Paige: You are listening to Coffee with Gringos, I’m Paige Sutherland, and today is our first episode without my co-host Mariah. She is back in the U.S. permanently, so no longer will be on the show, but today we have our guest returning, Martin, thanks again for coming back.
Martin: Hi everybody, like I said my name is Martin, I have worked with Dynamic since February, I studied history at the University of Minnesota. The weird particularism of my background is that I grew up in the U.S. but my father, is Chilean.
Paige: Today we’re going to tackle quite an interesting topic, we’re going to talk about malls. Which in the U.S. are a dying retail business, but here, surprisingly, they’re booming.
Martin: Yeah, there are definitely a lot of, just like, straight up abandoned malls, and the problem is, when a mall closes, is that you have this enormous physical structure, and it’s not obvious how to replace it, nor is it cheap to just replace it, like when a store closes, you can just put another store inside the same building. It doesn’t really work that way with malls, because malls often take up like an entire city block, or even more. The famous mall near where I grew up in the U.S. is the Mall of America, which was a baseball stadium before it was a mall. So imagine a mall the size of a baseball stadium, like 7 or 8 stories high, something like that. So like, should that place close, what are you gonna put there? So yeah, you have a lot of abandoned malls in the U.S. I believe there has now officially been a coffee-table book just of photographs of abandoned malls, both inside them and outside them. A lot of you have probably seen the classic horror movie, Dawn of the Dead. In the 70’s where they just hole up in a mall and its just zombies. Well the decaying infrastructure of the mall in that zombie movie is a lot like the decaying infrastructure of the ‘not movie’ without zombies, reality of the United States.
Paige: There are so many malls! I mean, just in my neighborhood I can think of 5 that I could bike to. The other thing that is so interesting is a lot of malls here have supermarkets attached to them, which I don’t see much in the U.S. Most malls in the U.S. are just, you know, your clothes, retail, boutique shops, toys, all those kind of things, but you wouldn’t see a supermarket in a mall.
Martin: Yeah, yeah, this is true.
Paige: The security, too, is very different.
Martin: Yeah, well security is much higher in Chile for everything. I mean you just see more security personnel and gates, and locks and security measures of all kinds are way more common in Chile than the U.S. That’s something that always really made a big impression on me when I was a little kid, and we’d visit Chile, is we would go to like an aunt’s house and the house would be, you know, completely surrounded by like a ten-foot high gate and you needed, you know, like, a buzzer to open it. The front door was locked as well, and the windows behind the gate had bars, like, over them. You know, why is all of this necessary?
Paige: You definitely wouldn’t see that in most parts of the U.S. for sure. Going back to you, where do you go shopping in Chile?
Martin: Well so, I actually used to live very, very near Costanera Center, so I used to go to Costanera Center a lot, until I realized how much cheaper Lider is, than Jumbo, and then I stopped going to Costanera Center as much. Now, however, I don’t live anywhere near there. Now I live in Barrio Yungay, where there still are not very many malls, like of any kind. So there I shop kind of the old school way of like the little shops and mini-markets, and just like the street fairs on the weekends, when, you know, you sort of got this cantina situation of vendors.
Paige: True. What was your first reaction when you went to Costanera Center?
Martin: My impression of it was that it was a relatively large, Chilean mall. I was familiar with the Chilean love of malls from when I little and a handicap of growing up in Minnesota, is that no mall really impresses you. You look at it and it’s like, well it’s not as big as the Mall of America, I’ve seen bigger.
Paige: Is Mall of America the largest mall?
Martin: No. It was the largest mall on the planet for a while, then some of like, the wealthy Gulf states built, like, super malls, the same way they build super hotels. So now there are a few Arab malls that are bigger and better. There was going to be an American mall that was going to be larger than the Mall of America, that was going to be somewhere in New Jersey and they were building it before the internet completely took over commerce in the United States and then the 2008 economic crash hit and they did not finish the mall, they just stopped building it, and that is one of the many ghost malls in the United States. The internet taking over everything about your life, and the economic crash of ’08, both happened basically in 2008, like they’re really right on top of each other and they do represent like, this double whammy against selling stuff.
Paige: I think that anyone who’s in retail now has that kind of fear because Amazon is kind of here, but not really. They have like one toe in the door here, and they will be coming, it’s just a matter of time, and I think, like it did in the U.S., will change the retail industry completely, because buying things online is just more convenient and it’s cheaper. It will be interesting to see, because like you said, there is such a mall culture here, so I mean, maybe online shopping might not make such a dent as it did in the U.S. but my guess is it will. I am not a big shopper, actually I hate shopping, but I have probably been to the mall more in my entire life since I’ve been here.
