Cultural Nuances: Chileans are more like Midwesterners than Mexicans


It’s been crazy busy here, in a mostly good way, but I thought another Startup Diary, Santiago Edition was about due.

One thing I get asked a lot is what people in Chile are like. I’ve been here four months, most of my time in Santiago, with a few days in Valparaiso / Viña del Mar and Concepción , so I can’t claim a huge representative sample of the country. On the other hand, over a third of the population lives in Santiago and about 5% more in Concepción.

So much for the geography lesson, to my point…

Ways Chileans are more like Midwesterners than Californians

People are reluctant to tell you flat out, “No.”

I had a meeting with someone who wanted to sell me something and I thought the price was outrageous and the idea not very good. I just shook my head and said, “I’m not paying for that.”

She was  pretty shocked. I was being very polite, for me, anyway, because what I was really thinking is “There is no @#$ing way on God’s earth I’m giving you any money.”

I’ve heard many entrepreneurs here, both Chilean and foreigners, say they would prefer the American way where investors or potential customers just tell you, “No” and don’t waste your time. They say that, but having been on both sides, I’m not sure they would. It’s no fun having someone say to your face that they are not interested in funding your idea or buying your product.

When people criticize you, they tend to do it indirectly.

This is important, so pay attention!  Chile is much like Minnesota, where you can have the dumbest idea ever conceived  –  I think I will cash in my retirement and open a home for unwanted turtles, knitting them sweaters to match their personality, with yarn I made from shed fur of my 11 Siberian huskies – and all your neighbors will say is, “That’s different.”

I think I missed some good insights from some of the Start-up Chile advisors initially because they tended to start their comments with, “If I were you, I might want to think about …”  where in my experience with U.S. accelerators people will straight up tell you , “You need to change X and Y.”

I did make some changes after giving their suggestions considerable thought – I’m not a complete idiot – but I think I inadvertently offended some people, too, because I didn’t pay as much attention to their suggestions as I would have if they’d been given more forcefully. Learn from my mistakes.

Drama is not a thing.

It isn’t at all unusual to hear someone in California say they are “… having the worst day EVER… ” because Starbucks was out of nonfat soy milk and there was an accident on the 405 so they were late to work. First of all, everyone in LA knows that there is always an accident on the 405 and seriously, dude, having skim milk in your latte is the worst thing that ever happened to you?

snow on mountains

Chile is really pretty

Overt racism is not a thing

Now, maybe they all get together and have a Chilean version of Klan meetings when I’m not around but I kind of doubt it. Not only do you never, ever hear casual racial slurs and insults like you do in the U.S., even when you are at a private party and people are really drunk and uninhibited, no one ever talks like that. Maybe there is more subtle racism. I have not heard any black people complaining about it but I haven’t really asked anyone, either.

Overt sexism is a thing

For example, I have been told many times that there are fewer women entrepreneurs because women want to get married and have children. This strikes me as odd because a) my co-founder/ CEO and I have seven children between us and b) aren’t these women getting married to and having children with men? I would not say sexism in Chile is any worse than the U.S., but unlike racism it doesn’t seem to be much better, either.

Calm(er) acceptance is the norm

Some people would argue this is a good thing. I am not one of those people. If you are imagining Chileans are like Mexicans, Cubans or Puerto Ricans because they all speak Spanish, you could not be more wrong.

Let’s say you are at a restaurant and they bring the bill and it’s incorrect. They correct it, come back and it’s a different incorrect amount. They come back a third time, the bill is still incorrect, and the waiter insists you pay this bill. Now, in LA, this would generally end up with the customer yelling, “Are you ##$ing kidding me? There’s no #%$ing way I am paying this #$%ing bill!” In Chile, the customer is more likely to just shake his head and say, “No, that’s still not right.”

I gave that example because it happened in front of me.

While it’s good that people don’t lose it over not having soy milk one day, I don’t think it’s for the best that people just seem to accept things being broken. There’s a greater inefficiency in a lot of areas than would be accepted in some place like the West Coast of the U.S. and it’s certainly not due to Chile having a lack of intelligent, educated people to fix things. Whether it’s having to go stand in line for hours to pay a bill that could be easily taken care of with an online system setup with the most minimal effort, or an office machine being broken for days with no one coming to repair it, people just accept that things aren’t optimal. I really like Chile and Chileans in general but this one thing drives me up the wall, across the ceiling and down the other side.

On the one hand, people in Chile are not bitchy, which can be nice, but on the other hand, bitches get shit done.

Chile is more St. Paul than Silicon Valley. Neither of those is a bad place, but they are definitely different places.


When I’m not offending entire states and countries, I make cool games. Check out Fish Lake for Windows from the Microsoft Store.  Canoe rapids, learn history and fractions at the same time.

Fish Lake

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