorable experiences are ones like those. Experiences that display two cultures colliding are irreplaceable, and remind me why I am here—to learn. I came here because I felt ignorant. We learn about other cultures in social studies and language classes, but learning through a book and learning through experience are vastly different. And although I have already learned so much, I still feel ignorant. Because this is one culture, in one city, in one country. What about the rest of the world? Until I travel to Azerbaijan or Lithuania or Ethiopia, I will focus on Chile, and aspects of the culture that are impossible to find on the Internet.

The collectiveness of the Chilean people is incomparable to the United States (I have learned not to say America—South America is an America too). The first time I went to my ‘grandma’s’ house, she welcomed me into her home with a kindness that is rare in the States. At first I thought it was rare here too, but soon learned that it’s how the people are. She took me on a tour of the house, describing every item from glass dolphins to toothbrushes. Although the houses would be considered small by United States’ standards, my grandma had managed to fill the house with more things than most people have in a house three times the size. But they are not just things—each item has a story. She showed me her many collections (she calls herself a collector, but maybe organized hoarder would be a better description), of hats and angels and mugs and perfumes. The value of the items was not significant, it was the story behind them.

She took me out to the small garage, which I found beautiful. Lining the perimeter of the tiled floor were plants, and some kind of vine had crept through the pergola-like top of the garage. She then decided to take me on a ‘small tour’ of the city. Most of the houses here are right on the streets, so we stepped out of the garage onto the sidewalk, and she continued to talk in rapid Spanish. I continued to understand a few words here and there, and smile and nod. We went through the back door of a flower shop to a ‘peluqueria’ (hair salon). My grandma went without hesitation through the back door of the flower shop, with only a ‘permisio’ (excuse me). In the peluqueria, I was introduced to several hair- dressers who commented on my blonde hair and offered me a haircut. After we had said goodbye with the typical ‘chao’ and cheek kisses, we continued the tour. We stopped at a gated house where ‘las monjas’ (nuns) live. At the time, I did not know what monjas were, and had no idea whose house we were at. I enjoy the uncertainty of being here. Nothing is predictable, and I have learned to find unpredictable things in experiences that have become familiar.

A tiny nun with glasses opened the door with an ‘adelante’ (come in), and went to find what appeared to be the head nun. We were lead into a room with a picture of the pope and rosaries draped everywhere. The vast majority of Chileans are Catholic, and even if they’re not Catholic they still attend Catholic masses.
Slightly older and shorter, the head nun shuffled into the room, and greeted me with that Chilean kindness, even though she was from Spain. For some reason I had expected her to question me about Catholicism, but she didn’t. She asked me if I liked Chile, and spoke with the calm familiarity that strangers do here.

We said goodbye and began to walk home. In the two-minute walk to the house, my grandma made me feel a welcomeness that was priceless to me. “If you ever need anything,” she said, in Spanish of course, “come to me. If you want to talk or need money, come to my house. You are always welcome.”

That experience showed me how close the Chilean people are, and how things here are simpler. Not less developed, but simpler. A simplicity in which I can walk through the back door of a flower shop to meet the owner of a salon. A simplicity in which I can visit with nuns. A simplicity in which taking off shoes is unnecessary.



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