Friday, March 27, 2009

Expat Pride

The other day V. and I went to lunch at a restaurant we like to think we discovered. Actually, there was a bit of discovery involved, given that the restaurant is in a small old house tucked away in one of Santiago Centro's many narrow residential passageways. And this -- in addition to cheap but delicious homemade meals -- is why we like it.

Every time we stop by, certain things are the same. Platoons of lettuce-and-tomato salads and Jell-O stand at the ready in the refrigerator by the door. The TV in the back is tuned to an "extreme home video" program in which people miraculously survive animal attacks and botched motorcycle stunts. This time, however, was different. I heard something I'd never heard at the restaurant before: English.

A large group of what appeared to be exchange students had just walked in. Apparently, I was not the only gringa to have discovered this place.

And I was upset about it.

I immediately felt like a horrible person. If I liked this restaurant so much, why wouldn't I want it to do good business? And why wouldn't I want others to enjoy it? I wouldn't hesitate to bring my own gringo friends to eat there, so why was I irked that a handful of strangers from my home country were choosing their salads from the fridge?

I eventually realized that I had just received a blow to my Expat Pride. Expat Pride is grounded in the belief that living in a foreign country for a significant period of time places one on a different plane than tourists. Expats know local slang and -- to the degree that it's possible -- local customs. Expats have waited in bank lines, squeezed themselves onto crowded buses and learned to deal with other everyday frustrations peculiar to their adoptive countries. Most pride-swelling of all, expats have created their own maps by frequenting establishments -- like hole-in-the-wall restaurants -- that can't be found in any guidebook.

To clarify, having a hefty reserve of Expat Pride doesn't mean denying one's foreignness. Heck, I just wrote two blog entries about how much I love Dr. Pepper. Expat Pride simply involves being convinced that one's been around long enough to know a thing or two.

To be fair, the gringos at the restaurant weren't tourists. They'll be in Chile long enough to make discoveries and create maps of their own. Which is why my Expat Pride wouldn't have been nearly as wounded if the exchange students hadn't shown up during one of the first weeks of the semester. If a group of gringos had found this tiny hidden restaurant during a phase in which they were probably still relying on Lonely Planet to get around Santiago, maybe I don't go as far off the beaten path as I like to think.

Or maybe I should just learn to share.


Mamacita Chilena said...

haha, you can share, it's ok. :)

I went through a phase where I wanted all things off the beaten path as you say. But then eventually when I moved back to Providencia I was ready to go back to all things gringo/convenient. Lunch at Liguria everyday? Yes please! LOL, now I am just somewhere in the middle.

Leigh said...

Liguria will always have a special place in my heart because I ate ther my first night in Chile!

Sara said...

Funny! My brother and I were just talking about this because he is going to live in Panama and says he feels weird, and sort of possessive when he sees another gringo in the small town where he wants to live. I'm the same way though!