Yesterday, as I periodically do, when nearly killed by a flung-open taxi door a solid meter from the sidewalk, I stopped to look the perpetrator in the eye. I developed this policy a long time ago, of wanting to personalize the cyclist, give the door-flinger a little reality check on what might have been if I weren’t so good with the brakes, or if we had not just had some dumb luck.
I was riding up the Alameda, and technically I should have been on the left side, because I was in the bus-only lane. However, all cyclists use this lane, as do private cars dropping people off, and taxis, to do the same. The taxis are a bit of a plague to me. They are just doing their job, trying to get passengers, but they clump together around certain corners, meaning everyone has to swing out into the middle of the street to avoid them. Buses, other taxis, private cars, and even cyclists.
Another thing taxis are famous for is dropping off passengers. I know this, and if I see a taxi pulling over, I assume it’s to let someone out at the curb. Yesterday I was riding in that no-man’s land, about two feet from the curb (I know this because there are some badly-placed grates on this street, so I tend to swing a little wide) when a taxi did not pull over, but stopped as if in traffic, and a passenger flung his door open.
I screeched to a stop, pulling over to the curb, and turned around to look at him. At first I was silent.
Me: “Mírame, mírame la cara” (Look at me, look me in the face)
Him: “Y qué?” (So what?)
Ooooh, hostility. This was not going to go well.
Me: Descúlpase (apologize), I told him. Apologize to the person you almost killed.
Him: You weren’t wearing a (reflective) vest.
Me: It’s daytime.
Him: It doesn’t matter, you weren’t wearing a reflective vest.
Me: It doesn’t matter, because you didn’t look first before opening your door, because if you had, you would have seen me. And reflective vests don’t reflect in the daylight. You didn’t look. Apologize.
I have to jump in here and say that asking someone for an apology often doesn’t work out well for me. What I want is to generate an iota of discomfort in the offending party, such that they don’t door you or any of your cyclist friends in the future. Though to be fair, the problem here was also the taxi driver, who did not pull over to the curb, and my beef probably should also have been with him, but the passenger was easier to stop. Also, we are nigh upon Christmas and the end of the academic year and everyone is on a hair trigger right now in Santiago. It is a stressful place out there, and summer temperatures are in full swing, which does not help. Also, unlike Canadians, and to some extent people from the US, apologies to not come easily here in Chile. It is quite unusual for someone to apologize at all, and it is particularly unlikely while the person is under stress.
On and on he went about the reflective vest. New laws in Chile mean that cyclists can be fined for not wearing reflective vests, for not riding on bike paths when these are available, for riding on the sidewalk, etc. The law seems to pit cyclists against pedestrians, which I don’t think is the main danger to anyone. (and yes, I have been hit by a cyclist as a pedestrian). And while I understand that it is unpleasant to be walking down the sidewalk and have someone whizz by you, I feel like an over all consciousness-raising that we’re all in this together would be more constructive than laws aimed at punishing cyclists. I believe it is also sure to be capriciously applied. I am not pushing the envelope, but I fully anticipate that I, a middle-aged white English-speaking foreigner on a hybrid bike could ride the entire city from sidewalk to sidewalk without ever being fined. Whereas young men, who have a tendency to ride faster, hotdog on and off the sidewalks, and are generally in the police’s sights are much more likely to be pulled over. As of yet, I do not know anyone personally that has been ticketed.
Also, back to the vests. I will track one down, and I will wear it. But I am telling you right now, by doing so, I will raise to approximately 10.1% the number of cyclists who are currently following this rule. And in part, that’s because it’s an extra expense, and an extra step (and it’s damn hot out there). But in my mind, it’s also because the reason people don’t see cyclists is because they are in their own little worlds, not because we are not brightly attired. Since the inception of the newish bus system, which is much more expensive and onerous for many people, and the building of more bike paths, and the doubling of the density of people living downtown in the last ten years, there are more cyclists than ever in the street. And I imagine this is really stressful for drivers. But this does not stop the number of cyclists from increasing. After the initial investment, it’s practically free, often faster than public transportation, and it’s exercise. It’s also a slow slog on some of the more popular bike paths (looking at you Santa Isabel, Curicó and Miguel Claro), but such is the price we pay for having a place to ride that is all our own. Except for random people using them as sidewalk extensions, or places to double park, or a good place to ride their motorcycle.
