It rained in Santiago last weekend. And, true to form, I had lost my umbrella. Thus, when I left my house on Saturday morning, the only thing standing between me and Liquid Apocalypse was the oversize hooded camping raincoat I bought in middle school. I would have looked like a serial killer had it not been for my polka-dotted rain boots.
Despite the fact that it rains all winter here, you don't see many raincoats on the streets of Santiago (although snazzy rain boots are all the rage). Santiaguinos seem to have a strong preference for umbrellas or, in their absence, simply walking in light rain.
There is, however, a group of people that do pile on the rain gear in Santiago: gringos. An outdoorsy raincoat is about as much of a gringo giveaway as a pair of high-tech cross-trainers. It makes sense: Most tourists come to Chile planning to have at least some contact with nature, and they come prepared. It's not uncommon to see pairs of hooded visitors plodding through the city while shielding their maps from the rain.
I didn't have a map on Saturday, but I sure had a raincoat. I'm neither tall nor particularly light-haired and therefore am frequently assumed to be Chilean until I open my mouth (or so I've been told), but my water-resistant apparel pushed me over the line into Unmistakable Gringadom. As I walked past Cerro Santa Lucia, a man approached me with a handful of fliers and pointed across the street to one of the city's biggest artisan fairs. "Across the street, there are handicrafts from all over Latin America," he informed me in slow, percussive Spanish.
"Yeah, I've already been there," I said. The raincoat, I thought as I walked on.
Moments later, at the bus stop, a taxi slowed and idled in front of me. This is what virtually every free cab did to me in Quito, where I did look very obviously foreign. They rarely do it to me in Santiago unless it's late at night. And unless I'm wearing a raincoat, apparently. Eventually, this particular Santiago cab driver realized I wasn't going to ask him to drive me back to my hotel and moved on.
It's amazing the effect a single garment can have on the way people perceive and treat you, huh?