“A poor man is better than a liar” (Proverbs 19:22b).
In every way liars are the most pathetic sort of people. They are truly worthy of being despised as the Proverb says. And in America, where such crass lying is still relatively scarce, they are often despised. But in other places in the world, including Chile, liars fare far better.
Nearly all the honest Chileans I know have spent considerable time in the United States, often as graduate students, and have returned to Chile with fond memories about how they were received and treated by Americans. Perhaps as a gesture to such experience, these people have always dealt generously and honestly with me and I appreciate them very much for that fact. The great majority of Evangelical Baptists and Reformed Presbyterians that I come in contact with in Chile are honest as well. Yet even honest Chileans are willing to tell “white lies” in order not to offend or hurt someone’s feelings. They do not want anyone to worry after all. This sort of culturally-driven lie was highlighted in this earlier post. To that extent, nearly all Chileans are liars, even if they are not really “bad” ones.
Regrettably, Chileans who do not have the occasional or routine practice of telling big lies (i.e., those designed to harm someone) are the exception rather than the rule. In my experience, let me underscore, most Chileans are liars. For example, I have seen upper-middle class employers lie about contract terms promised verbally at the outset in order not to pay a person’s full salary. The employer did not provide a written contract immediately but chose to wait six months to do so, hiding behind a (largely) made-up problem of too much organizational “bureaucracy” as his excuse. He wanted to “keep his options open” for not keeping his word and offer of employment. (I have heard myriad similar stories; so make sure you have a contract in hand immediately after starting a job in Chile.) I have seen a car dealership owner sell a brand new Chinese pickup truck with known defects, promising to have them fixed after the sale is completed (since it was sold with a one-year warranty), only to never do some of the needed work on the vehicle. When the matter finally went to court, the owner (a member of Chile’s upper middle class) invented all sorts of creative lies in order to avoid fulfilling his obligation. I have seen an elderly man in Baptist church who reportedly embezzled money and goods destined for the poor that were sent down by American missionaries. The American used to be the man’s pastor (and he thus enjoyed a close, trusting relationship with the man). I have seen trusted builders, with otherwise impeccable reputations, take their client’s money and not complete the project they promised, or not make good on errors they generated and thus left their client holding the bag.
I have witnessed students lie to professors, children lie to parents, and employees lie to their employers. I have seen bureaucrats lie to citizens and immigrants. While I could go on with many more examples, suffice it to say that anyone coming to Chile should not trust what most people say. That fact may be sad but it is true. Sure, there are notable exceptions, such as the academic colleagues, doctors, and others who have spent considerable time in the USA or Europe (mentioned above). But they are not the norm in Chile.
I have academic friends and colleagues who vehemently defend their countrymen by saying that very few lie to harm others. They note that it is the cultural “white lie” that afflicts them and that gringos do not understand how things work in Chile. However, with all due respect, I can only report what I have experienced. Most Chileans tend to lie, cheat and act dishonestly whenever they can gain from doing so or avoid a significant cost. They will lie in order not to be held responsible or liable. They do more than just tell “white lies.” Like my ex-wife and her family members, they are pragmatic and selfish liars who will say whatever is most convenient for their personal gain at the expense of another person. Unfortunately, this characteristic is found among some professing Evangelicals and Orthodox Roman Catholics in Chile as well, even if lying is much less common among their ranks. Accordingly, wherever you land in Chile, and under whatever walk of life, be prepared to deal with liars everywhere. As it was with Crete in the days of the Apostle Paul (Titus 1:2), lying is the national sin of Chile.
In spite of all this trouble in Chile, I have chosen to make it my permanent home. I am happily married to a chilena and I am very content in my professional role as a university academic. I love Chile, even if it has serious social problems like lying. Americans will also hate trámites and some other unsavory features of life here, as I noted in this previous blog entry. But on balance life is better in Chile than it is in the United States or Western Europe. After all, those destinations have many social problems too, not the least of which are rampant abortion, feminist public policy, ecological fanaticism, high-taxation for socialism, and anti-family policies.
Who knows? Perhaps some of the negative social aspects of Chile will be mitigated over time. We all know that “hope springs eternal.”