Letter from Chile

Last week, I took a business trip to Santiago, Chile.  A prospective client was holding a pre-proposal conference, which are scheduled with very short notice and no opportunity to reschedule.  So off I went, returning a couple of days later.

Besides the business, I like visiting Santiago.  I’ve found it very much a place with really good food: not quite Paris or Barcelona, but light-years better than the suburban experience I encounter when travelling within the US.   I’m also glad to escape the weather in New York City in August.

I like to watch the people on the streets and in the subway.   It’s not necessarily that the people are better-looking than in other parts of the world, but there’s something about how they dress and carry themselves that’s different from New York.  Perhaps their mothers told them not to slouch.  On the weekends when I ride the subway, there’s always some number of young couples being sweetly affectionate.  It reminds me of happy moments from my own youth.

The Chileans are more capitalist than we are, and more matter-of-fact about money.  When you pay with a credit card in a Chilean restaurant, you tell the waiter how much you’re tipping, so that he can punch it into the machine.

It’s not perfect: there’s more income inequality in Chile than the US, and Santiago does have slums.  Most of the jobs come from small businesses, but their share of the nation’s economy is smaller than other Latin American countries.  So I imagine that many Chileans get along by scraping together odd jobs and selling this or that.

Nevertheless, it seems to work.   Business gets done.  People are polite, but don’t waste your time.  Other than the usual caution about pickpockets, I’ve always felt safe walking the streets.

The Chileans seem to have gone through the transition that we’re banging our heads over right now in the US, and come out the other side.  And for them, it seems to work.  But to get to this point, the Chileans had to endure about 20 years of military dictatorship, which we (the US) inflicted on them.

How will we manage the transition that we face?

It’s coming, like it or not.