Last night I walked in on a bridal shower/going away party. Honestly, I had no idea my host mom was hosting one. I just had finished making the long trek up the hill to our house and, worn out from my first day of classes, I was looking forward to relaxing on the couch in the living room.
Instead, my host mom was making heaping plates of sandwiches and chatting with two women who were the first to arrive. About an hour later, once everyone had trickled in, we sat down at the table, pulling up approximately seven extra chairs to accommodate all of the guests. The kids, mostly younger than ten, and all extremely rowdy, were exiled to “la mesa de niños.” (The kid table was also a staple of my childhood.)
Anyway, the guest of honor was this woman named Jackie. From what I gathered, she was about to marry this Spanish man named Raul. They had met over the internet and started chatting and Skyping. Both had fairly young children from previous marriages, and weren’t expecting anything to happen. But they fell in love, started dating long-distance, and now, a year later, are getting married. What a romantic love story!
Even though the bride-to-be was glowing, and her friends teased her lightheartedly about lingerie and the wedding night, there was a bittersweet sense to this gathering.
After people were finished eating and plates were cleared, we began going around the table and saying sweet things about Jackie. Everyone wished her well for her wedding, gave some tips about moving to Europe, re-lived favorite memories with her, and expounded upon her good characteristics. Additionally, since these women were all from my host mom’s church, they prayed for Jackie, praised God for her, and spoke truth into her life. It was a truly beautiful night. Lots of tears were shed and laughs were had. I was glad to be a part of the celebration of this woman’s life. I also learned some things about Chilean culture through this experience.
1. It’s okay to be late. Here, people often arrive an hour after something is about to start. Time is viewed very differently in this culture; it’s not something to be controlled. Delays happen. To be on time is somewhat unexpected. In light of this, it’s not important to be ready on time. My host mom was still cooking when her guests arrived. So they joined in. It wasn’t a big deal, just another opportunity to socialize. Which brings me to…
2. Chileans love to talk. From the moment I walked in the door, the chatter was constant, with only a slight pause to pray for the meal. As we went around saying nice things to Jackie, everyone had lots to say. Sometimes people would jump in, interrupting with a side story, but overall the whole thing lasted almost an hour and a half. And then Jackie wanted to do the same for everyone there! So we spent another hour receiving complements and well-wishes.
3. Family is everything. When the women at the party called Jackie their “hermana” that was the biggest compliment they could have given. For someone to be made part of the family is the greatest honor in Chilean culture. Families here are big, and very close. I am so grateful to be part of a Chilean family myself! And I felt honored to be included in Jackie’s special night with her church family. Surprise! Congratulations Jackie! We’ll miss you!