Effortlessly Cool

Stories of Loss and Cardi-gains

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You won’t find me in da club

I’d like to take a moment to talk about something that will affect or has affected everyone at some point in his or her young life: Clubbing. Despite having heard some really great songs on Y100 that give me some pretty sound advice on how to go about doing it (“Grab somebody sexy. Tell ‘em ‘Hey,’” says one expert, Ne-yo) I’m still pretty lost. Well, not lost, just bad at it. And also I hate it. Most clubs make me uncomfortable in a big way. Though I have been to some clubs where I’ve had a great time with friends, danced the night away without a care in the world, and heard some super funky music, I generally don’t enjoy them. Here’s why:

  • Crowds: People are the worst! I hate everyone! Except you. You, I like. But Other People suck. Going to a club often means seeing Other People. But not just seeing them. Also chewing Other People’s hair, being rubbed up against by Other People’s butts, and getting soaked by Other People’s sweat. Sometimes you even get elbow-punched in the neck. There’s a whole menu of ways to accidentally touch and be touched by strangers and I’d rather not order anything. I had a big lunch.
  • Lack of food: I tend to gravitate toward places with food. There is nary a club that has good food and most don’t offer any food at all. It’s like I always say from now on, “No food, no fun.” If I’m expected to be doing some sort of physical activity for 2-5 hours, I must be nourished. I’m not really motivated to do much if there’s not the promise of food. It’s kind of just science: An object at rest stays at rest until it has to go get more food [or go pee].
  • Hips Don’t Lie Work: I have a “hip complex,” as I like to call it. I don’t know if it’s just insecurity, a physical/ possibly genetic inability, or a Jewish thing, but I simply cannot move my hips. It’s especially disheartening because I’m in South America where, I’m sorry to stereotype, but everyone is beautiful and has rhythm. Shakira is not an anomaly, people! All Latinos can and will move their hips in a rather impressive way. But really, it’s not that I don’t have rhythm. I can sometimes move along properly to a beat, I just don’t look as good doing it as Latinos do. I think there should be a separate section of clubs where gringos can dance where the lights are just a teensy bit dimmer. It would benefit everyone.
  • Dressing Up: I don’t particularly like dressing up. But again, it’s not so much that I don’t like it as that it makes me feel very uncomfortable and like I’m trying too hard and everyone is watching me. Most club-appropriate clothing is more revealing/ skin grabbing than what I would choose to wear. I prefer outfits that offer room to breathe/ hide. For the club especially, the more hip coverage, the better. My ideal clubbing outfits are as follows:


          A housecoat


                                   An igloo

  • Meat Market Gym Class:  I’m not ashamed to brag: I have beautiful friends! This is usually a nonissue in my everyday life, but when friend after friend is whisked away by man after man on the dance floor, going to the club feels painfully like being picked last in gym class, which HAS happened to me once before. I know I’m a better person for it, but I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy (jk I would definitely wish that on my worst enemy). One by one, my friends are torn away from me by eager suitors and sooner or later I’m left dancing a la Billy Idol i.e. with myself, which would not be a problem if I looked half as good as Billy does on the dance floor (See also: a la Robyn, i.e. on my own).

Note to readers: I’m not as completely pathetic as I often sound here. I also don’t hate fun things. Love, Elyssa


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Purple Aroma: Some Things Just Don’t Translate

I am mortified. If you can imagine, I have felt this pure mortification continuously for the past three months. I’m exhausted, stressed, and one of my iPhone apps seems to be indicating that I am currently having a heart attack. These are just some of the beautiful side effects one experiences when immersing oneself into an unfamiliar culture—especially one that speaks a near-foreign language. One one one one one.

When I first arrived in Chile, I had a solid grasp of the Spanish language. This is no longer the case. Each day, my Spanish gets a tiny bit worse. When you start to learn new things in a language you’ve studied, you raise the bar: When speaking, you search for words you don’t yet know. When listening, you occupy your thoughts with what you don’t know instead of processing what you do know. You’re reaching for something you’re not quite ready to grasp. At least, I think it’s this phenomenon. To the doctors reading this, please let me know if I just sound slightly brain damaged.

In addition to the things you simply just can’t say and simply just can’t understand, there are also those things you think you know well; you say them with confidence and only later realize what a total ass you are. Here are some examples of what a total ass I am:

Let’s play an egg.

