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As I mentioned earlier this week, I moved recently, a process that included going through a bunch of stuff I haven't looked at in years. Tucked away in the back of an old folder was an article from a Chilean newspaper dated November 14, 2004, which told the story of how a couple friends and I watched the presidential debates while living in Santiago. The obvious question, of course, is why anyone would write about this, and I honestly don't know the answer. Slow news day, I guess. And Las Ultimas Noticias, the paper that published it, is more of a tabloid than anything else. For example, one of the stories on their website this week was about Bruno the chihuahua, who plays Benjamin (coincidentally, also a chihuahua) on a new soap opera.
Anyway, my friend Lea was determined to watch the debates between Bush and Kerry despite the fact that we didn't have a television in the apartment we were sharing and they weren't broadcast in public spaces because, well, most people there didn't really care what the U.S. presidential candidates had to say. She found a couple friends who were willing to let us take over their TV sets for the evening, and our friend Jeff joined us for some good old-fashioned TV yelling. Our hosts were bemused by our level of involvement with the debates, and apparently word spread to someone at Las Ultimas Noticias who decided to send a reporter to cover our viewing of the third debate. (I'm not sure what was said, but I'd be willing to bet that the word "crazy" made it in there somewhere.)
The reporter who showed up at the apartment of Lea's friend Gilda for the final debate didn't speak any English; we translated for her some, but quickly got wrapped up in arguing with the television in English. For a newspaper of the quality of Las Ultimas Noticias, however, this wasn't a problem: she just wrote about the snacks we were eating—and to be fair, there were quite a few—in an article headlined "The exotic group of gringos that celebrated the Bush-Kerry debate like a soccer game." (The word "gringo" isn't derogatory in Chile the way it is in some other Spanish-speaking countries.) The first paragraph translates roughly to this:
Pisco sour on the table, red wine, peanuts, nachos, cookies—from La Ligua—chickpeas with almonds and pistachios, the television turned on and a saucepan full of "pop corns." Not popcorn [Ed note: The word used here is "cabritas," the Chilean word for popcorn. The word the writer used in the previous sentence is "pop corns," an English word that's been appropriated by Chileans as their own. It's a joke, in case you couldn't tell.], because the aforementioned spread belongs to a trio from the United States who didn't even consider watching the game between Chile and Argentina, which has just ended. They're preparing to watch, from Santiago, the third and ultimate debate between George W. Bush and John Kerry.
The rest isn't really any more exciting: the reporter throws in a few quotes from us and the presidential candidates, discusses how watching the debates is similar to watching a soccer game (they're both 90 minutes long!), and dedicates a paragraph to Gilda's daughter Carolina—a former contestant on Rojo, a Chilean television show that's like American Idol, but with dancing—who's watching us watch the debates (she doesn't speak English either).
Oddly enough, the publication of the article really didn't change my life at all. I was never stopped in the street by someone who recognized me. No one asked for my autograph. And now that I'm back in the U.S., I'm not considered exotic anymore. It may be hard to believe, but not a single tabloid has asked to write about my debate-viewing routine this year.