I’ve written before how effective warnings are when given to foreigners. That is, people who are in a place they don’t fully understand. So, when I was told “nothing” would be open today, on Good Friday, I took it very seriously. I made a trip to the store. Normal enough as I really did need some stuff. However, I had plenty of food to get through the weekend if it came to it.
Then I got weird. I thought, “I might need a spare battery.” So I went to buy batteries. I remembered I wanted to buy a bus ticket for an upcoming trip to Mendoza. I could probably buy this ticket the morning of the trip and, yet, suddenly it was very important for me to go buy this ticket. You get the idea. I ran errands most of the day. I did a little remote work but probably not as much as I should (I’ll be doing it today, when everything is closed).
I was saved from an overload of errands by a date to play soccer with some of the students. A couple of the American University students who are occasionally paired up with our students came along. I hadn’t seen them in a while and it was nice to catch up. They seem to be having a good time as well and are looking forward to a joint program trip we have coming up as are we.
We began playing on a clear spot and garnered some looks. Just after a nice long goal made it 3-3, we found out why. A security officer, not a Carabinero, turned up to tell us we couldn’t play there. That was definitely not clear and she was very nice, I think understanding that we were foreign and, therefore, idiots. Some kids were playing across the sidewalk. Watching, it seemed clear we’d set up on a spot that people preferred to use for dogs and laying about. Across the sidewalk, the lawn was rectangular and two groups were playing in an organized fashion. It also happens that the park is across the street from the Police Academy who was holding graduation ceremonies. Some of the students wanted to protest but the rest of us, led by me, their fearless* leader, suggested we not invite the freshly minted Carabineros across the street to show off for their families.
We retreated and then two students saw basketball courts. We have three students who evidently play lots of intramural ball back home but hadn’t found a game here. One of these students, normally quite shy with his Spanish, approached four guys shooting around and we were quickly into a game. There were five of us who wanted to play (the guys) and five who didn’t (the girls). Suddenly, it was like high school again. It was to be 4 on 4 so the five of us shot for the first four to play. Thankfully, I made a free throw.
We ended up playing three games. I played two. The American side won. Handily in the first game, closer in the second. For the third game I played with the Chileans to even up the height difference. We (in this setting, I am on the Chilean side) lost 11-10, mostly because the Chilean big man was seriously winded. The Chileans weren’t bad but they gave away 6-9 inches at every position. Basketball is a game that requires an enormous skill difference to make up that kind of height difference. When the Americans missed shots, it was because we suck. When the Chileans missed shots it’s because they’re being swarmed by a guy a foot taller. One of their guys was a really good shot and once they figured out they had to get him open and devoted all their energies to that, the score evened up considerably.
Afterwards, we moved to The Raj, an Indian restaurant down the street from me. It was excellent and has a lot of vegetarian options which will be nice to have when Mary is here. The food was outstanding as was the setting. We all enjoyed dinner, including some students who had never tried Indian food before. It was the first meal where two of the vegetarians with us hadn’t had to search to assemble a meal.
If you’re from the United States reading this there are a couple of things you need to know for the rest of the story. First, water is not routinely served in Chilean (or Argentine or…pretty much anywhere else I’ve been in the world.) Free water from the tap will be delivered in what is, to an American, a small glass. It will not be refilled unless you ask for it at which point you might get one refill. Because of point two, you won’t have much of a chance to ask for it. The second point is this: the waiter/waitress is not going to smother you with attention. I actually hate this in the United States. When I’m out with friends I want to talk to them and have conversations. Restaurants in the United States pipe in music that is far too loud and the servers constantly pelt you with questions, comments and “specials” and wanting to know “how are we?” We’re bloody well annoyed, miss, now go get me a beer. I get grumpy in American restaurants. Their goal is clearly to get you in, stuff you full of food, and move you along.
In Chile, this does not happen. The servers are more attentive than in Argentina but that basically only means they have a pulse. They will give you menus and take a drink order. If you’re not ready to order when the drinks come, you have to flag them down. They are not looking for your signal. You have to really hunt for them. When the food is delivered, you’d better be ready to make any other requests you have. If you’re asking for more water, they will mishear you. Likewise, you have to ask for a check. If you and your friends want to sit at your table until closing, it’s yours. Restaurants are not set up to be people movers, they’re set up to be social catalysts.
The trouble last night began with our drink order. I got the beer I wanted as did one of the students. Everyone else ordered tap water. It’s free but you have to ask for it here. We were not brought tap water. We were brought hot water with mint in it. It turned out to be very nice (I “bought” one from a horrified student). The trouble originated because we ordered in Spanish. As you might guess if you’ve been to Indian restaurants, our servers did not speak Spanish. Why? They’re recent immigrants to Chile. They speak English, kind of. Learning this, the rest of our order went quite well and the guy seemed so relieved to take an order in English.
We ate, we talked, we socialized. We noticed it had been an hour since we’d finished our meal. A student went inside to retrieve the waiter. He came out and asked us if we wanted dessert. No. He left. We looked at each other. After about 15 minutes the waiter was once again retrieved. We asked him for the check – you have to do this but it is usually much easier to get the guy to bring the check. They don’t shuffle you out but if you offer to pay they’re usually happy to take your money when you offer. Not this time. The waiter nodded his assent and even agreed to split the check (not usual and never appreciated by the restaurant). Thirty minutes later we were actually starting to get a little annoyed. Another student, with slightly better Spanish, went inside. This time we got a manager looking guy, who spoke English and Spanish very well and who was clearly really irritated.
You know how when you’re edging toward irritation but you’re not there yet because you’ve had a nice day and are, generally, pretty happy? It doesn’t take much, does it, at that point, to push you over? This guy came out wanting to know what our problem was. The long delay – far longer than is typical anywhere in Latin America, it really was quite unusual – had not yet annoyed me. I was in no hurry. However, when it was made out that we were causing the problem I did get annoyed. I used my stern professor voice – the one college students think resembles a drill sergeant, though I suspect a drill sergeant would make me cower in the corner and them clutch at me like a little baby lamb – and told the guy we only wanted to pay so that we could leave. If he didn’t want us to pay, we’d be happy to simply leave. He sort of did a double take and asked if we really just wanted to pay. Yes, for the love of…something offensive.
Apparently, the trouble was with our newly arrived waiter friend. He wasn’t getting that we wanted the bill and thought we were simply sitting out there refusing to order anything. Because he’d been told not to present a check until we asked for it, he was determinedly not bringing us a check.
We got the check, paid and left. At the restaurant at 7, home at 11. Early on both counts by Chilean standards. I hope we didn’t get the waiter in too much trouble. He was a nice guy and served us well. Until he didn’t. The manager, once he saw the confusion, took care of it nicely and unilaterally dropped the irritated posture. Face was saved all around.
And the food was outstanding. I’ll be back and, if you’re in Santiago, I recommend it.
* by which I mean: very, very nervous