The Spanish word for game is “juego.” The Spanish word for egg is “huevo.” I have recently discovered, in a rather distressing way, that when uttered by a gringa these two words sound the same. I was hanging out with my host sisters when hunger struck. I told them I was going downstairs to “hacer huevos,” or “make eggs,” and was taken off guard when Carmen got so excited. Ignoring this (as, I’m realizing, I do quite often), I went downstairs to prepare my meal. As soon as the eggs hit the frying pan, Carmen came into the kitchen, sneakers on, asking, “Where are we going to play?” My heart broke into 500 little pieces when I realized she thought I had said, “I’m going to play games!” instead of “I’m going to make eggs.” Lucia explained to her the correct version of what I had said and tears were choked back by all. For the rest of my life, the sound of frying eggs will trigger this memory of a disappointed little girl, and it’s all my fault.

Misplaced shoulders

A friend of mine dislocated her shoulder when she fell while running after a pickpocketer. A few of us accompanied her to various emergency rooms in the city and, as she wasn’t confident in her Spanish skills (but was mostly just buzzed on paracetimol/ beer to kill the pain), I repeatedly– and proudly, might I add–explained to numerous hospital administrative staff that my friend had “misplaced” her shoulder. In retrospect, I’m thankful that no one was mean enough to point at my friend just south of the neck and say to me, “It’s right there.”

 Fish enchants me!

This one isn’t really a mistake, but I always think it’s wrong because it’s something of a false cognate. You say “Me encanta      X     “ when you love something, but to me it means “    X     enchants me.” In an effort to express my enthusiastic endorsement of a certain edible underwater creature, I say “Me encanta pescado,” which to me means, “Fish enchants me.”

 I have a skyscraper

This one goes way back, but I won’t forget the time I accidentally told my college Spanish professor I had a skyscraper (rascacielo) instead of a cold (resfriado).

I’m going for a fart

The fun thing about having lived in more than one Spanish-speaking country is that I get to learn lots of different ways to express one simple idea and confuse myself forever and always. For example, in Spain in order to tell someone you’re going for a walk you could say, “Me voy a dar un paseo.” Here in Chile, Spanish is spoken in a way that can more literally be translated to American English. You can say “Voy a andar,” “Voy a caminar,” doesn’t much matter. These both make sense to me, but while struggling to remember which one was most commonly used here, I got super confused and accidentally told my host dad, “Me voy de pedo,” which could literally be translated to, “I’m going for a fart.” He was probably quite pleased when I left the house immediately thereafter. (Tirar un pedo=to fart, in case you have upcoming travels and are suffering some bowel issues).

 Contact lentils

“Lentajes” is not the word for lenses, just fyi.

Here are some other things I’ve realized I can’t discuss at length in Spanish:

Swamps. Baking. The Addams Family. School uniforms. Karate. Eyelash curlers and most other things having to do with personal eye care. Breastfeeding.

 Confusing things I do:

I hold up five fingers when referring to any number one through one million.


Lamp in my bedroom. Still not sure what the synesthesiac description “purple aroma” means or what it has to do with Disney princesses.

It’s Tempting to Attempt, but Some Things Just Don’t Translate

I have long been guilty of comparing certain things to certain other things that are completely unrelated in reality. Like my life, for instance, as compared to the lives of characters in movies or television shows I’ve seen. Or Jeff Daniels to Dave Coulier. They’re the same, right?! No, they’re not.

When moving to a foreign place, it’s naturally tempting to compare everything new to something we’re familiar with. When learning a foreign language, it’s equally tempting to translate everything to its equivalent in your native language. We desperately seek exact equivalents or stark contrasts. Anything in between simply won’t do.









So much of my first month here in Chile was spent standing silently face to face with a Chilean, blinking at each other, secretly hoping subtitles would appear. I once curtsied when I left a social gathering because I could not think of the appropriate way to excuse myself in Spanish. Luckily the other guests were rich and probably didn’t think it was too weird, but still.

Nowadays (contrary to what I said earlier. I’m a liar), I’m actually doing quite well in Spanish, and though there are concepts and words that are still far from my grasp, I have even been referred to as “fluent,” (which I’m taking withOUT a grain of salt since I know that Chileans don’t sugarcoat things). But even without the language barrier thing, communication just seems to be a widespread problem here in Chile. I’m often left unaccompanied without warning. People will just disappear from my presence without explanation. “Um, where are we?” is something I say a lot here, since I’m often taken someplace that was not the assumed destination. People either over-share or tell you nothing and expect you to somehow magically telepathically know what’s going on.

Despite being confused 78% of the time, I’ve come to love these miscommunications and mistranslations. Accidentally agreeing to something you don’t understand. Accidentally insulting someone. Accidentally flirting with someone. Accidentally inviting someone to do something you don’t plan on doing yourself. These moments are often hilarious and I’ve learned they make for great stories. But the most important thing I’ve realized is that, at some point, the translating has to stop. You have to stop comparing your life, your unfamiliar experience, your new language, to something you already know. The whole point of coming here was to find something new.

