Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Athenian plague

Back in high school, we learned about a deadly plague that struck ancient Athens. One of the signs a person was doomed was if he or she was overcome by insatiable thirst.

If Santiago were ancient Athens, I would be on my way out, because that's how I feel most of the time here. Glancing around the cafeteria at work the other day, I discovered a possible reason why.

Lunch at the cafeteria comes with a small cup of suspiciously fluorescent juice. I usually finish mine off within the first few minutes of starting to eat. As I eyed the trays of those around me last week, however, I realized that even those who were a number of bites ahead of me had nearly full glasses in front of them.

This seemed to confirm what I had long suspected: Apparently, I consume more liquid than most Chileans, or at least the ones I've come in contact with. When eating with Chileans, I am almost always the first to finish off a beverage. Back when I lived with my host family, I would frequently be on my second refill before anyone else even finished their first glass of juice. It was the same way in Ecuador.

Well, one might say, the reason is simple. As a glutton from the land of supersizing, it's only natural that you would ingest anything and everything in greater quantities and at a greater speed than people from countries with less opulent consumption habits. Not so, I would have to contest. I don't notice myself eating more than the people around me, and when it comes to speed, I'm actually a slower eater than many of the Chileans I've dined with.

Well then, one might say, it must be because of money. As a spoiled gringa from the land of plenty, you're probably unaware that powdered pineapple juice -- that beloved Chilean classic --does not grow on trees. While I'm not ready to give up on my dream of a powdered-pineapple-juice tree, I don't think this is the case, either. I drink more and drink faster even when it comes to tapwater. When I see Chileans drinking tapwater, that is.

Which is rare. Drinking just plain water does not seem to be nearly as common down here as it is in the States. In fact, people seem to prefer the hydrating powers of pop, caffeinated black tea and uber-concentrated "fruit" juices. My coworkers, all Chilean, look at me like I'm nuts when I fill up my mug with water instead of tea in the morning. My former boss once even asked, "But isn't that bad for you?"

Yes, I know. I'm really trying to quit water and replace it with something healthier, like Fanta.

I must be missing something here. I honestly don't know how this entire country hasn't long since died of dehydration. Do buildings have some secret room where Chileans guzzle water on the sly? Can anyone out there enlighten me on Chilean drinking habits?

One thing's for sure: The next time the Athenian plague strikes Santiago, no one else will bat an eyelash.


Lucie said...

Thank you for this post! I feel the same way! I drink A LOT of water and one of the things I hate most in this world is when I go to a restaurant which refuses to quench my water needs. Most of the servers I've had at various restaurants in Santiago look at me with horror and disgust when I order water and I almost never get refills. I like having water throughout my meal. And drink more water than most people. I guess they make a lot of money by selling drinks and since they're not big on customer service, water refills is not something they want to deal with lol.

Amy said...

Hey! And WOW, I go through the same thing here in Korea too! Only worse because during meals most of the time there aren't even beverages available (except liquor because Koreans are alcoholics), so I'm dehydrated by the end of my meal. And I get funny looks too everytime I ask for some water. I know Koreans eat a lot of soup, but that doesn't quench your thirst. And if they do drink, they only fill their cups half way and that's the max they'll drink. They pour whole packs of instant coffee into tiny paper cups and fill it halfway. I guess the Athenian plague has hit Korea as well.

Eileen said...

I don't know how they do it, but I'm with you. I drink water to beat the band, and am usually the only one. I've even heard people refuse water, claiming "es que tengo sed!" (But I'm thirsty! not xlating for you, but possible non-Spanish speakers, of course!).

It's a mystery. But if you find out where they grow those powdered pineapple juice trees, let me know. It sounds like a fabulous photo op! I mean, if it doesn't rain.

Sara said...

I drink a lot of water too apparently. I used to feel like I was just naturally thirstier but then my host mom from Concepción told me that she gets thirsty all the time and never drinks water because she would prefer to just have tea, coffee, or a soda. Er... all those are diuretics. Perhaps that is why you get so thirsty? Nope. I got nothing.

Shannon said...

"isn't that bad for you?"
hahah I love it!!!
I love water and the water out of the tap where I lived in Santiago gave me stomach cramps so I was constantly buying the 5 liter bottles. R.'s family though I was nuts. His mom thought I would like Next the fizzy flavored water, but there's just something about fizz that just doesn't quench my thirst!! They gave up on me and my gringa "weirdness" long ago, sometimes I think they are just waiting to see what I do next so they can discuss it amongst themselves thinking I can't understand what they are saying. I, of course, am always wrong. Mostly because I am not a mother... apparently you become all knowing (about things such as dogs, water, bleaching and cooking the devil out of fruits and veggies,..so on and so on...) when you bear a child.

Abby said...

I'm totally with you. In fact, reading your post made me thirsty and I went and got some water. I carry around a water bottle with me everywhere and drink at least 3 bottles a day.

I've heard that from Chileans too...that water doesn't quench their thirst. It's the only thing that quenches my thirst besides maybe Gatorade.

Annie said...

I have to say it's the same up here in the Northern Hemisphere as well. At least among my beloved colleagues in France and England.

I broke down and have begun bringing my supersized American water bottle to work, and despite the looks of mild shock and confusion, I feel physically so much better at the end of each day.

Most think I'm a bit of a camping type for having such a water-carrying device. And, you, my friend, know better than anyone else why I find this hilarious!

Anonymous said...

Eileen, I love the "es que tengo sed" comment! In Argentina the common belief is that when you're really thirsty, water won't help, what you really need is some mate. But even at meals, I never saw anyone else drink water - carbonated water, yes, and soda or Termo (an awful drink you mix with carbonated water to make it less awful) or wine. Anything but water!

kw10 said...

I completely agree! In my host family it was almost a running joke about how I would rather drink water than powdered juice or coca-cola. They also told the story of how when my host brother was really little, one day he said he wanted "agua pura y fresca de la llave" ... which to them is (still) practically the funniest thing in the world.

Leigh said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one!

I would kind of sort of understand the aversion to drinking plain, simple water if the tapwater here were dangerous to drink, but I know very few people who have had problems with it. Personally, I've been drinking it without issues since Day 1. Which leaves me pondering: why???

Margaret said...

I'm with the rest of you! I am ALWAYS thirsty. I think we are just trained that way. In the US there are drinking fountains in every public building. Ever seen one in Chile?
Also, have you noticed how many Chileans have problems w/ kidney stones?

Leigh said...

I don't know much about the kidney stones thing, but I do know that I was searching frantically for a drinking fountain in the international terminal at SCL the other day and could find one NOWHERE!