Set the Clocks Back: We’re on Chilean Time

by Emily Ullmann:

This post isn’t about jetlag. In fact, despite an eleven-hour plane ride, Chile and New Haven are in the same time zone. Yet after adjusting to Chilean time, we might as well be thousands of miles east or west, instead of due south.

I approach this topic with serious bias. Early to rise, late to bed, and eating on a meal/snack schedule with almost no standard deviation, I notice the smallest change in la vida cotidiana. So Chile has shocked my system.

A day in Chile starts with breakfast—a pretty simple affair with coffee and toast with jam and butter. The student population often skips this meal entirely, usually due to sleeping in after a long night (in the library, of course!).

The colorful streets of Valparaíso. (Ullmann/TYG)

Lunch is not just a meal, but a mid-day break, a cultural halving of the day that requires hours of one’s time spent consuming several delicious courses. Lunch doesn’t really start before 1 PM and goes as late as 3:30 PM. Almost all restaurants have a prix fixe menu with a soup or salad, entrée, dessert, and beverage for several thousand Chilean pesos. Generally it’s a pretty good deal…until you walk to the next restaurant and realize that you were totally ripped off. But hey, we’re boosting the Chilean economy—I guess?

Next in the day is onces, an early evening snack, which also happens to be around dinner on Yale time. Once means eleven and is a legacy of British-style teatime, although in Chile this snack is at around 6 PM. This also means that, much to my nerdy dismay, onces are not quite the same as elevensies, though they do enable a hobbit-like meal schedule.

Most Chileans eat dinner between 9 and 11 PM, only slightly different from the 5-7:30 range in Yale dining halls. We’ve been eating around 8:30, which means that we’re often the first people to arrive at a place for dinner. That might sound uncomfortable, but when you’re a large, loud group of foreigners, it makes life much easier.

As cultural connoisseurs, our nights never simply end with dinner. We’ve come to Chile to understand society, traditions, and the people who live here—no small task. But our efforts are aided by nighttime outings. Bars get busy at around 11 or 11:30 PM, with clubs starting to fill up at 2 AM. Clubs don’t reach maximum numbers until about 3 AM (or so we hear 🙂 ). The night ends at 4 or 5 with a palta-smothered completo or churrasco from a food cart as people begin to climb up the steep, winding streets to their homes and hostels, where they rest up to begin the next day (really the same day) with a long, late lunch.

Chilean students need that sleep and a big lunch—otherwise, how would they protest and march on a daily basis?

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