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The contrasts between old and new, practical and superflous, modern and old-fashioned never ceases to amaze me. Maybe that’s why I find in Chile an utterly endless supply of blog (and other writing) fodder.

Today’s lesson is about regulation, rules and the following thereof.

Our first installment finds me in the grocery store, buying an onion to make a roasted squash soup. I go to the weighing station and tell the woman, “No, I don’t need a bag, you can put the sticker directly onto the onion.” And she shakes her head sadly, indicating no, and fishes out a bag from under the counter where the scale is located. She carefully wraps my onion, which by all accounts comes pre-wrapped, you know, with the skin and all. As she applies the sticker carefully to the outside of the bag, ensuring that I will need scissors to get at the onion, she explains that it’s a new supermarket policy: all produce must be bagged.

I’ve been known to be argumentative, it’s true. But I’m not going to argue with a woman who makes maybe $500 a month, which isn’t enough to live well on, not even here, about not having a bag. I know she’s following instructions, and I’m not going to hassle her. She feeds me a line about people eating the produce en route to the cash register (perhaps themselves earning even less than $500 a month, who knows), and I mimic the facial expression of a person who’s just taken a bite of a raw onion (did I mention the skin?).

Onion in bag and bag in hand, I picked up the rest of my essentials and commenced to waiting in the world’s longest line because it was 8:30 on a weeknight, and though you wouldn’t think it, this is prime downtown supermarket time in Santiago. Take note.

Later on that evening, as I was walking into the house, the gas man had arrived. In Chile there are two ways to fire up your stove, one with gas de cañería, which is municipal gas. It comes piped into your house, and with hoses is fed into your stove for all your cooking pleasure (See roasted squash soup, above). The other possibility is that your gas runs on gas from a balón (canister). Periodically these will run out, filling your house with a gaseous smell, and requiring you to call one of these gents to come and please bring you another one because the squash soup is only half-cooked, and you’re getting nibbly.

triciclo gasman.JPG

There are also trucks that come with the same, announcing their arrival with a pingapinga on the gas tanks with a wooden stick. People sometimes open their windows and shout out to make them stop. Oh, urban life.

So, the gasman. As I’ve mentioned before, the elevator in my building is one of those old-fashioned jobbers, where you need to ask what floor people are going to and punch in the buttons one by one. Poor elevator, can’t remember more than one floor at a time. So the gasman and I came into the elevator together, and I said to him, as is the custom “A qué piso vas?” (what floor are you going to), and he said, “sexto,” sixth. To which I raised my eyebrows. You see, balones are illegal above the fourth floor in Santiago, which is probably because of fire truck ladder lengths or something equally encouraging. Hmmm, I said. “So that law about no balones above the fourth floor?” And the gasman shrugged, and said he’d brought balones up to the fourteenth floor of other buildings. I confessed I have one, too (though mine is for the gas heater, not the stove), and we shrugged our shoulders in unison, and then both got off the elevator, the gas man lugging the heavy gas canister behind him.

So my contrast point of the day was born: Let’s flout the rules when it could lead to dangerous gas explosions and death and dismemberment, but if someone wants to eat a raw onion in the supermarket? This must be stopped!

So, dear reader, what curiousities have you seen today?