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You Ain’t Nothing But a Chilean Dog

Chile is bursting at the seams with stray dogs. They inhabit each and every street, some traveling in groups, others going stag, always possessing sass and an air of invincibility. Often, one will take a liking to you and follow you for a few blocks or six miles and then you’ll part ways as if nothing happened. He’ll resume his life on the street, and you’ll go on with yours sans dog.

The surplus of street dogs here is, I must regrettably say, ruining dogs for me. Call me a dog-litist, but they’re not in such great shape: They have patches of hair missing due to whatever vermin inhabit that real estate and they’re thoroughly aroused by pretty much everything. I want to sincerely thank the US for cultivating a culture where it is widely accepted to spade/ neuter your dog, thus nipping sexual maturation in the bud. I know that this is selfish, but I do not want my dog to be sexually active. I want my dog to be an innocent fluffball tushiemonster with no desires whatsoever to hump anything or anyone. Please, take Bob Barker’s advice and spade/ neuter your dog.

The thing is, even the house dogs bug me. They usually opt to sleep all day and bark all night. Literally, all night. They have a solid 10 hours worth of things to discuss with each other, and these things must be discussed at a very high volume across the neighborhood.

In addition to the unsavory appearance/ smell/ attitude of many of the street dogs, a similar culture of canine carelessness pertains to house dogs. As a [well, perhaps former] dog lover, my mind is boggled by this. Families seem to express so much interest in having them, but they do not by ANY means enjoy dogs the way we do in the States (*broad generalization alert*). Family dogs are rarely ever allowed in the house and when they are, it’s only to be locked in the laundry room to sleep at night. They are not the fluffy adopted family member we care so much about. I’ve even heard that the reason for so many stray dogs is that families keep their dogs until they’re no longer puppies and then release them. WHO IN THE WORLD WOULD BE ABLE TO PART WITH THE FAMILY DOG JUST BECAUSE PUPPYDOM HAS ENDED? Ageism.


Okay, this one kinda reminds me of my old dog so I had to take a picture. Precious lil tushie puppy.

 Elyssa Garrett and the Non-Habit Forming Sleep Aids

Along with the sound of the barking dogs, the memory of what occurred still keeps me up at night. I’ve heard from many natives that Chileans are, notoriously, thieves; that they take what they want without asking. They deceive, coerce, steal. While there are many great things about Chileans also (they can be generous, kind, hospitable, fun), I’ve found this to be true on more than one occasion. Exhibit A:

A couple weeks ago, the Chaleco family engaged in a lengthy discussion about which dog they should buy next. They already possess two Yorkies they’re rather indifferent towards, so I’m skeptical about whether or not they should be adding to their canine family. Laura decided she wants either a Chihuahua or a Teacup Poodle. As a firm believer in mid- to large- size dogs, I begged to differ.

A week after this discussion occurred, we were walking to Grandma’s house when we happened upon a “stray” Chihuahua. This Chihuahua, while sans collar and no owner in sight, was basically on the front patio of someone’s house. But this was irrelevant to the Chaleco family. Without even looking around, they saw the Chihuahua they’d wanted for a whole week and ran after it at full speed, scooped it up, and continued walking with the terrified, shaking dog in their hands. They kidnapped a Chihuahua. They brought it to Grandma’s house and introduced it as their new dog.

Though Laura claimed she’d keep an eye out for posters abut a missing dog (though refused to post any Found Dog posters since “anyone could come along and claim the dog”–um, hello!! That’s how you got her!) it’s hard for me to accept the situation. You don’t just kidnap a dog off someone’s front porch but promise to return it should you receive a formal request. Really the best thing to do is just NOT KIDNAP DOGS.

Throughout the rest of the day, I daydreamed about ways I could set the dog free and make it look like an accident. I could stuff the dog in my backpack and walk towards school, letting it off on a main road where surely it could find its way home. I could leave the gate open “accidentally,” or post my own flyers reporting “my” lost dog and direct all inferences about said dog to an email account I’d set up for the occasion (chihuahuasrlyf@gmail?), then send someone to collect the dog. Perhaps I could revisit the house-did I remember which one it was exactly?-and leave a note with an anonymous tip about their dog’s whereabouts. It was all too much for me.

