Spanish-Speaking Culture in Chile

Instructor: Elena Sacramento Lechado

Elena has a PhD in linguistics from University of La Laguna (Spain). Currently, she teaches Spanish as a foreign language and creates teaching resources.

What do you know about Chile? This lesson explores this beautiful South American country, whose official language is Spanish, providing an overview of the customs, traditions and lifestyle of its people.

Chile Is a Unique Country

Chile, the southernmost country in America, was conquered by the Spaniards in the mid-16th century, so its culture is an interesting blending of indigenous and Spanish influences.

Stretching over more than 4300 km from north to south, Chile is the longest country in the world and also one of the narrowest. As a result, it covers an incredible variety of climates and landscapes.

Keep reading to discover different traditions and interesting facts about Chile. We'll consider some basic vocabulary and phrases related to each topic, and we'll take a look at some terms that are exclusive to Chilean Spanish.

Chile borders Peru, Bolivia and Argentina.
mapa

Customs & Traditions in Chile

Lifestyle

Due to the geography of the country, naturally isolated between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Chilean society used to be described as nationalistic and conservative, although this is changing with the new generations.

Chilean people are characterized by being friendly, warm, caring and hard-working. They have strong family ties and love nature. They make the most of their natural landscape, practicing activities like trekking, surfing, or skiing.

A curious fact is that the afternoon tea or the snack eaten after 5pm, is called la once (which means 'eleven'). It generally consists of coffee, tea and bread, although it may include various ingredients. Tradition has it that, in the past, workers used to accompany their snacks with a sip of aguardiente (liquor). Due to alcohol restrictions, they used to refer to this beverage with the word once (because the word for liquor contains eleven letters).

  • Una once completa incluye, además de café o té, pan con mermelada, palta, huevos o dulces chilenos. (A full once includes, as well as coffee or tea, bread with jam, avocado, eggs or Chilean sweets.)

Gastronomy

Chilean gastronomy and wines are rich and varied. You can enjoy delicious fish dishes on the coast but also meat and barbecue all around the country. There's a strong influence of the cuisine of the Mapuche, the indigenous people that inhabited the south of Chile before the Spanish conquest.

These are some unique Chilean dishes and beverages:

  • El mote con huesillo es una bebida tradicional chilena hecha con trigo y duraznos. (Mote con huesillo is a traditional Chilean drink made from wheat and peaches.)
  • El pisco sour es una bebida alcóholica típica en Chile y Perú. (Pisco sour is a typical alcoholic drink in Chile and Peru.)
  • Los platos chilenos más famosos son el pastel de choclo y las empanadas de pino, rellenas de ternera, cebollas, pasas y huevos duros. (The most famous Chilean dishes are pastel de choclo (sweetcorn pie) and empanadas de pino, (pastry) filled with beef, onions, raisins and boiled eggs.)

Translation: Mote con huesillo is a very popular refreshing drink in Chile.
moteconhuesillo

Typical Expressions in Chile

There are some exclusive Chilean terms and expressions that you'll need to know if you're planning to travel to Chile.

  • You'll definitely hear the expression huevón (or hueón) very often. Although in some contexts it can have a pejorative meaning (slacker), Chileans also use it to address close friends informally, in the sense of 'bro.'

Note: Use its feminine forms when addressing a girl (huevona/hueona).

  • A cabro is a boy, and pololo or polola are 'boyfriend' and 'girlfriend.'
  • Bacán means 'cool/awesome.'
  • Chileans also use the verb cachar (to understand), an adaptation from the English 'catch.' ¿Cachai la cuestión? (Do you get it?)
  • Also, interestingly enough, curarse, which literally means 'to heal' in most Spanish-speaking countries, is 'to get drunk' in Chile.

Chilean Arts

Literature

Chile was the home of Pablo Neruda, one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.

  • El poeta chileno Pablo Neruda ganó el premio Nobel de Literatura en 1971. (The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.)
  • Una de las obras más conocidas de Pablo Neruda es 'Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada.' (One of Pablo Neruda's best known works is 'Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair.')

Among other famous Chilean writers is Isabel Allende, niece of the former President Salvador Allende.

  • Isabel Allende escribió la famosa novela 'La casa de los espíritus.' (Isabel Allende wrote the famous novel The House of the Spirits.)

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