Before we start this story, let’s have a little vocab lesson.
Flaite can sort of be translated as ghetto or white trash. Flaites are low-lifes who tend to be minor criminals or wannabe thugs, people from the lower economic classes who act decidedly low class.
The tarjeta bip! is a card used to take the bus and metro in Santiago. You put money on it at metro stations and some random places which offer the service. If you don’t have at least $540 (about US$1.15 right now) on your card, you can’t ride the bus. Every time you swipe your card to use transportation, it shows you how much credit you have left so you know when to recharge.
Now, on with the story.
Today, I went to an appointment up in Las Condes. I had forgotten that I only had $530 left on my card, so to get home I flagged down the first bus that passed. I stepped on and swiped my card only to see a red light and hear the “beep beep beep” of rejection. The bus was already moving, however, and bus drivers are often nice enough to let you just ride for free, so I turned to the driver and started to ask “puedo pasar?” (can I sit down?).
Before I could finish the question, instead of a yes or no I got “psssh, igual que los flaites” (just like the flaites). I’m sorry, what? I politely ask if something that is often allowed is ok, and you give me that? I said as much, asking if flaites usually asked before just breezing past him (answer: no, they do not ask) and got a lecture about how I should act like a lady and charge my bip!. Because clearly a real lady would never do something as horrible as making an honest mistake and forgetting to charge her bus card. The horror!
I tried to explain myself, but he was convinced I was wrong. At no time did he ask me to get off the bus, however. I was the one who asked him to open the doors and let me off rather than put up with his abuse despite my continued civil attitude toward him. Although I may perhaps have told him to go to hell as I got off.
As I walked the 10 minutes in the dark toward the nearest metro, I asked myself why I was so upset by this. I’ve been denied before when I’ve asked if I can just pasar, and I have no problem with that. It’s inconvenient, sure, since it inevitably happens when I’m running late, but I respect the rules. I do however have a problem with mean-spirited comments designed not to fix the problem but solely to make someone feel bad.
And it’s precisely the latter that I’ve found more of in Chile than I’ve faced in the US. I used to have far more bad Chile days, and I blamed some things on Chile that should really have been blamed on big cities or even the real world in general. I am not saying that Chileans are the only ones who treat strangers badly; that sadly is a global phenomenon.
However in the US, I think people tend to be more direct. Even the English language is more direct than Spanish. There are plenty of passive aggressive US citizens, that’s for sure, but overall I’d say our society is critical of that approach to conflict. We encourage people to face their problems head-on. Of course, as a result we’re often called brash or overbearing, but this is one of those cultural differences where I just think that my way is right.
I will never forget the time Rodolfo and I were at the artisan compound Pueblito Los Dominicos with Lola and picked up a garden hose to offer her water. Three of the shopkeepers watched as she drank, and it was only when we chanced to walk their way that we were told off for letting a dog drink from the hose they used for their drinking water. Who would rather watch her water source get polluted with dog drool so that she could then make the owners feel bad about it than prevent the situation to begin with and allow everyone to end up happy?
The same type of person who would rather tell someone she’s acting like flaite trash but let her ride the bus for free than politely ask her to get off. And to those people, I say man up! Grow a pair, act like an adult and address the problem rather than stewing in your sense of righteous injustice and bringing some innocently mistaken person down with you.
I am open to the idea that this happens just as much in other countries as it does in Chile and that my experience has been unfortunately skewed. However, these are my experiences, and I’m left with the impression that it’s more of a problem in Chile. So to the Chileans out there who don’t do this – and thankfully you guys are the majority – I encourage you to also man up and say something to those compatriots who are letting you down.