What Chileans Think of Gringos

Ok, last night I was about halfway through my blog post when my computer shut off with no warning. This keeps happening and I don’t know why. Unfortunately I was writing in Word, it was 2am and I hadn’t saved. Bye bye What Chileans Think of Gringos post. So now, since it’s day time and I have actual real work, I’ll write mine up as soon as I can. But in the mean time here are other blogger’s posts which I am holding off on reading until after I’ve written mine. Go ahead and paste the group blogging list in your blog if you please!


Really. Stupid.

This is how I feel many gringos are perceived by many Chileans. And unfortunately there are far too many gringos that do nothing but perpetuate the “weon,” or dumb idiot stereotype. As an exchange student I was guilty of having a night out on the town that involved drinking pisco straight out of the bottle, dancing with friends, making a spectacle, puking on the curb, almost getting arrested and finally being carried up to my room at 4am by my host mom where she changed me into my pajamas. I felt like a horrendous person, not only for embarrassing myself but for embarrassing gringos as a whole — for being just another insanely obnoxious one of them. I learned my lesson, it happened once. The worst part was that when I bought my host mom flower to apologize for the whole incident she shrugged it off and said, “This happens once a semester with every exchange student we host.” They had hosted 8 or 9 students before me. That only made me feel even more terrible. Not only was I a bane on society, but all of my people are. So in that aspect, I completely understand why a lot of Chileans just tend to brush off most gringos as pretty socially retarded in general.

On the other hand, I feel many Chileans perceive gringos as stupid in another sense of the word. They think we are all weones because we come from a society in which we trust our neighbors and the system and pretty much everybody we know. So you arrive in this country, you go to a Starbucks, you sit down, work on your computer for a while…and then you get up to go to the bathroom and you leave your laptop unattended for a minute. The next thing you know, there’s a guard in your face speaking to you like you’re the densest person to have ever walked the planet, “What were you thinking! Why in the world would you leave a computer alone, someone is going to ROB you!”

Leaving my computer unattended in public places, going jogging at 2am by myself, not locking the doors at my house, asking any random person on the street for directions, leaving my car running and unlocked while I run in to a gas station really quick — these are all normal parts of my life in the U.S. that never gave me a second thought until I moved to Chile.

In a way I actually feel fortunate that I was assaulted on day number 5 here because it wisened me up pretty darn fast. Otherwise who knows how long I would have gone around obliviously without ever once thinking of my own safety and well-being. Chileans call that stupid. I call it being naive. How I was supposed to learn that there are thugs waiting to rob me around every corner (or so the Chilean media would have you believe. It’s actually not that terrifying in Santiago at all, but the news is full of paranoid reports, like everywhere in the world) if that was something I had never dealt with before?

When reading about living in Santiago before coming here, guide books and things tell you the same thing I’m telling you right now — it’s a very safe city but you still need to be careful. I took that to mean, don’t go to bad neighborhoods and avoid talking to creepy looking men. To me, in the U.S., that’s what be careful meant. In the U.S., locking all my doors all the time and holding onto my purse so tightly that you’d have to pry it from me with the jaws of life means paranoid — so I didn’t do that, until I learned that in Chile if you don’t you’re a weona.

So, I do think that the stupid gringo stereotype applies to many of us when speaking of obnoxious non-culture sensitive behavior. But when it comes to the stereotype that all gringos are just idiots because we aren’t careful with our safety, I think that it’s more misunderstood naivity than anything else. I can also back this observation up throughout various conversations that I’ve had with S. over the past couple of years. I know for a fact that he used to perceive me as stupid (not in general, just with safety) and now he still perceives me as naive (I disagree. I’m not as naive as I used to be but I do still try to always expect the best of people, which he continues to see as naive).

Alright, now that I’m done writing my thoughts on one small sliver of this topic, I’m off to check out what you guys had to say. :)


  1. Flo says:

    Mine’s up.

  2. cavils in chile says:

    I agree, Kyle. Keeping an eye on your things all the time is definitely an adjustment.