For the rest of the day at Grandma’s house, the Chihuahua was tortured with attention. The kids dressed it up, picked it up, threw it around. I almost cheered when the Chihuahua peed on Carmen, and later again on Laura. When we were leaving the house later that night, they called for the Chihuahua to come in from the backyard. It never came. They searched and searched but, thank heavens, the Chihuahua must have found a way out, or perhaps it wished itself away until it dis-apparated. Either way, tiny ugly Chihuahua, wherever you are, I’m sorry for what happened and I want you to know I’m rooting for you. To all the dogs in Chile, go home and stay there. These streets ain’t safe for you.


Suddenly a Valley Girl

I was hoping that when I moved to Chile, the good people of EOD would place me in a big city. After living near Chicago and in the heart of Madrid, I realized that this environment is the best fit for me and would certainly offer the greatest access to a foreign culture. If a big city wasn’t on the menu, I wanted the complete opposite: A place where I could be one with Chile’s spectacular nature. A place where I’d retreat to mountaintops on a regular basis; where I’d fill my palms with water from streams and be inspired to start eating lettuce; a place where I could let my beard grow long and scraggly; a place where I’d become Bon Iver.


This is apparently lettuce

I live in neither of these places. Instead, I live in Quilicura. While Quilicura is technically in the Santiago Metropolitan Region and is a mere 20 minutes away from downtown by car (which translates to well over an hour by public transit-woohoo!), it is a whole other thing. Thoroughly a suburb, Quilicura also possesses many characteristics of a slum or ghetto*.


I live where my face is. I want to live where it says “Santiago”

When I found out that I’d be living in Quilicura, I sought out as much information as possible about this town on the northwestern outskirts of Santiago. There was not much to be found on The Internet, so I consulted my most trusted Santiagan (Santiagish? Santiaguino? Santiagista?) strangers, and the most common reactions I received were, “It’s not safe,” “It’s very dangerous,” “I’ve never been there, but I’ve seen it on the news,” and, “It’s boring.” (The last of which would seem to contradict the first three. It must be pretty happening to be on the news, right?). I was fretful. I’d been told that Chileans often perceive their country as more dangerous than it truly is, and that the only thing I should really worry about is pickpocketing, but when a near stranger described to me the news coverage he saw of the violent breaking/ entering/hostage/assault situation in Quilicura and expressed genuine concern for my wellbeing, I thought it might be okay to indulge in some worrying.

Despite being thoroughly convinced that the black belt [keychain] I earned in karate class at American Heritage Summer Day Camp** is legit, I have little faith in my abilities to fend off anything other than a light wind. Even if I were better endowed in the bicep department, I feared my methods of self-defense would be N/A here in Chile where I don’t know anyone, would probably have trouble remembering how to call for ayuda (help), and where I cannot for the life of me remember the numbers to call in case of an emergency (and yes, there are THREE distinct emergency numbers for Ambulance, Fire, and Police!).

While after moving here I’m certain that everything I heard about Quilicura is true, I happen to be living in a very nice neighborhood that’s ever so slightly removed from the slums. The neighborhood, Valle Lo Campino, is very boring and reminds me a bit of the area I grew up in in South Florida. Surprisingly, Valle Lo Campino is somehow even less exciting and more uniform than South Florida’s indistinguishable housing developments. All houses are exactly the same layout, color, distance apart. Row after row, cul de sac after sul de sac.


Screen Shot 2013-04-28 at 9.35.08 AM

Like all of Santiago, it’s surrounded by hills, one of which boasts big white Hollywood-style letters that spell Valle Lo Campino. The part of the neighborhood that isn’t surrounded by hills is surrounded by a highway which cuts off VLC from greater Quilicura. There is one way into/ out of the neighborhood, and at rush hours the traffic problems cause what should be a 15 minute commute to school to be around 45 minutes. This phenomenon, which we might call a traffic jam in the USA, is here referred to as “taco.”

People are, understandably, so worked up about the excessive amount of unavoidable tacos that they have “No Tacos + Quilicura!” painted on the backs of their cars. “Why are these people so firmly against tacos?” I wondered when I first arrived, as I prepared my bib and stocked up on salsa. I was visibly disappointed when my Chilean family explained their meaning of “taco” and have not quite recovered. My trauma is fueled by the fact that, in order to avoid the morning tacos, we’ve started taking a shortcut through the hills. Coffee is good, but off-roading along a cliff with no guardrail while not wearing a seatbelt in the front seat of a large commercial furgoneta is a surefire way to get yourself going in the morning. If only Folgers could bottle this!

