My globe-trotting friend Yi gave me some good advice on travel-blogging: write down strange and surprising things about your new environment before you get used to it and stop noticing the unusual. Now that I’ve been in Santiago for almost a month, I think it’s time to note some of the interesting differences. For the most part, Santiago is a modern city that may have a bit of a US crush, which lends it to be fairly similar to “The States”, as the Chileans would say. Starbucks and McDonald’s? Check. Smooth-running subways and buses? Check. Skyscrapers and suburbia? Check.
However, there are four main things I’ve noticed that are significantly different between Chile and the US, and I’ll be writing a separate blog post about each one to avoid boring you all with one gigantic essay. They are:
- The Beauty of Aggregation (And Why I Now Appreciate Wal-Mart)
- The Pre-Consumption, Consumption and Post-Consumption Evolution
- What Entrepreneurship Can Do For Chile
- A Rich Country that Remembers Being Poor
I never thought that I would be dying for some Wal-Mart, but here I am. While living in the US, I seriously under-appreciated the supreme awesomeness of being able to go to one place and buy everything. Seriously, think of all the things that you can buy at Wal-Mart – shampoo, vegetables, a vacuum, yarn, fish, t-shirts, contact solution, paprika, hangers, etc etc. Here in Chile, you will most likely have to buy every item in that list in a separate store!
There are perfumerias that just sell bath stuff, the Vega Chica for fruits and veggies, electronics stores, yarn stores (I am not joking, there is an entire district just for yarn), the Mercado Central for fish, specialty stores for clothing, eye-glass stores for contact solution, spice stalls, and on and on. And while they try to be helpful and amass in one place either a bunch of the same stuff (think 30 eye-glass stores on one street) or a bunch of different stuff (gigantic malls that include rides and full-service restaurants), each store is still under separate management. What this ends up meaning is that you spend 3 hours going to 7 different stores on a grocery shopping trip.
On top of that, even within each store, there are different people who manage different parts of the shopping experience who seem to despise communicating with each other. For example, to buy some sausage at the meat market, I got a receipt for the meat I selected from the guy behind the counter, which I brought to the cash register people to pay and receive another receipt, which I brought to the checkout guy to redeem my purchase. This was all within a 20 ft x 20 ft store.
I guess in the US things used to be the same way, and Wal-Mart as a concept simply aggregated “malls” that had lots of different stores under different management into one gigantic store. Wal-Mart may be on one hand an evil, soulless monster that eats mom-and-pop stores and destroys local culture, but on the other hand, it does provide a lot of value in terms of time efficiency and ease of mind, for people unfamiliar with where to buy their staples. As Chile continues to open up and receive a bigger influx of foreigners unfamiliar with the city, I expect that more and more megastores will open up to accommodate time-pressured and confused shoppers.