Culture-shocked Gringa: The awkward & awesome culture of Chile

Any new country you travel to is bound to have a few cultural surprises waiting for you to discover. After all, that’s why we travel, isn’t it? To be experience new cultures and learn more about the world? But, as I’m sure you’ve experienced as well, some of these culture shocks are exactly that – a shock!

I have been living and travelling around Chile since this past September, and have definitely encountered a few culture shocks that I would love to share with you! Use this as a prep for your travels to Chile, for a little laugh from an awkward Canadian’s mishaps, or just to take a slightly deeper look into the culture of this beautiful, unique latin country.

Note: These are my personal experiences since living in Chile and of course are not displayed by each individual in Chile, nor does any country have a cultural characteristics that every single person in their population displays. These are my findings and maybe you have experienced them too! Happy reading.

Shock #1: Commenting on your looks

I made this number one because this is the culture-shock that my family found funniest.

In North America, we can be quite self-conscious about our bodies and particularly keep subjects like weight and if someone’s getting fatter/thinner out of our casual conversation. We view asking about someone else’s weight as inconsiderate and private information, especially for those we don’t know so well.

But Chileans tend to be very quick to comment on your weight. It’s normal to greet someone you haven’t seen in a while and mention if they’re fatter or skinnier! And many use the words “gordo” or “flaca” to describe others, whereas in Canada we tend to avoid that at all costs, instead saying hair colour, height, or their friends etc.

In one moment I even weighed myself in front of my partner’s entire family at their request! So now my entire boyfriend’s family knows how much I weigh and ask for updates every so often. So beware, fellow North Americans, don’t be self conscious in Chile!


Shock #2: You’re 24… how many kids do you have?

In Chile (and most of Latin America), the smallest unit is a family. Whereas in North America and many western countries, the smallest unit is an individual. For potentially this reason, and also a seeming mixture of absence of sex-ed and other circumstances in Chile, many women tend to have children very “young” by North American standards.

When first meeting my partner’s family, many would ask how old I was. When I said I was 24, the natural next question was, “and how many children do you have?”. I was confused, and I replied with “none! I am way too young to have children right now. I’m living in random countries on work visas and haven’t even thought about kids in the very near future to be honest!”.

However, after speaking with the family and discussing my living situations in more depth and the differences in our cultures, they are now much more understanding.

It seems,  at least for those I know in Chile, many tend to have children quite young by western standards and definitely doing so before marriage seems quite common.


Shock #3: Speak Spanish? Speak Chilean? Introducing Chilenismos

No matter if you are a fluent castellano speaker or beginner, once you touch down in Chile, your spanish world will be challenged! Chileans have use many phrases and words unique to their country. Here are a few below. Listen out for them and use them as you please, but remember you will likely not be understood in other spanish-speaking countries! You can find full dictionaries of Chilenismos through a google search.

Weon – meaning too many things to write down. Can mean thing, buddy, mate, and more, depending on how you say it and context. other forms: wea, weona, etc. eg. Hola weon!

Po – this is not necessarily a word in itself, but is added at the end of sentences as a sort of emphasis. It’s like the stereotype that Canadians always say “eh”. eg. Si, po!

¿Cachai? – This is a phrase loosely meaning “catch what I’m saying?” or “you know what I mean?”. It doesn’t require a response, but you can still say “yo cacho”.

Check out more Chilenismos on google!


Shock #4: Everyone is flirting with you!

In Chile, it seems that everyone loves to gossip. Everywhere in the world there is always much gossip as well, it’s just human nature to an extent. But in Chile, they even have a verb that is uniquely used in the country, “pelar” meaning “to gossip”.

As an example, I was looking at the map of train stops while riding a train with family members to calculate how long it’d take us to get to our stop. A man beside me asked if I needed help, I said no, thank you. As soon as we exited the train, immediately I was asked about the man and was told that he was “flirting” with me because I’m a gringa.

In Canada, it’s simply seen as being friendly, unless it’s clear flirtation. And we are always quick to say “they were just being nice”. I guess it’s all the telenovelas? They can be quite addicting though.


So there they are! These culture shocks are always shocking, for lack of a better word, initially, but I like to see them as funny and quirky characteristics and the necessities of getting to know a new and beautiful country such as Chile.


What is the biggest culture-shock you have experienced? Let me know below!

x – Jenn, The Redhead Abroad

6 thoughts on “Culture-shocked Gringa: The awkward & awesome culture of Chile

  • As a chilean, I am shocked to read that your in laws ask updates on your weight?! And that you keep weighing yourself?! Sorry, but that is not normal at all. People do compliment on weight loss when there is a certain degree of trust or friendship, but that should be about it.
    To be expected to have kids before 30 isnt normal either. 24 is really young! Might be the case in more vulnerable and poorly educated surroundings.
    Agree with the rest though!!
    Something I find very shocking here are some ads on TV. All cleaning and household items are advertised by women and “housewives”, as if men were never expected to clean or do housechores. Happens with diaper and babycare products as well. This is sad.

    • Hi Cristina, thanks for your comment! I have come to find that half of the people I’ve met have experienced these “weight” comments and half have not. It seems to be more common with expats out of curiosity by Chileans? Not sure. It’s not in “mala onda” but I just found it interesting! What’s more common is simply speaking about weight more casually than in Canada, or greeting someone/ speaking about someone as gordo/flaco or feo/lindo.
      I have had many inquiries about children between myself and my chilean partner, and my expats friends have as well from multiple Chileans! Again, definitely don’t take offense. I just laugh and tell them maybe tomorrow haha :). Yes, the advertisements and news here are very interesting to watch as well and sometimes a bit “antique” by western views, including the deep separation of socioeconomic classes as well. Many have described Santiago de Chile as similar to the US 50 years ago, however here it can be very modern as well. Depends on your individual experiences! – Jenn

  • Funny! I actually noticed quite a lot of differences since I arrived. One of them is that chileans are not very active. Back home we would enjoy as much as we can being outside and doing outdoor activities, but here it’s not the case, people enjoy staying at home and watch TV or simply have siesta

    • That’s a very good observation! I’ve actually noticed that too. And the excessive ‘bebida’ drinking haha. Definitely the outdoors isn’t as valued, which it should be in a place as beautiful as this! Thanks for your comment Jono.

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