Be my friend?

So far I’ve taken on many challenges in Santiago: driving down one-way streets in the wrong direction, driving into the ‘out’ in shopping centres, not being able to communicate to anyone, living out of a suitcase for 3 months, getting lost, not understanding the money, and the list goes on.  Despite all that, hands down the toughest part of uprooting your life and moving abroad is the lonliness you feel from leaving your friends and family behind. What I wouldn’t give right now to call up, say, Matt, and have him drop by with a bottle of Pinot to lounge on the couch, or discuss random TV-shows with Andy over coffee, or meet up with my mother’s group in Australia for a Thursday night cocktail or a daytime playdate.  Life is just easier when people know you.

Friend-making is like dating. You see someone from far away and get a first impression: could this person be my new best friend? Hmmmm, not sure I could befriend someone who would wear those pants in public (haha…). You make it through an initial meeting,  think they’re decent, so you have to decide whether to take the ‘next step’ and have a second ‘date’. Eventually after you see them a bunch of times the friendship sticks.  Think about how often you meet new people, and how many of those actually make the ‘conversion’ to being a real friend. Not bloody many.  In my opinion, here are the categories of friends you have:

  • Fake friends: People you don’t really like that much but have to be nice to, to keep the peace. Like that person at work that is evil (as they say, keep your enemies close).
  • Acquaintance friends: The kind of friends you have on Facebook, or in social groups you know, who you’d do a coffee with, but you definitely wouldn’t call if you were at home with stomach flu and needed someone to hold your hair while you wretch.
  • Friend by default: The friends that you wouldn’t necessarily pick out of a crowd in the first place, but circumstance turns you into friends. Like a person you end up sitting beside at work. Eventually they know more about you than your family.
  • Friends in progress: Friends that you’re seeing, who may or may not make the conversion. You like them, and you’re hopeful that it could be the start of a beautiful relationship. They (or you!) might do something shady which makes you have to awkwardly stop seeing eachother, so you’re always keeping your guard up a bit.
  • Friends: Friends are friends. You do dinner dates, you do activities together, you call to bitch about your day, or the weather (in the case of Melbourne). Your kids know each other. You’re comfortable camping together, or wearing your PJs on the couch and watching chick-flicks.
  • The friend-at-first sight: That person you connect with immediately, and are from first sight inseparable. Rare but awesome.
  • Lifers: These are the friends that you’ve had for years. Maybe they were only friends by default at one point, or maybe they were friends-at-first-sight, but since you’ve known them forever they’re like family. And they’ll always be around, even if you live far away. You can not make contact with a lifer for months, and when you do, everything is like normal. 

When you’re an expat, it’s relatively easy to make ‘acquaintance’ friends. Everyone here has uprooted their life, and left their Lifers behind. So many are on the lookout for a new BFF, and new playmates for their kids. That makes it easy, and nice (it’s much harder in a country with not as many expats, as everyone has their friends already).  But it’s also exhausting because you’re meeting lots of people and having the same kind of get-to-know-you conversations…only after you’ve seen them a few times (and shared a few drinks?) can you really start to drop the guard. Everyone is in the ‘acquaintance’ or ‘friend in progress’ stage, so you don’t have anyone to call when you’re in tears because you tripped in public, dropped your coffee, and tore your pants (note: that may or may not have happened to me). Friends come with time, but sometimes you just want to skip over the dating and find the relationship. Sigh.

Here’s a few ways to make new friends as an expat. I’m open to – and looking for – any other ideas as well!