Rush hours in VLC are like that scene from the Truman Show

Apart from the slums and the tacos, my main concern about living in Quilicura is that I don’t feel I’m seeing or doing enough. I came to Chile to experience a new culture and found myself right back in the ‘burbs. I get home from work and spend the rest of the afternoon in the house because there is NOTHING TO DO here and time does usually not permit a jaunt downtown during the school week. I spend about 15 hours a day in a 5×8 ft room and I’m contemplating starting my own license plate making business. I’m worried that my time here in Chile will be for naught if I don’t SEE DO GO


This is my bedroom. As far as the eye can see!

*When referring to someone or something that is ghetto, the word is flaite. There’s also a gang-like symbol to go along with it. The more you know…

**Yes, I mentioned a different day camp in an earlier post. I went to a lot of day camps. Ask me about my day camps!

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Elyssa Garrett, United States

“The password. Can you give me the password?” repeated the alarm company lady on the other end of the line.

“Uhhhh. I don’t have it. It’s that…” I blurted into the phone, searching for the correct Spanish words and structure, “I’m trying to call the family…but I live here!”

“Is everything okay?”

“Yes. Thank you!” She must have thought this was funny since the alarm was still blaring in the background.

We hung up. At least I now knew I had sufficient control of the Spanish language to defend myself against accusations of breaking and entering, but I was slightly concerned that it was so easy to bypass the security questions after the alarm had been tripped.

The alarm was still going off when I got a call from Laura, whom I had called as soon as the event began. “Hola, Elyssa! Cómo estai?”

“Bien, Laura! Pero uhhh..El alarmo {this is incorrect} está….no tuve la clave!”

She knew exactly what was going on. She had texted me earlier, “Call me before you get home!” I had [correctly] assumed that she had forgotten I was coming home early and had set the alarm when she left for work in the morning. On the way home, however, I got a call from Nacho. He asked me if I was on my way home and when I told him I indeed was, he said, “Okay, that’s all.” I assumed he and Laura had been communicating, so I figured the problem had been resolved. Nevertheless, I tried calling Laura before entering the home. She didn’t answer so I thought, “There’s no way they’d let me come home to a set alarm with no knowledge of how to turn it off. Nacho would have said something on the phone since he knew I was coming home…”

Not the case! I enter the home. There’s an immediate beep that indicates I have fifteen seconds to enter the code. I don’t know the code. No one ever gave me the code. WHAT IS THE CODE?? Any chance it’s the same one as my home in Florida? No? OKAY, S#*! I stand there, waiting for the inevitable: >>¡¡¡onomonopiac description of a tripped alarm!!!<<

There is literally nothing I can do but wait. Wait for what? I don’t know. A call from the alarm company? To be taken into custody by the Chilean police force? Should I RUN? I literally thought that: SHOULD I RUN? WILL THEY FIND ME IF I RUN? WILL THIS STOP IF I RUN? I did not run. Instead, I answered the phone: “I don’t have the password, but I live here!”

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Am I Doing This Right? (And Lots of Other Rhetorical Questions)

I’m currently sitting next to a 7-year-old girl who’s picking her nose and wiping it on the couch (“leave no cushion untouched” seems to be her policy) and I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say anything. My grip on the nearest armrest tightens as her booger-clad fingers near my seat. Luckily, she is called downstairs for bath time before an exclamation of my disgust becomes absolutely necessary, and I can exhale with relief of avoiding a confrontation. This adorable little slob is one of my Chilean host “sisters”, and this event was just one of many that have left me wondering what’s my place here in this family, how I should act, whether I should be here at all, and am I doing this right.

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Intro. to Chile

After nine months of indecision and anxiety, planning and detours, delays and anticipation, I left Miami/ the United States for Santiago, Chile. You can never truly imagine beforehand how an experience is going to pan out, and after building up a detailed ”possible scenario” in your head, the actual journey is rarely ever exactly what you expected. The thing about my trip to Chile was that I knew so few details about my trip before embarking that I hardly had enough ammunition to build a substantial Scenario A. And even as I’m here at the program orientation, I still know so little. I’m participating in English Opens Doors, a [soon-to-be-defunct] volunteer program run through the Chilean Ministry of Education. I know I purchased a one-way ticket to Santiago. I know I’ll be living somewhere in Región Metropolitana, teaching English in a Chilean middle or high school, and living with a host family of some sort, at least until the end of July, but that’s it.

I woke up at 5:30am on Wednesday morning. My flight wasn’t until 10:30am and the Miami International Airport is only an hour from my house, but a poorly timed gynecologist appointment necessitated an early drop off by my mother. We got to the airport just in time to be among the first to check in for my flight and saw others standing in line to have their luggage professionally wrapped in bright yellow saran wrap. We shrugged this off, my mom snapped a photo of me holding up my ticket and passport and, after a cool fist bump, I was on my way.

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