Top 5 Conversation Topics (With Gringos) and Other Musings

1:  The Chilean accent

2:  Missing Mexican food/Indian food (for Brits)

3:  Past/Future weekend trips

4:  The weather

5:  Brett Favre


Exoticism is a weird concept, which particularly came up during my past trip to Peru.

I live in California, a place that is legendary for many things, and is probably one of the more exotic places in the world in the minds of the 99.412% of the world’s population that doesn’t live there. For those of us who are fortunate enough to live there, I’m not sure it really lives up to the international hype, but it’s still a pretty amazing place to live.

Still, as we were heading out for EAP, there was a “holy crap, I’m going to South America!” aspect. This is an exotic wonderland full of people living out their lives, but speaking Spanish! This was a brand new place, and we were eager to jump head first into this strange land.

But that soon proved to be boring, or too similar, or something, because we were quickly hungering to find the exotic. Where better than Peru, Chile’s rival to the north, home of everything alpaca and Latin America’s worst soccer players? This truly was the exotic, with vendors on the streets knowing only enough English to peddle their wares, with oddly painted, bright-colored buildings with few intact windows, and a gigantic slide in a playground in the center of town. But that, too, didn’t do the trick, and we had to head to Machu Picchu and other remote areas of Peru.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Peru and I’m loving Chile, but I was very surprised by the attitude that it brought about in me and my friends, as we all adopted this attitude of “well, now that vacation’s over, back to Santiago and the daily grind.” I know, too, that we’ll have something like that going back to California.

But this doesn’t make sense, does it? Is it just that upon leaving rural Peru, Lima feels industrialized, and upon leaving Peru, Santiago feels like a U.S. city? Obviously I already know the answer to this, but this whole trip has made me want to spend more time exploring California and the U.S., which I suppose is a good thing. Then again, it’s also made me want to go explore much more of the world, so that’s not really too surprising.


I had lunch the other day with a guy who had come to the Santiago Times to work in the marketing department, trying to get the paper out to more people. He had asked us earlier in the day to describe what we thought the Santiago Times had going for it, something that he could tell to potential subscribers to convince them to fork over their cash for our astonishingly high subscription price.

“Um… It’s in English?”

After we tried and failed to come up with some real advantages, other than the language aspect,  it got us all thinking about it, and at lunch he and I talked about the status of the paper and its potential future. He asked me what I thought of the paper, and my feeling working for it, and I’m sad to say that I responded without too much journalistic enthusiasm.

I told him that I felt like our work was falling into something of a void, particularly because the only people who actually read the paper are embassies and businesses, and the occasional university, and we almost never get any feedback from the community, aside from the random inane comment. I told him that I was learning a lot about Chile doing research, and following politics, and doing everything that my job entailed to put out an article every week. I knew the news better than most of my friends, and I had a leg up on several different topics simply by virtue of being in a news-oriented environment. This has all been wonderful, but it isn’t journalism.

I told him that I think the structure of the newspaper, as far as how they teach new staffers there is nothing expected of them as far as original reporting. The structure of the paper is designed to operate as it currently operates: several unpaid interns sitting around reading the news, and trying to tell the story again in English without translating word for word. If somebody feels like getting a quote, then that’s great. But it’s certainly not expected. As one former staffer put it: “Yesterday’s news. Tomorrow.”

I also told him that we’ve heard that the owner of the paper is going to sell it soon, presumably to a big media group, and retire to the south. I told him that sure he created the paper, but the reason it has any value is because he’s been luring in interns for years, promising them training and experience in journalism been claiming poverty when he says he can’t pay his reporters.

Then again, I’m as complicit in the mess, as I’m not going to any special lengths to seek out great interviews or try to break the cycle: I try to do my best on whatever I’m working on, but when I’m finished, I’m more than happy to get to go home. We talked about this, and what it would take to get people to want to bring their work to the next level, and it’s a bit hard. How do you motivate someone to completely renovate their work structure when most of the workers know they’re going to be gone in 2 months, and even then, that the company will be purchased and most likely restaffed within the year?

I worked at City on a Hill Press for 3 years, the last year as co-editor in chief, and as much as I loved the people there (shout out to any of those who are reading!), it was damn hard to motivate people, even with significantly more infrastructure than what we have here in Santiago. Maybe if we had a dedicated staff for a long period time… Maybe if they all got paid enough that they didn’t need to be working on the side… Maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe it’s not worth it to think about it, and just go on with the way it is not, learning a lot, but knowing that I get more hits on my articles through this blog than I do from the ST itself.


On a happier note, anybody who likes singing, or music in general, or teaching, or quirky TV shows, or, just for the hell of it, burritos (I’m pretty sure that covers everyone I know). Check out Glee. I watched the pilot after my friend downloaded it, and now I can’t wait to get back to the States to watch it on DVD.


That said, please comment on the topics above, as I’m curious what y’all think, and it’s nice to know that I’m not just talking to myself here (though in the words of the great Robert Barton, sometimes that’s the only way to have an intelligent conversation).

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One Response to Top 5 Conversation Topics (With Gringos) and Other Musings

  1. Mombo says:

    I’m sorry to hear that your internship never really became your journalism dream job. I enjoyed your personal musings about how quickly something “exotic” becomes normal or routine. Maybe you just adapt quickly, like the traveler you are. Your ability to feel at home in many places may make it hard for you to feel the exoticism of being a stranger/observer. Trying to be deep this late is always chancy. It’s great to have you blogging again. G’night.


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