  • Social media:  You’d be surprised how easy it is to find friends through things like Facebook. For instance, there is a facebook group called “english speaking mothers in santiago”. Here loads of moms ask questions about things like “where can I find breast pumps” through to “I’m bored and isolated, does anyone want to drag the kids to a park”.  Definitely an easy way to connect in, in English. yay!  There are loads of other groups based on interests, so if you’re new to a city it’s a simple way to get out of the house.
  • Through work: If you’re the ‘trailing spouse’ you can always get together with other wives from your husband’s company. You’ve got something in common immediately (e.g. does your husband travel as much as mine??). And if you’re working, you’ve always got your colleagues. You wonder though, if there is some ‘distance’ you should have from work-friends…?  (brings back IMD memories, no distance there – whoops!)
  • Friends of friends: I’ve had some great friends of mine introduce me to friends of theirs in Chile. Again, you’ve got something in common and normally if you both like the same mutual friend, it’s for a reason. This is my favourite way to make friends.
  • Random friend meetings: Nothing like seeing someone who looks cool at a cafe and walking up to introduce yourself. I haven’t done that, but sometimes I’d like to. What would you say though, really…something like “I like your shoes and the book you’re reading, would you like to be my friend?”. A bit creepy and rejection prone.
  • Social activity friends: I may take up a dance class, or pilates class or something. That’s a good way to make friends-by-default. Eventually you end up being friends…it might just take 10 painful pilates classes to get there.

So there you have it, eventually I wont be such a loner, it just requires a bit of effort. 🙂


From the land of chops over the land of 100 points to the land of fingerprints

(by Achim)

Every country has its own peculiarities when it comes down to how you can sign contracts or open a bank account.

Let’s start with China, the land of chops: The most important instrument in China to sign a contract is a chop.  The definition of a chop is: Cut (something) into small pieces with repeated sharp blows using an ax or knife. That is not what it is. A chop is basically a stamp that is used within companies to sign contracts instead of a signature. Chops are unique and usually carry the signatories name and it is highly illegal to copy a chop and sign documents with a copied version. How this really works out in the land that is known for counterfeiting almost everything is still a miracle to me. I don’t think this system would work in a Western country because everybody would just copy the stamp. Still remember those days when we copied the stamps they give you at the entrance to nightclubs? Maybe that’s where the definition of chop comes back in ….

Typical Chinese chops

Typical Chinese chops

Australia, the land of 100 points: In order to open a bank account, get your driver’s license, apply for visas and residency, get a phone you need to bring proof of your identity of altogether 100 points. This is usually a mix of documents carrying your picture, birthdate, residential address etc. When you leave the country this whole process is quite easy. But when you move to Australia and you are asked to prrof your residential address with a utility bill…..

Here is the example of options that was provided with our citizenship application

100 points

100 points

Chile – the land of RUT,  fingerprints and notaries: The most important number in Chile is your RUT. RUT stands for Rol Único Tributario and is a unique national identification number which is then used as a number for taxes, social insurance, passport, driver’s license, for employment, etc. More importantly you need it to get a phone contract, by a car, rent a house, get a bank account and a credit card etc. The problem being that you only receive this number as a foreigner when your visa is approved, which usually takes about 3 month. The work around is to use your RUN (Rol Único Nacional) which only takes approximately 6 weeks to get. However, you can’t use your RUN for everything and if you used it you have to change all documents, bank accounts to your RUT, which is an easy but time consuming process. Luckily for us, my company applied for my visa already last year, so we already have our permanent RUT and only had to change our bank account details but nothing else.

In order to get your RUT you have to leave fingerprints of all your 10 fingers at the government registry. And that is not electronic fingerprints, but the good old fashioned one with ink. I’m looking forward to doing that process with a 22 month old toddler! The result is a plastic identity card that includes your thumb print: most valuable piece of plastic I own now!

The thumb print in general is a very important part of lots of contracts. It is quite common that you don’t only have to sign a contract, but as well proof your identity with a thumb print. I have not yet figured out which contracts require a thumbprint and which ones don’t. It seems quite random.

I guess the system is in principle much better than the Chinese chop system. But I’ve never seen anybody having the tools to compare the thumb prints of the contract with the thumb print of my RUT card. Only the bank used once an electronic fingerprint reader when I wanted to withdraw money. At least you can proof that it wasn’t your thumb that signed the contract when things go wrong!

