Judging Books


While we are not our exteriors and we know we shouldn’t do it, judgements are made on the basis of looks all of the time. It drives me nuts! As I briefly mentioned before, the judging in Chile is done mostly on class. For some reason, a lot of idiots think they can figure you out by the way you look. I notice reactions and looks when I’m with dread-locked friends. One of whom is Canadian, female and pretty. People assume she’s a stoner; offer her drugs either seriously or in jest, but she’s a foreigner so she gets a slight pass. The dread-locked male who is Chilean and has tattoos up his neck and down his arms and legs gets openly leered at. People say mean things to him on the street. He is one of the most friendly, energetic and truly open people I have met in a long time. He is genuinely happy and feels he should sing all of the time. I think it’s wonderful! Many people assume that he must be up to something; a real trouble-maker flouting society’s norms like that! Why doesn’t he fall into line like the rest of us sad sacks spinning our wheels along in the rat race? Maybe it’s jealousy underneath it all, or the inability to easily classify. I don’t know.

When I’m alone, I feel it most strongly on the metro train – a place where you’re locked in with bored people. I suggest they bring books with them rather than just stare at people, but alas I am not the president. People look at my arm tattoos and then my face with its out of place blue irises. I see them sizing up my work clothes, and checking that against my face. They look confused. Is she a rich gringa? A broke gringa? Does she have a job? Who would give her a job with that ink and metal on her body? Why is she here? What’s her last name? Is her family important? Yes, I can read minds sometimes. I usually ride my bike everywhere for a number of reasons, but I gotta say this is one of them. It’s technically rude to stare here, but a lot of times people just don’t give a shit. Honestly, I think it would be difficult to live in this city if I didn’t do so much of my work from home in my underwear, pajamas, business suit or clown costume as my mood requires.

I went to the bank the other day to open an account. As a non-contract, independent worker I spend a lot of time picking up checks in different parts of the city, and then more time standing in line. It’s tiresome. I went to the bank with the required paperwork and was told my income level is twice the required minimum for a checking account and I’m now a resident, so it should be no problem. Well, they had to “verify my residence”. I have never heard of a bank doing that. They came by this morning and I was working in my PJ’s. I opened the door and the guy stuck his head in to get a good eyeball of my place. I don’t live in the “posh” sector [I wouldn’t live there if it were free; too soul-suckingly sterile]. In the afternoon I was told that the committee had gathered and declined my account. You have got to be shitting me, I thought to myself. Ya’ll have “committees” to approve checking accounts? It’s a special honor it seems, or they’re worried about my ability to add and subtract. I guess I’ll never know.

Are you Peruvian? There are two “types” of people from Peru here and two associated types of reactions. [You’re picking up the sarcasm I’m putting down, right?] One: Your family has money, and they gave you an education. You came to Chile for advanced studies or you were offered a great new position here. Wonderful. Bienvenid@! We have no problem with you! Option two: You are broke and have always been so, but know how to work and the value of education for your children. You live in a tiny apartment with too many people in it in the center of town. It takes you almost two hours each way every day to get to the barrio alto [high-class ‘hood] where you care for the children, home and garden of someone who earns fifteen times what you do. Well, you can stay, because we really want to pay you 350 dollars per month before taxes or the 80 per month you spend on transit to get to that suck-ass job so we can go bring home the big bucks. But, don’t expect to be treated with too much respect, and please don’t take the main street to the house! Take the service entrance in back, and wear that stupid apron all of the time so people know that you’re the help and they should keep an eye out for you, you know, make sure you’re not stealing candlesticks or anything.

The generalizations involved in this mental spewing are used to make a point. Obviously not everyone thinks or behaves like this, but culturally, it’s normal and accepted by many. Thank you for tolerating my overdose of sarcasm today. I just had to get it out. Whew! I feel better. You? Throw a bitch session my way! Get it all out.


About Sharlene Newman

Nearly seven years ago I moved from the global north to the global south. I write and translate and give solicited advice! I know some stuff and don't know a bunch of other things about Chile and South America, but I'm learning every day. Send any comments or questions you may have my way.

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