Chile is often missed out on the typical South American tourist trail, although after living here for just a few weeks I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount the country has to offer in terms of both variety and value. It’s true, however, that Santiago struggles to compete with the passion of nearby Buenos Aires, Lima’s cuisine and the indigenous culture of La Paz. The capital is huge, grey and smoggy with an overcrowded metro and is often wrongly viewed as nothing but a brief stopover for passing tourists as they move onto “more exciting” pastures. The country itself is separated from the rest of the continent by the colossal Andes to the east and the driest non-polar desert in the world, the Atacama, to the north.
Even Chilean people, much as the British do in relation to continental Europe, consider themselves detached from their neighbours. Chileans laugh at their unique alteration of the Spanish language as they drop their ‘S’s and litter their speech with an array of colourful idioms and slang. Despite all this, the huge, overlooked country squashed between the mountains and the ocean has its own special ties to our small island nation in Northern Europe.
Soon after arrival in Santiago, a university professor proudly informed me that Chile is considered to be “the England of South America”. Although this sweeping generalisation is said to refer mostly to the reliability and order of the country relative to the corrupt governments of its neighbours, the similarities seem to stretch beyond a tendency for air-tight bureaucracy and organisation. Chileans stereotype themselves harshly as being passive-aggressive, pessimistic and classist, as well as polite and apologetic, all adjectives which the British would just as easily apply to themselves, I think. University friends also revealed that, beyond football, the country is relatively unpatriotic with one even disclosing the occasional reluctance to admit that they are in fact Chilean, another trait which plagues our nation.
The ties between our two countries extend further than arbitrary stereotypes. During his 2010 visit to England following the rescue of the 33 Chilean miners, President Piñera reflected upon the connections by saying “I invite you all to recall that Bernardo O’Higgins (Chile’s National Hero) studied and lived in England and the head of our first naval squadron who twice sunk the Spanish fleet was Thomas Cochrane, who was also English”. Piñera refers here to the formation of the Chilean Navy, which was mostly British, during the 1818 movement for independence. Cochrane recruited an almost entirely Anglophone crew of seamen who formed a strong force in both the war against the Peruvian-Bolivian Confederation and the War of the Pacific.
Travelling even further back, we can find evidence of links between the two countries blossoming in Tudor times. Mary Tudor (Bloody Mary) succeeded to the throne of England in 1553 and shortly after, in 1554 married Philip. Both her cousin (classic Royals) and eleven years her junior, Philip was the only legitimate son of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and was given the title of the King of Chile to make him more regal than a lowly Prince. Following their marriage, Mary became the Queen of Chile, a title which she retained until 1556 and the Kingdom of Chile was absorbed back into the Spanish Monarchy. The British, in true British style, managed to find a way to leave their colonial mark on Chile right from the Spanish Conquest.
More recent events, namely the opening of the Port of Valparaíso to free trade, has meant that there are several elements of traditionally British culture interwoven with Chilean life. It is said that over 50,000 Britons migrated to Chile between 1840 and 1914 bringing with them British schools, sport clubs and businesses. This has eventually manifested itself in a sharing of a number of favourite hobbies. Football, obviously, is the most popular sport in Chile and, as recent winners of the Copa América, their national team is enjoying many more successes than our own. The idolising of football players undoubtedly is an activity common to both cultures and I even spotted the faces of the national team on the back of my bus tickets. Horseracing equally has become huge in Chile, following British immigration and there are many tracks dotted around the country with Santiago itself boasting both the Hipódromo Chile and the Club Hipico de Santiago.
Finally, perhaps the biggest similarity between British and Chilean people is our mutual obsession with tea. Almost all the Chileans I have met have entire cupboards devoted to such a huge number of varieties of loose leaf tea that you’ll feel somewhat inadequate with your pathetic stash of English Breakfast.
Given, then, the both the closeness of our history and our shared traits and quirks it seems shameful that, as with many of the countries upon whom we’ve forced our presence, British people are so unaware of Chile as anything other than “a country in South America” whilst Chileans almost proudly refer to themselves as “the England of South America”.
Lidia’s blog: https://notaslejanas.wordpress.com/