And I almost forgot to mention the notary: Most of the contracts (like e.g. rental contracts) do not only require thumbprints, RUT number but as well have to be legalized by a notary: for the fee of generally 6,000 CLP (appr. 12 USD). The queues are generally long and this must be the most boring job ever for a lawyer. But I’m sure the income they have is quite nice, considering that almost every legal document has to be notarized.

Typical Chilean contract - signature, fingerprints and notary

Typical Chilean contract – signature, fingerprints and notary

Let’s see what the next country brings…

First winery vist: Casas del Bosque

This weekend we decided to get out of the city for the first time. Until now, it’s seemed a bit daunting…and there has always been too much to do with the move. But, this Sunday morning at 9am we decided we needed out. And what better place to go but a winery.

My fellow winos out there will know that Chile is known for wine. This lucky wino is happy to be living a drive away from some good ones – a selling point Achim used to get me to part with my Melbourne. One that had a few good reviews, and was only around an hour from Santiago is this one, Casas del Bosque.

The drive out was gorgeous – through the rolling mountains. Em wasn’t as impressed and took the chance for a nap.


napping – pram within reach

Along the drive


Along the drive

The Winery

Casas del Bosque has over 232 hectares of vines, and makes around 90,000 cases per year (most of it exported). So it’s a boutique-type of winery. Having moved here from Melbourne, we assumed that we’d be able to do some tastings easily, but unfortunately you actually have to go sit around a table and do the tasting the ‘proper’ way (for about $12), which takes a bit of time.  Normally that would be great, but I’m not sure anyone around that table would have liked to hear what Em had to say about the wines (most likely: SWIIIINNNGGGGSSS MOOOMMMYYY).  So no tasting for us..dissappointment.

They also had tours of the winery and lots of other little activities we decided against. But I’m sure it’ll be fun one day down the track. All things you had to pay for – even the walking tour, which is a bit different from Australian wineries. They did, however, have a little playground with swings (and you didn’t have to pay for it!) – score.

We had a fantastic lunch, the food was excellent, and the restaurant was child-friendly:  they had a high-chair, they brought over some coloured pencils for Emily, and they also had a little kids-menu (burger, fries, cupcake…) which was great. As per usual, we ordered immediately, ate quickly, and I took Em back out to the swings while Achim paid the bill. Such is life. Of course, before playground duty, I had time to sample the Chardonnay, and could have easily had a second.  Poor Achim (the driver of the day) didn’t get to have  wine with lunch, as in Chile the alcohol tolerance is ZERO. Zero as in, if you have half-a-glass your licence will be revoked. Ouch.


Their least expensive was around $9 for a bottle, and their premiums were around $30; not bad. So we stocked up on a few of their wines to try at home. If we couldn’t do the tasting there we might as well give it a go at home. Not all at once, of course. Well, maybe.


A few shots from the day:

Casa del Bosque


Strolling around the gardens

DSCF0668 DSCF0686


Loving the swings


A very healthy lunch. Whatever keeps her calm so we don’t have to do emergency-exit-tantrum-bolt.

Love a child-friendly restaurant, WITH good food.

Living in Australia – Looking back: Part 1


Living in Australia – Looking back:  Part 1

(by Achim)

4.5 years ago we moved from China to Australia. 1 month ago we left Australia to live in Chile. In between lots of things have happened, so we thought we’d do a few blog posts looking back about our life in Australia (China ones will come too!). A summary:

  • We got married in November 2009
  • Emily was born in April 2011 and is now already 22 months old
  • We moved houses in November 2011 (which was a bit of a waste considering that we moved contintents a year later)
  • We had probably 10 times more overseas visitors than in China
  • We spent approximately 50,000 miles in airplanes to see family and friends
  • We still wonder if Emily is the youngest baby doing a round-the-world trip being 4 months old
  • We have seen some of the great Australian sights like the Great Ocean Road, Great Barrier Reef, Uluru, Sydney’s Opera House and the Harbour Bridge
  • We became permanent residents in Australia and have applied for citizenship
  • We learned to deal with hooked turns in Melbourne and look right first before you cross the road
  • We have still only scratched on the surface of the thousands of coffee shops and restaurants in Melbourne

Over a few posts we will attempt to summarize of our lives downunder. Not that you can really summarize 4 years in a few posts…

Our family

I’m pretty sure all of you know that our family has had a small (well actually not so small) family addition in April 2011. Since her birth, Emily is challenging the Australian height and weight charts, which either means all Australians are short and thin or she has inherited some genes of her parents. Unfortunately we have not been able to make her an Aussie by birth, but are attempting this currently again.

