A Lawrentian in Chile

Burnett, Shaunna

When I first arrived in Santiago, Chile and was surrounded by all the differences that add up to another country and culture – the national language, the hair and clothing styles, the street dogs that wait at stoplights for the walk sign – I would look up at the high-rises, smell colognes on perpetually hurried people, or wend my way onto a metro train and think that there was nothing in Appleton, Wis. or Tempe, Ariz. not found in Santiago, and that there was a lot more here than there.
However, I had noticed it was difficult to find Italian food here and that I now lived in constant proximity to a kitchen. I figured it would be easy to cook something, allowing me to indulge my cooking hobby and to do something nice for my host family. I decided on baked ziti and made my way to a supermarket called Jumbo, reminiscent of any Super Wal-Mart, in search of cheeses and spicy Italian sausage.
I was impressed. This Jumbo was filled with almost all the things needed for a quixotic cooking mission. In the meat department I asked the lederhosen-bedecked man where I could find Italian sausage. His brow furrowed. I figured it was my accent, but it turned out that this behemoth chain, filled with a surprising array of international foods, just doesn’t carry Italian sausage all week, and I was out of luck today. My mozzarella search fared similarly, but, with substitutes, the dinner turned out well anyway.
We IES students began noticing that things we consider normal can be difficult to find here. Our consumer habits are adjusting: coffee addicts pine after America’s caf culture and peanut butter is remembered fondly, as are convenient college bookstores, organic brands, stores open all weekend, the ability to order out-of-stock books and buy in bulk, etc. Many of our university professors greet us in English because so much of their fields’ literature is written or easily available in English that they have had to learn it.
What I’ve slowly learned is that I come from one humongous country with diverse demands and the money to satisfy them. I found that I had taken the United States’ wealth of academic information completely for granted, and while Chile’s minority population is less than 2% and our minority population is just over 8%, Chile has 16 million people and we have 296 million people. The population disparity explains why international cooking is in higher demand at home than here. Of course, it’s harder here to find a jar of salsa or tahini or whichever condiment currently has my fancy.
Living in Santiago, along with a third of Chile’s population, lets me feel schnazzy and cosmopolitan when I am willing to spend the money and search for all that’s available. Some things I miss, but I cannot discount Santiago’s ready availability of gelati, museums, theater, and the general mayhem to be found in nearby barrios, against my hometowns’ well-stocked supermarkets, bookstores, Sam’s Clubs, and Costcos.