For this group post, How Chileans Perceive Gringos, I had to go directly to the source, a Chilean. Since I live with one, it wasn't a difficult feat and I finally got him to sit down with me and chat about what he thinks of my countrymen after two days of the usual Chilean procrastination...
Our interview turned out to be very boring. Maybe my interview questions were at fault, but I also realized that he didn't say anything new or unexpected. This could be, because he's my husband and I know him so well, or perhaps because it was very similar to what other Chileans have said. My husband is also very conscious of not criticizing anyone too much and making any outrageous generalizations. Maybe this is why he's such a flexible person and so easy to get along with. I'm the big-mouthed gringa who doesn't know how to hold her tongue, and with this, he totally agrees.
We started talking about this, about the gringo's feigned tolerance and acceptance of other people. He says, "It's kind of like being tolerant when you talk to people, but really intolerant in your mind. You may be polite when you're talking, but you're not tolerant. People here (in the states) are polite in general, but that doesn't always equal tolerance. Then when they get a chance to speak their mind, they really explode. For example, that's what happened to you (Me) in Chile and the other gringas."
Then he talked a bit about how gringos use people as "tokens" to further "prove" that they are accepting. (Something we were reading about yesterday in the website Stuff White People Like.)
He said, "A gringo likes to be friends with people, perhaps someone who is gay, not because they really care about gay people, but they want to be perceived as tolerant and 'cool.'"
However, apart from our two-faced or phony political correctness, my husband said some interesting things about how women and men have been able to come into their own.
He sees gringo men as overly self-conscious and homophobic. He said that he sees gringo men as "less emotional and more afraid to talk about their feelings." He attributes this to the hegemonic image of the "tough football player" that many gringo men have. He said, "Maybe they are ashamed to be perceived by other men as sensitive or too friendly. I guess it’s because all gringos have these football player models, where it’s kind of the unconscious model, even if they aren’t football players and focused on science or something like that, they still are very careful too not be perceived as a sensitive guy and they think that if they are too sensitive they are being kind of 'gay,' even if they are 'tolerant' of gay people.
"Chileans are also afraid of being perceived as gay, but they don’t have this idea that only gay men are sensitive. You can hug another man, give him a kiss on the cheek, and no one is afraid of being perceived as gay. Personal space is different."
He then, seemed to have more admiration for gringa women. (Maybe it's cause he's married to one--just a thought.)
Smiling, he said, “I just have experience meeting gringas who study abroad, or are educated, but… I really like that it’s easier to talk with a gringa than with other women, at least in Chile, because usually when you talk with other women in Chile they put up this barrier, like they still are really afraid and they kind of block themselves and don’t want to show the way they actually are or really think."
He recounted one of the things he really liked about me when we started dating; I made cookies for him when we took a trip to Viña del Mar. "I really liked when you made cookies or didn’t have any problem cooking or cleaning from the beginning, on the other hand you didn’t have any problem asking for help when you were cooking or cleaning. Even if we aren’t going to be the same, being woman and man, it’s easier to have the relationship because there are fewer barriers based on sex."
He stated the he thinks that Chilean women create these barriers out of fear that they will be perceived as too weak or subordinate to men. He said, "It’s a big barrier in Chile because Chilean women overact because they are afraid to be considered too sensitive or inferior, so sometimes instead of being just strict about something they are too strict or extreme about something because they don’t want to be perceived as too weak."
"They are usually more scared to show the way they are and I think the gringas feel more free or more comfortable talking directly about what they think, feel or want to do. [Chilean women] are always repressing themselves in all their actions and words whenever they talk or do something because they are always afraid of being perceived as subordinate."
He seems to think that gringas are more comfortable in their femininity, less preoccupied with feeling unequal. "Gringas just don’t care, they are clearer about what they are. Whatever they do is because they actually want to do it. A Chilean woman is afraid that if she cooks for a man, the man will expect her to always cook. Whereas a gringa will cook one day, it's no big deal, and if she doesn’t feel like cooking the next day, she will tell you, 'I don’t feel like cooking, if you want something you can do it.'”
When I asked him about funny or ridiculous things that gringos do, he thought that our sanitation was out of control. "Gringos are obsessed with sanitation. I think it’s important to be careful. In Chile, the myth is that if you walk around in the cold without a scarf you'll get sick. Here the myth is that if you don’t use antibacterial soap and if you don’t wash your hands you will die. You’re not going to die because you mix the raw chicken with the vegetables on the same plate if you're going to cook it all. It’s good to be careful but sometimes it’s too much."
He continued, "For me it’s weird that you’re so obsessed, with washing your hands, almost to the point that you have to wash your hands after shaking your hands with someone else. When you’re not exposed to these things, these small bacteria and viruses, when you grow up and are exposed, because you go somewhere else you can’t handle it, you don’t have the immunities to defend yourselves. I think it’s enough to wash the dishes with antibacterial soap, but for you, it’s not, you have to boil it in your dishwasher to the point that you’re almost causing your dishes to disintegrate."
Finally he commented, "Gringos also have to have everything big. Big houses, big cars. It's almost like you can't live if your house isn't big enough and you don't drive if you don't have a big car."