Emily has been an absolute joy since she was born (despite a few tantrums here and there!). Let’s see if we survive the impending terrible twos! She has been a good sleeper and is happy mixing up English and German words. I’m sure she will soon be throwing some Spanish in too. She has only once shocked us with a couple of days in hospital but has otherwise been pretty resilient….except for that first few months in daycare where she picked up every single bug going around, sometimes at the same time. Even dragging her around the continents has only resulted in horrible sleep patterns (a battle we cant seem to win) but nothing else.

Our homes

3a Vale St

Our first home in Australia happened to be right in the middle of St Kilda with lots of good restaurants and bars around and the beach only a 10 minute walk away – we were very lucky. The sunsets that we could see at this location have just been amazing. We still believe the sky is closer to earth in Australia than at any other place we have lived. The big downside was unrestricted access to unwanted services of lightly dressed women.

370 Inkerman St

We moved away from the beach into the middle of the Hasidic Jewish quarter of Melbourne, which then gave us unlimited access to cheap fantastic cakes and bagels – for a bargain. Not quite sure if we will ever understand how you can wear a long black coat and top-hat in the middle of summer at 40 degrees though!

Our new home had a small backyard that was perfectly suited for a BBQ and we learned that bats love figs as much as we do. Aly was not a fan of the giant bat that lived in the fig tree.



Australia from the newcomers’ perspective

We thought this was a funny a little summary of “Australia” from an outsiders perspective. (note: stolen, not mine!)  (by Ben Groundwater, published in The Age on 27th of June 2012)

Shortening all words: Whatevs, it’s not like we shorten everything. Except sunnies. And boardies. And footy. And snags. And chucking a uey. And calling Barry, Baz. And Sharon, Shaz. And Robert, Robbo. I even travelled with a girl who referred to her binoculars as “binos”.

“Bring a plate”: When my mum first arrived in Australia she was invited to a friend’s barbecue and told to “bring a plate”. So she brought a plate. An empty plate. She was a little embarrassed to find that everyone else had brought some food on theirs.

BYO:  It’s great when foreigners first realise this: “You can take your own wine to a restaurant? Geez, can you take your own beer to the pub?”

Watching the footy: Because there’s no such thing as just “footy”: There are four sports here that could qualify as “footy”, and you can never be quite sure which one people are talking about. Still, you gotta love the footy.

Buying a beer: What the hell is a “pony”? And who came up with “schooner”? And why do “handles” not have actual handles? And in which other country is it normal to order a “pot of gold”? South Australia takes the grand prize for weirdness though, with a glass called a “pint” that doesn’t hold a full pint.

Taking a day off for the Queen’s birthday: I’m not arguing about it or anything, but it’s not even on the Queen’s actual birthday. And the Brits don’t celebrate it, so why do we?

Having a bank robber as a national icon: Ned Kelly was no Robin Hood, was he? No altruistic man of the people. He just shot some cops and wore a bucket on his head. And we revere this guy? (OK, I know there’s a lot more to this story, but from a foreigner’s perspective, it’s pretty odd.)

Dressing really fancy for the races…Then getting absolutely obliterated:  There’s nothing more Australian than seeing a smartly dressed couple stumble out of the races, her with high heels in hand, him with a tie around his head, and start drunkenly screaming at taxis going past.

