Health, Safety, and Romance in Chile: Travelers Tips from Maggie
After globe-trotting for a year, Maggie Dickman settled in Santiago, Chile long enough to earn an English teaching certificate. She then moved to Chile and taught English there for two years. Here, she shares her insider tips on health, safety, and romance in Chile.
Health in Chile
Feminine Hygienic Products: What’s available/what’s legal/where to buy them?
Sanitary pads are more readily available than tampons, but tampons can be found as well, though the different absorption types can be difficult. All pharmacies sell feminine hygiene products as well as some grocery stores. I’ve never found the applicator-free tampons like “O.b.” in Chile.
Birth Control: What’s available/what’s legal/where to buy them?
Most local pharmacies will sell you birth control over the counter if you come in prepared with a specific brand name. The chain pharmacy Cruz Verde sometimes asks for a prescription, but most don’t. Other birth control methods like condoms can be bought in any pharmacy or grocery store. They are often locked up, though.
Gynecologists: Are there any that you recommend? How, if at all, is a visit different from at home?
I’ve never had to see a gynecologist, but I think the pubic hospitals provide gynecological services. There is a big expat community in Santiago, and there are a variety of helpful groups on Facebook like “The Chile Experience” which provide a hive mind mentality for finding services such as this.
Breastfeeding: What are accepted places for women to breastfeed? Is it accepted to do so in public?
Women can breastfeed wherever they are comfortable doing it. Occasionally they’ll be shot a disgusted look from a passerby, but for the most part it’s not even given a second glance.
Romance in Chile
Dating Locals: What are the norms and traditions? What should women look out for?
Chile has one of the highest rates of infidelity in the Americas. For this reason there tends to be a lot of jealousy from both men and women in relationships. This is demonstrated by constant checking up on, in the forms of phone calls/texts, which is followed by anxiety/worry if there’s not an immediate response.
Chileans are also very open about public displays of affection. It’s not uncommon to see couples of all ages and genders making out (and more) in public places like the subway, buses, and park benches.
I like to say that Chileans (Latinos, really) do everything full force. When they are angry, they’re irate. When they are in love, their partners are their whole world and more. When they are sad, it’s a tragedy-level waterworks show. There doesn’t tend to be much nuance in Chilean emotions, which carries over to relationships.
Types of Men: Describe a few “typical” types of men.
Latino men are often more sensitive than their Western counterparts. They’ll be more hurt and open about the pain caused over issues that would seem minor in a Western relationship, such as not holding his hand or sitting next to him at a group dinner. This sensitivity is also demonstrated through jealousy, and it’s not uncommon for your boyfriend to be hurt if you often text or go out with male friends. On the flip side, though, the sensitive Latino will generally be in tune with his partner’s needs and wants and be the most attentive lover.
“Machismo” is a common trait among Latino men as well. Note, not *all* Latinos are “machista”, but many of them are. It’s basically a combination of chivalry and chauvinism. The machista will hold the door for you and pay for your dinner, but because he believes women are the weaker sex. Machistas believe that women should stay home to raise children and cook dinner. They are also the men who will catcall women and be genuinely surprised if women get angry about it. They “demand” respect and are often controlling in their relationships.
A third type of “typical” man can fall into any category. Chilean men are usually very close to their mothers. It’s not uncommon for children to live with their parents all through university and then for a few years after that. Because of this close relationship with their mothers, sometimes men expect their girlfriends and wives to be just as doting as their mamas.
Santiago is more LGBTQ-friendly than other parts of Chile. Santiago has a few gay bars and clubs. I’ve witnessed plenty of gay encounters and the locals barely bat an eye, but some of my gay friends say there is still discrimination, particularly among middle-aged Chileans and older.
Chile recognizes same-sex unions, which have some but not all of the same rights as marriage. It has not yet legalized gay marriage, but the current president supports it and activists are trying hard to make it a reality.
Women’s Place in Society in Chile
Women’s Rights: Do women have the same position in society as men? How can you tell?
The only way I’ve noticed a lack of Women’s Rights is through small scale measurements, like in the workplace. Prospective employees are required to include their age, gender, and marital status on their CVs. Chile can legally discriminate against married women at the “age of fertility” because they might become pregnant soon. That said, there’s a better maternity leave available in Chile than in the USA.
Abortion is still illegal in Chile, including in the case of rape or incest. This is a very hot topic, but it doesn’t appear that the law will change any time soon.
Catcalling and sexual harassment is common on the streets of Santiago, particularly directed towards foreign women, but it is usually just verbal. Some women have reported liking the sexual attention while others simply accept it. There is very little recourse for this type of behavior. If a woman reacts with anger, the catcaller is amused that he provoked a reaction and/or found “a feisty one” so to speak. If a woman ignores the catcalling, it sends the message that it is OK to treat women this way.
Local Women: What are some clear cultural differences between you and them?
Jealousy is first thing that comes to mind. I concede that this is a sweeping statement, but in my experience Chilean women tend to be very jealous around other women, especially if they view her as a threat, such as a single woman.
I think in general Chileans, not just women, are pretty standoffish and aloof. They are superficially warm on first impression, saying things like “Yeah! Let’s get together soon!” but they are just platitudes. I’ve found it very difficult to break into the “inner circle” of Chilean friendship, but a Chilean friend is one for life.
Overall, I don’t think Chilean women are that different from Western women except that they might care much more about romance and drama, both fueled by jealousy.
Perception of Foreign Women: How do local men/women react to you when you say where you’re from?
There are a lot of Americans in Santiago, so it’s typically not an issue. Chileans like to argue that people from the USA shouldn’t refer to themselves as “American” because everyone from North and South America are “American”, but this it the most animosity I’ve encountered among Chileans when I say I’m a “gringo”. (Note, “gringo” was originally an offensive term for Americans, but in Chile it’s come to just mean “white person”.)
Safety in Chile
Transportation: Any that are safer/less safe for women to take?
I don’t feel comfortable walking home late at night alone, but all public transportation, including Uber and taxis, has been fine for me.
Dangerous area/s: Any specifically for women?
Some of the poorer areas on Santiago, such as La Pintana and areas west of Estacion Central, could pose a minor threat, but most places where a tourist will be, including Santiago Centro, will be fine, even at night.
Chileans do like to protest, and some of these can get violent. As can football matches. Tear gas is often employed by police in these cases, so it’s advisable to steer clear.
Health, Safety, and Romance in Chile: Travelers Tips from Maggie