  3. Abby says:

    Haha don’t worry Kyle, I had one of those party a little too hardy experiences too, except it was my host brother dragging me to by bed after a party that he brought me to! My favorite drunk gringa story is one that my friend’s host mom told me. One night she woke up to hear a micro horn oustide her house. She was confused, because the micros don’t run on her street. So she went out to find her gringa exchange student DRIVING THE MICRO!

  4. Sara says:

    I always have people telling me that I can’t be so nice and trusting all the time.
    DUH! But, I was raised like this, but it’s like erasing 22 years of indocrination. Not gonna happen overnight.
    Although, I am getting more of a bitch face. I have blatantly igored people who try to ask me for directions on the street. Which made me kind of sad, actually. But, after my few,uh, near misses, I decided you can never be too careful.

  5. Carlos says:

    I couldn’t resist… my tuppence here.

  6. Carlos says:

    I couldn’t resist… my tuppence here.

  7. Emily says:

    I think a lot of it is also that exchange students come from all parts of the US – not just big cities. In my little hometown I DID always lock my doors if I was leaving the house, but if we didn’t for whatever reason it didn’t matter. And I could leave my backpack lying around my high school for days, and it would still be in the same place when I went back to get it. If I’d been raised in NYC or another big city, however, that probably wouldn’t have been the case! So it’s not just a US/Chile change so much as a small town/big city change for a lot of us.

    That said yes, I think a lot of us as seen as naive for expecting the best rather than always preparing for the worst.

  8. Meredith says:

    Good post….I agree that people getting in my face all the time about being careful is frusturating (particularly when I AM being careful).

    To be fair, though, your US experience is definitely different than mine–if I saw you in Boston or NYC leaving your place unlocked and your computer unattended, I’d say pretty much the same thing as the Santaguinos (and have with tourists on occasion). From that perspective I can say it’s not so much a “hey stupid” thing as it is an “oh god, someone help her!”

  9. Amanda says:

    Mine’s up!

  10. Isabel says:

    I agree with Emily about a small town/big city difference rather than gringo ignorance about being careful with your things difference. While studying here, I was always careful because I was used to it from home but my amazing and impossibly good gringa friend from a tiny town in Massachusetts refused to think people she didn’t even know had bad intentions and was repeatedly robbed during her year here. (I absolutely admire her strong belief that all people are inherently good while clutching my bag and cell phone tightly to my chest at the same time)

    Also, I never had that drunk gringa experience, but I did get puked on in a taxi here while I was out with my drunk gringa friend so I guess I experienced it and learned from it vicariously through her (she also did the flowers….apologizing to her most mom…realizing she was one of many thing
    but i guess that nothing tops Abby’s drunk gringa driving the micro story!

  11. Amanda says:

    Something kind of funny is that now that we’re in the states, Oscar is really trustful again. He chats with the beggars who come up to our car, with the weird people who chat with everyone on the bus, he laughs, smiles and is totally friendly to strangers. Oscar is really not like that in the same situations in Chile. Not at all. I love that now we’re here people talk with me in the elevator and in line at the grocery store. Oscar is totally into that now. So, there’s some hope! Although I’m sure as soon as we set foot in Santiago the distrust will set in again.

  12. Renée says:

    I just posted mine. And I love Abby’s anecdote about the gringa and the micro!

  13. Mamacita Chilena says:

    oh my gosh Abby. That is hands down the best insane gringa story I’ve ever heard. How did this girl get her hands on a micro?!? I vote you do a whole post on that 😛

  14. kumichan83 says:


    I was able to join this one so here’s my post
    I look forward to reading all of these!

    About not being able to leave your stuff unattended, well, I don’t think I would even do it in the states! In Japan it’s generally no problem because it is very, very safe there but there are lots of ladrones in the U.S. and I figured that out even in hickville, Virginia.

  15. lydia says:

    slightly rushed, but mines up!

  16. Shannon says:

    Hey, my post is up. It’s quite short, but I think it gets the job done!

