Domingos FamiliasSantiago, Fall 2012
Most Chileans live at home for the duration of their college experience. It is much more fiscally sensible for kids to stay with Mom and Dad for those four years—and even if families wanted to put the student up in a dorm, universities here have little to no student housing. It may seem odd to Americans, but this is the cultural norm in Chile, and people think nothing of it. But this little difference makes for some interesting social contrasts between Chileans and Americans. For instance, one of the more noticeable daily differences between Chile and America, that P.D.A.s are acceptable here, is directly traceable to the fact that Chileans live with their families during college (P.D.A.s are Public Displays of Affection, take from that what you will). In the United States, most college-aged kids have the privacy of a dorm, whereas Chilean college kids are still at home, so with universally curious (read: nosy) parents constantly close by, the students’ only option for privacy, oddly enough, is to be in public. It’s not something we Americans are familiar with, but it’s completely normal in Chile. To get away from Mom and Dad, Chileans couples prefer the anonymity of a park or bench.
This past Sunday I learned another (awesome) custom brought about by the stay-at-home-for-college culture: Domingos Familiares. Domingos Familiares, or “Family Sundays,” are semi-weekly family gatherings. Because Chileans stay at home for college, many end up settling down near the area in which they grew up. For example, my host mother has four children who all lived at home for the duration of their college experience. All four went on to settle down in the city, 3 are married, 2 have children, and 1 is recently engaged. All came over for lunch every Sunday.
I’m lucky in that my whole extended American family is very close and we all reunite biannually to catch up, play games, and eat good food, but here that happens bimonthly. When I left my room Sunday morning after finishing a paper, I walked outside to see my host mother’s three sons standing around the grill chatting. I walked into the living room and there were the three sons’ wives and my host Mom fussing over 6-month-old Andresito, while cousins chased each other around the house. It was awesome. We all helped prepare a huge lunch and set up the table outside, and then we ate and sat around the table for a couple hours before kids got tired and everyone went their separate ways. Aside from the fact that I couldn’t understand half of the banter, I felt right at home.
It’s easy to see cultural differences at first and judge that one way or the other is better, but the longer I’ve been here the more I’ve realized that things are different for a reason, and that once you get beyond the initial oddities of the new place, the differences are often pretty awesome. I’m not sure I’ll ever be quite comfortable walking by a row of couples making out on park benches, but if the tradeoff is getting to spend Domingos Familiares with my host family, then I’ll take it for sure.
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