I also heavily suspect that the new legislation is related to the number of bike-delivery companies like rappi, uber eats and glovo, which has increased the number of cyclists, plus the new public bike system (there are now three such systems in Chile, but this one is dockless and the bikes are everywhere. We also got Lime scooters a few weeks back.
But back to our non-apologetic friend.
He was angry. I was angry. I stopped Usted-ing him, and changed to tú. He noticed, and I could tell he didn’t like it. And then I used the word “weón.” The thing about the word “weón” is that it means many things at many different times. I did not say “no seas weón” which would be like “don’t be an asshole.” Instead, I used it informally, basically calling him “dude.” If he did not like being tuteado, (spoken to in the tú form, most common in Chile), he especially did not like being called weón.
And here’s where something most unexpected happened. Instead of one of the usual anti-woman slurs one can generally expect in this situation, such as loca, histérica, exagerada, enojona, fea or gorda (crazy, hysterical, over-reacting, angry, ugly or fat), he picked up on something else. (And if you don’t think these comments are anti-woman ask yourself how often you hear them being directed at women vs. men).
Back to the argument, our friend honed in on that one word.
“DON’T call me weón. You’re not even Chilean.”
To which I wish I had responded, “and is my life worth less because I’m not Chilean?” Or perhaps “I have just as much of a right to be here as you do, want to see my carnet (Chilean ID)?”
But instead, I ended up shouting after him as he snaked away into the crowd,
“No soy chilena pero llevo mas tiempo que la chucha acá” (I’m not Chilean, but I’ve been here a long-ass time).
File it under end of the year frustrations. I’m off to buy a reflective vest, and as far as practicable, stay out of traffic at least until summer vacation officially begins.
Out here in the country, I think the number of Chilean commuter cyclists is on the decline as people get richer (although some of the Carribean immigrants from recent years are replacing them). It seems to me that, at least out here in the country, middle class wealthy Chileans (or even most Chileans) avoid cycling as a means of going anywhere, and only cycle recreationally on a Sunday, often wearing conspicuously obvious cycling gear as if (I sometimes suspect) to highlight that they are not cycling because they are poor.
While all people have a natural defensive tendency and struggle to admit their mistakes at first (preferring to lie or deflect blame), I think this may even be more the case in Chile. People here seem to be non confrontational. My experience of criticising strangers in a public place is that it is quite a shock to people to have this happen to them, even if they were doing something bad.
I do see a different in how these interactions go depending on the sex/gender. Unlike other countries, angry/shouted male-male public arguments between strangers seem to be actually the rarest here, presumably because of the danger of it escalating to physical violence. Women are more likely to be rude and harshly critical of men than men are.
I’ve rarely seen women being harshly criticised by other men when other men are present, but I do hear of it happening to family members when I wasn’t there. I bet this exchange would have played out a little differently if you’d had a male friend standing next to you.
I think the purpose of criticising a person’s behaviour is really to try and make them reflect and not do it next time. They are not likely going to apologise or immediately correct their behaviour so they just shout at you and walk off and you feel like you achieved nothing, but they may act differently next time.
The argument that you are a foreigner and shouldn’t be criticising them is, in my experience, usually just an obvious thing to say when they are backed into a corner with a lack of good arguments and it’s just an obvious defensive thing to say if they can’t think of anything else. I do think us foreigners should avoid criticising a little more than our home countries as we adapt to the culture, but I think this argument gets weaker the longer you’ve been here.
I do think it makes sense to be more polite in your criticism and make a polite suggestion rather than demand an apology. It reduces the unpleasantness and chance of escalation, and may even be more effective in changing a behaviour.
