I arrived in Santiago, not knowing anything beyond the name of the hostel. No map. No directions. No street name. Not even the name of the closest subway stop. Talk about winging it! I pieced together as much information as I could from locals and a fellow traveller. That, with the 200 pesos I chipped in to use a computer in the internet cafe, just about had me there.
Still a bit disoriented and in need of a map, I began to follow the directions I scrawled down on a piece of paper. Problem was, I forgot to write down to turn left or right… After a bit of wandering, I soon arrived at La Casa Roja, aptly named for its red paint job.
Upon arriving, a traveling Canadian recognized my American accent and introduced. After checking in, he and his two other friends invited me to sip on some wine and play some ping pong. Given the South American lifestyle of staying out to sunrise, I knew this North American style of day drinking would clash. I smelled trouble.
Five bottles of wine later, the Canadians were trashed. I managed to get away unscathed by quietly nursing my cup; I knew we had a long night ahead! The plan for the evening was to met up with some friends I had met in Viña del Mar and check out the scene in Santiago. After eating some mediocre Chilean pizza (sorry, but the US has it right!) we headed back to the hostel to have a few beers before heading to the disco.
When we arrived at the disco, one of the Canadians was promptly denied at the door for being too drunk; we found our out! As a result, our group was filtered down to to the several friends I had made in Viña. The night ensued… We danced, drank Pisco and cola, and enjoyed the night.
When we returned, we found the belligerent Canadians in a hysterical fight; apparently the day-long drink-a-thon had gotten the best of them and after a week straight together, the pot was boiling over. The next afternoon, one of the Argentinians and I reflected on the events of the prior night; and it lead to some interesting realizations…
My impression of growing up in the states is that the culture is somewhat sheltered and conservative. It still baffles me that you are expected to fight for your country but can’t be trusted with a beer. So many rules are stringent, yet seem so arbitrary, not to mention inconsistent across the country. In Connecticut, it’s legal for a passenger of a car to have an open container, so long as the driver is completely sober. All through growing up, we’re conditioned to believe that drinking and smoking is wrong or bad, just to be given free reign at the respective legal age. College becomes just as much of an introduction to living outside of the house as it is an introduction to binge drinking.
I’m not condoning these behaviors but more so considering the preconceived notions the North American culture has about them. The reality is that drinking and smoking is a part of our culture, so why should it be hidden from us as the forbbiden fruit until we reach some trivial age?
As my Argentinian friend recounted his experience growing up, he explained how their culture is much more liberal with respect to these things.
In South America, you’ll often wander the streets and see liters of beer littered across tables mid afternoon, not because people like to get drunk, but because they like to relax and share a few beers. Many nights are spent out late, partying until 7a, but the majority of the time is spent dancing and mingling, not sucking down beers, standing around; somehow you’re electrified by the energy of the people. As a teenager, he could easily walk into a grocery store and buy a beer, “Nobody would say anything.” You had to learn to responsible for yourself at a very young age, less was done for you. The world around you is what it is; you’re not sheltered from reality.
I suspect that our Canadian friends were victims of the North American culture; what was once withheld from them was now the focus of their social interactions. Here they were in a country they’ve never visited, nor seen, drinking the day and night away into oblivion. Granted I suspect there were other personal issues at play, I found it an interesting parallel between cultures.
It seems we often become subject to our cultures and surrounding environment without questioning why we do what we do…we just do. Perhaps it’s best to take a step back and reevaluate sometimes…