  17. Lori - Blondie in Brazil says:

    Great post! Ugh, the safety issue. It is the main reason why I could never settle in Brazil long term. I pretty paranoid always watching my things here. I took normal safety precautions in the US, but the whole leaving my computer really quick and actually hanging my purse on the chair was not an issue at home. Here it definitely is.

    When I go back to the States I find myself doing the same things for the first few days and then I realize I can relax a bit. I never knew how good it can feel just to walk around with your camera and knowing that most likely no one is eyeing you to take it when you aren’t expecting it. Same with the cell phone. I watched a kid at the park run up behind a lady and knock her phone out of her hand and take off with it one day. I’m not sure how other Brazilians view my actions, but we got warnings before we moved down for sure.

  18. Shannon says:

    Maybe I am really stupid, or for the fact that I was only 19 when I got here, but they thought I was very smart for some reason I haven´t figured out yet. Maybe because I knew how to cook. Which at the time caused my now suegra to be jealous that I could take care of her baby boy!

    Then again others thought I was very stupid for leaving my family, they must miss me horribly, how could I do something like this to them. hahaha

  19. Emita says:

    mines up, finally!
    And yes, the drunk gringa and the gringa wna story are all stereotypes that are upheld by the general gringo public! I too made my drunk mark on Chilean society, no micro driving though, that is unbelievable! My hope is that once those of us who do have such ridiculous drunken antics can get over it and make a more positive impression on society!

  20. Maeskizzle says:

    Word on the gringo naivety down here. I went through it too when I was first here, but caught on fast bc I’m paranoid by nature. I always-in the summer especially-see gringo tourists here and I often think “Oh. They are totally going to get robbed.” Either because they are walking around with their camera in their hands or waay too much gear and pretty distracted and lost. Sometimes I give advice, other times, I just think “Oh, well they’ll learn quickly.” One day, V and I were talking with this dude from New Zealand. He’d gotten his backpack robbed the day before. His nephew’s ashes were in an urn in the backpack because he’d brought them to spread them in Chile. I felt terribly for him. I’m sure the thief poured them out in the street somewhere and sold the urn.

  21. Rune says:

    Hi there,

    Good post. I come from Glasgow, Scotland and have travelled to various places around the world. In Glasgow we wouldn’t dream of leaving things unattended but there isn’t a high incidence of violent street robbery. The same goes for much of Europe.

    I’ve had my share of people trying to sucker me into street robberies while travelling.

    As a native of Glasgow I can affect a harsh accent and threatening manner if provoked. This seems to do the trick.

    I think that if you keep your wits about you then you can avoid trouble. It’s a shame what happened to the New Zealand bloke.

    We have our share of people puking at 4am after having one too many.

    Take care y’all


  22. Rune says:

    And, erm, I’ve done it myself, then promised that I’ll never drink again. 😉

  23. Gus says:

    Hi there again…

    Thanks for your comment on my blog.

    This might sound a little akward, but… can I participate in this topic or is it too late?

    Hope to read your answer soon


  24. Mamacita Chilena says:

    Hi Gus, of course you are welcome to participate in the group blogging! At this point while I’ll definitely put up a link if you choose to write about this topic, I’m not sure how many people are still coming back to this post but feel free.

    And we’ll be group blogging again on Friday on a topic TBD so just join in!

  25. Gus says:

    Thanks for the answer …

    So, it’s already up.

    Tell me what you think please

    Thanks and take care

  26. Tyffanie says:

    Kyle, I finally got around to writing on this topic!!! Eeeek…two weeks late! Oh well! Here it is:

  27. Kathy says:

    Lol. Are you being SERIOUS?? I have no idea where in the states you used to live, but I live in New York, and we CAN’T leave our things unattended in any public place, because if we do, our stuff is gone!!

    I think you are way too naive and probably nostalgia is making you idealize your home country as a very safe place where everybody lives harmoniously like good siblings when that’s far from the truth.

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