Thanks for your thoughtful response. It varies by the day, with it being a more visceral, rather than thought-out reaction, so sometimes I might say, hey, look out, or sometimes I might be more confrontational. Like anyone, emotional responses come out in times of stress. I routinely apologize if I do something that is dangerous for someone else, for example, if I make a brusque movement that causes a motorist to have to react. I make a gesture of apology, and it deflects the ire, but I say I’m sorry because I truly am.
I agree it is all very loaded with gender, and colorism and class, and none of that is to be discounted. There is a stigma of the rude “señora” who seems to be angry at the world. For some of them, I see why they might be, even if I personally have not done anything to them. And I hear about it mostly from men. Maybe there’s not much woman-on-woman ire in the public view, either. Or I behave in such a way as to not piss older women off? I have no idea. I take your point about the lycra clad people, and agree, though cycling is much more common in Santiago than when I moved here 14 years ago, with a countercultural/environmental/hipster push behind it, plus the other reasons I stated.
Thanks for taking the time to write such a well thought-out comment, Jamie!
I can’t think of any cases I’ve seen of woman on woman ire, either. So it is usually man and a woman. Something for a psychologist to ponder.
What are your thoughts about cycling on pavements? I quite like the fact that we are not in one of those countries where you have to follow every rule precisely with no allowance for situation or common sense. Sometimes I do cycle carefully on the pavement if there is a ton of traffic and no cycle lane, or I’ve been caught out after dark, and there are no pedestrians on it and it is a wide pavement. I watch people to see if I ever get dirty looks and I never do. But then again people here don’t seem to do dirty looks very often in general.Do you do it? Is it legal?
It is not legal to ride on the pavement except under certain conditions. That said, I will do it if there is no one on the sidewalk, or if there really is no logical route to get to where I’m going otherwise, or for very specific reasons, including safety. What I’ve found is that people in the wealthier comunas are more likely to point out when you are doing something wrong bikewise, whereas pedestrians in Centro (where I live) are used to things being a bit of a hodge podge, and it seems we understand we’re all in this together. The other day I went to Homecenter at Estación Central and bought a bunch of stuff. It was unwieldy (a couple of plastic boxes, a desk lamp and a full-length mirror), but I decided to walk it home (maybe 20 minutes). No one tssked at me or was frustrated with me, just let me go on my way, even though I was kind of taking up more than my fair share of the sidewalk. I think we are more accustomed to sharing space down here. That said, I ride very slowly on the sidewalk, and do not pass close to people. I have been known to ride on the sidewalks if for some reason I don’t have my lights, for example, and it’s the middle of the night.
Thanks for your reply. I’ve been to that Homecenter a bunch of times because that is my entry/exit point to Santiago, I assume you mean the one inside the bus station/mall. If you go up the escalator from there that is where I get my bus to Talagante. Maybe I should try cycling in Santiago sometime with the rent a bike scheme. But I don’t think it operates in Estacion Central.
I hesitate to think what might have happened had your encounter been with a taxista in Buenos Aires.
I have cycled in Buenos Aires, and even Los Angeles. Taxistas are nutters here, but all of the civil construction is to benefit motorists, which is the main problem. I have also biked extensively in NY, Boston, Washington, DC, Osaka, Paramaribo and pretty much every place I’ve ever been. Santiago’s pretty special!
I would categorize Buenos Aires taxi drivers as belligerent (in their better moments). I cycle mostly in the East Bay, which is pretty good despite the occasional outburst of fossil-fuel privilege.
I think you’re the only other person I know who’s been to Paramaribo – how long ago?
I’ve been there twice! And really enjoyed it both times. First time was about 6 years ago, and then again about 3 years ago on my way to and from French Guiana with a friend who was writing the guidebook for both (and British Guayana). It was a great time. I find Suriname quite interesting, and would love to go back, in fact.
I liked all the Guyanas (though Georgetown was edgy), and had some oddball experiences in all three. What publisher was your friend working with?