While Maine experienced a snowstorm that made national headlines and cancelled classes for an unheard of two days in a row at the University of Maine, the Universidad Andres Bello in Santiago, Chile was experiencing 80-90 degrees on average. At night it cools down, but it is never cold; just nice and refreshing. In accordance with the hot temperatures here, things were definitely hot-blooded on Valentine’s Day.
This week, I got to experience my first real holiday here: Valentine’s Day. Unlike the way we celebrate Valentine’s Day in the United States, in Chile it is more just a holiday for couples. When my classmates told my professor that in the United States almost everyone celebrates the holiday, whether it be in school, with their friends or with their significant other, she was absolutely shocked. Here it is strictly for couples and even that is limited.
Many people in the United States consider Valentine’s Day to be a Hallmark holiday and here that is truly what it is. On the holiday, there were flower shops and street vendors trying to convince couples to buy things for their significant other. But other than that, Santiago was devoid of “Dia del amor” (Day of Love) cheer, which is what Chileans call Valentine’s Day.
Even my host parents did not do anything to celebrate the holiday. Some married couples went out to eat or had a special meal together, but there was definitely not the hype that we have in the United States. Another thing that’s different here in Chile that’s related to couples, is the cultural appropriateness of public displays of affection (PDA). Coming to Latin America, I expected to see less PDA than I do in the United States, mostly because the majority of the country is Catholic and that usually translates to being more conservative. Here that idea does not hold true. Because so many people live with their families long after turning 18, the only place that couples have to make-out in is parks and public areas. It is not unusual to be on the bus next to a couple that is so wrapped up in each other that they are oblivious to the world around them, sometimes even missing their stop.
That being said, it is not just young couples that are like this either. Although it is far more common to see younger couples cuddling in the park or making out on the bus, older couples also aren’t shy to show PDA. It was something that took some getting use to and it is still weird to stand next to couples on the bus, but it is just a normal part of the culture.
Interestingly, the laws of Chile do not necessarily reflect their intimate culture. Divorce was only recently legalized and the rate of infidelity is quite high. Also, Chile is one of the only countries in the world where abortion is illegal under all circumstances. Before Pinochet took power of the country, abortion was legal in certain circumstances, but during his time in office he made it illegal in all circumstances, something that is a big issue here right now.