“How’s it going?” This has to be up there with the American “what’s up” as the most nonsensical greeting around. How’s what going? I remember a few exchange students at uni talking about this, saying, “It took me a while to realise that Australians don’t actually want to know how you are going. They just want you to say ‘good’.”

Complaining about the rain in London:  Somewhat stunningly, a mate of mine pointed out that Sydney gets more rain each year than London. Ouch.

Having celebrity TV shows that don’t feature any celebrities: Australia’s pool of actual, legitimate celebrities is frighteningly shallow, but that doesn’t stop the networks from pumping out “celebrity” versions of their reality shows featuring people you’ve never heard of. We have chefs dancing on primetime TV. It’s embarrassing.

Eating seafood on Christmas Day: I’m all for a few prawns and bugs on the 25th of December, but if you’re from the Northern Hemisphere and were expecting a turkey roast, it might seem a little bizarre.

Worshipping meat pies:  It’s pastry filled with bits of meat, and slathered in tomato sauce. Not exactly a gastronomic masterpiece, but that doesn’t stop us getting all excited about eating a lukewarm one at the footy.

Worshipping swimmers: Just between you and me, swimming’s not really a sport, is it? It’s a pastime; a survival technique. But anyone who wins gold medals over here is a big deal. Heck, we even treat walking as a real sport once every four years.

Playing the pokies:  Surely the dreariest, most antisocial form of gambling there is, and yet Aussies are mad for it. We flock to pubs and clubs around the country to pour money into the gaping mouths of these flashing, dinging monsters. Sigh.

Travelling… Elsewhere:  Australians love to travel, right? Well sure, as long as it’s not in Australia. No, we can’t tell you what WA is like, and we haven’t been to Adelaide. But what do you want to know about Bali?

Rugging up for winter: Northern Hemisphere folk think it’s hilarious, just as we have a chuckle when everyone strips down to their bikinis in England when the temperature nudges 20. In Australia, a brief dip into the teens will mean the scarves and coats are out for the next few months.

Wearing our thongs on our feet: This is for the Americans, who always look a little confused when you ask them if they’ve seen our thongs. Or, do you think I should wear thongs today? Sounds a little inappropriate… but at least it’s not as dumb as sandals.

The tourist bus

Sorry we’ve been silent for the past little while – we had our first houseguest!  Jenn flew in from New York for 5 days to see a bit of Santiago and have a good catch-up for the first time in a few years. Very exciting. And with a houseguest, it actually forces you out of your little bubble and into the world. Yes, we finally did some of the real tourist attractions in Santiago. I’ll do a few posts over the next few days outlining some of the fun 🙂

First off, we decided to first go for the gold of brazen tourist experiences – the “Tourist Bus”. Given that I’m a blatantly obvious foreigner (and tourist), I shouldn’t be so painfully embarrassed to drive around in one of those sight-seeing, roofless-double-decker buses. You know the ones I’m talking about – they’re in New York, and in London. Bright red, two-storey bus that seems to beckon out “hey you out there, come pick-pocket my riders”.

The bus-card

The bus-card

The bus is quite practical, it goes every-half-hour from 13 different spots, and does loops around Santiago. It’s not fun to drive around downtown on your own as a newcomer to this city (more about that later).  You can get on and off as often as you like. We hopped on the bus, and went up to the top level to get the ‘front row’ seats. Great seats for being paraded around Santiago, but also great seats for the locals to glare at you like you’re their tourist attraction. At traffic lights I couldn’t help but stare at my feet and avoid any eye contact. Why is that embarrassing? I don’t know, but it is.

Turistik Bus map

Turistik Bus map

All in all it was interesting as an overview of Santiago – the more developed richer side, to the downtown. Make sure you allow a full day so you can get on and off at many stops (to make it worth your $$!). We didn’t have enough time so really only got off to see a few things.

A few shots from the bus:


Plaza de Armas – the ‘centre’ of Santiago

Views from the Turistik

Just off Plaza de Armes


driving through downtown Santiago


The ‘more expensive’ side of Santiago

For more info:  Turistik, cost: $40