Chileans generally save shorts and T-shirts for weekends or for wearing in casual, outdoorsy oriented towns like Pucón or while at the beach. If you're looking to fit in almost everywhere, skip the Hawaiian shirt.
Chileans tend to appreciate formalities, so always greet a Chilean with a "Buenas días" or "Buenas tardes." When two women, or a man and a woman, greet each other in a social setting, they do so with one kiss on the right cheek. Men greet each other with a handshake, or with a quick hug if they are intimate friends or family. The same is true in business, but Chileans understand that some North Americans are uncomfortable with this and will greet you with a handshake if they know you're a foreigner. Like most Latin Americans, Chileans require less personal space when talking to another person; it can feel a bit awkward, but try not to step away.
Punctuality is appreciated in business settings, but don't be surprised if your Chilean guest shows up 30 to 45 minutes late for a dinner party. In contrast to North America, the do-it-yourself spirit is not very esteemed in Chile; rather, your ability to hire help to do it for you is what people value. Live-in or daily maids are very common in Chile, which means that, as a guest staying with a well-to-do family, you are not expected to make your bed or help around the house. When entering a room, you are expected to greet everyone individually or as a group.
In 1945, Gabriela Mistral became the first Latin American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. While Pablo Neruda was embraced in Chile and throughout Latin America for his charisma, passion, and gregarious nature, Mistral was an enigma to her fellow countrymen, an introverted woman whose still waters ran very deep. Reserved, laconic, and stern, Mistral's tragic life found powerful expression in the wistful, haunting, and yearning sonnets for which she was internationally renowned. The dominant themes in Mistral's poetry are love, death, childhood, justice, motherhood, religion, and the power of nature.
Born Lucila Godoy Alcayaga in Vicuña, in 1889, the second daughter of a Basque mother and an Indian/Jewish father, who was both a poet and school teacher, Gabriela embodied a spirit of feisty, Spanish individualism and of Indian stoicism. Tragedy struck Mistral early in life when her father abandoned the family when she was just 3 years old, establishing a heartbreaking pattern of lost love that would haunt her childhood and early adult years.
Gabriela's schooling was short but profound. She began school at the age of 9 but completed just 3 years. However, it was during this time that she discovered her affinity for poetry and began to compose her own poems under the pen name of Gabriela Mistral. Gabriela's older sister Emelina was a teacher and she continued to school Gabriela at home and stirred her desires to become a teacher. At just 16 years old, Gabriela began to support her mother by working as a teacher's assistant.
In 1906, Gabriela moved to La Cantera, where she met a young railway worker named Romeo Ureta. She fell instantly in love with him, drawn to his sensitive and tortured soul. Less than 2 years after their relationship began, Ureta committed suicide, an event that affected Gabriela profoundly and from which she never recovered.
After receiving a teaching diploma in 1912, Gabriela began to teach elementary and secondary school to make ends meet until, in 1914, the publication of Sonetos de la muerte made her renowned throughout Latin America and earned her a national prize in poetry. In 1922, she published Desolación (Desolation), the first volume of her collected poems, an expression of her feelings toward suffering and death.
Tragedy struck again when Gabriela's nephew, whom she treated very much as her own son, committed suicide at the age of 17. An intensely private individual, Gabriela didn't welcome the fame that accompanied her art but she was, however, able to utilize it to full effect to attain her humanitarian ambitions. In 1922, Gabriela was invited by José Vasconcelos, Mexico's minister of education, to establish educational programs for the disadvantaged. One of her achievements was to allow greater access to literature for low-income people living in rural areas through such initiatives as mobile libraries.
In 1923, the Chilean government awarded Mistral the title "Teacher of the Nation." In 1957, Gabriela died in the U.S. Her body was repatriated and she was buried in Montegrande. On her tomb are inscribed her own words:
"What the soul is to the body, so is the artist to his people."
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