Martin: Yeah, I totally believe that.
Paige: Especially in the neighborhood I live in, I live in Las Condes, they don’t have those kind of mom and pop stores that I can just pop into here. So you kinda, your instinct is just to go to the mall to find what you’re looking for. There isn’t that store, where in the U.S. we have the Wal-marts, the Targets, that just sell everything. I mean you can walk in that store, do your whole grocery shopping, get all your electronics, get your clothes, get your car fixed, it’s like one stop shop. And they don’t really have that here.
Martin: No, and I mean again the closest thing they do have to that are the malls. I mean going to the mall is easier than going to like six different stores in El Centro, but if you think the mall is more convenient than going downtown, like, wait until you see Amazon.
Paige: What they don’t have here is ‘super size me’. Where in the U.S. we have bulk shopping, right? We have B.J.’s, Costco, these kind of stores where you can get a lifetime supply of peanut butter, or granola bars or whatever kind of food or anything.
Martin: I mean I think the big reason why we don’t have that in Chile is just because people have less money. Right, like, it’s cheaper per unit to buy these huge quantities, but you need the up front cash and people just have less up front cash here than they do in the U.S. Even for people who do have it, there is the concern of like well I want to hold onto this in case something bad happens, in case I suddenly need it. And I don’t need a lifetime supply of peanut butter even if it that will save me x amount of money, and, well it wouldn’t be peanut butter because we are in Chile, even if it saves me x amount of pesos, you know, compared to buying peanut butter every week.
Paige: I was surprised when I talked to a lot of my students and I ask, “Have you ever been to the U.S. what do you like about it?” and they always say the shopping. It’s so funny, a lot of my students say “Oh, the clothes in the U.S. is so much cheaper, so much cheaper. I never thought that clothes in the U.S. was particularly cheap, but I think it’s because we have so many different options. Where here you go to the mall and you have the designers, the big names, which are gonna costa more. Where we just have, generally, make things in bulk. So you can go to stores and buy crappy material clothes for really cheap. Which they don’t really have those kind of stores here.
Martin: It blows the minds of a lot of Americans to learn that Latin America isn’t uniformly just like, dirt, dirt cheap. I mean that’s like the big presupposition that a lot of people have. In terms of cost of living it’s really not cheaper. The way to make it cheaper is to find a way to make American money while living in Latin America and then it is a lot cheaper. But if you are like comparing average salaries its much more expensive.
Paige: Do you feel like if Amazon, or when Amazon comes, how popular do you think it will be here?
Martin: Monumentally. If they can make it work. I mean the big issue . . . you know, streets here are narrower, and it can be really confusing, like, you know with so many different comunas there are lots of different streets that have the same name, there are lots of gates to get past, like we were talking about, like, just the simple act of delivering a box to a doorstep is actually much more complicated here than it is in the U.S. because of the issue of security, because of how crowded it is. I mean there is going to be a paranoia that random people are just going to steal the boxes when they are sitting outside. Regardless of whether that’s true or not, something is going to be implemented to protect from that possibility. I don’t know what it could be, aside from just like, paying random people to stand next to the box and watch the box until the appropriate person retrieves the box. But whatever that solution is, that also is just going to slow it down, I mean these are meaningful obstacles that will make it still less efficient, when Amazon does come here, than the way it is in the U.S.
Paige: I totally agree I think the number one issue will be this, like you said, this security barrier but I think also, which will be very different than the U.S., is here it’s still a cash society, I mean, you know, not as many people have credit cards as they do in the U.S. I mean, in the U.S. is plastic, everyone has a credit card, no one uses cash. Where here, it will be interesting to see if that shuts out a lot of customers because not everyone can get a credit card here, not everyone has one like in the U.S and Amazon obviously is a credit card based industry.
Martin: Sure, well so I think what might happen there is what happened with Uber, where you cannot pay for Uber in cash in the U.S. and you can pay for Uber in cash in Chile, it’s preferred This is not a prophecy, but I would not be surprised if when Amazon comes to Chile, like, you are allowed to just give the delivery guy cash upon receipt.
Paige: The biggest thing that you’ll hear from an expat here is “Oh, you’re going to the U.S.? Can I ship a few things on Amazon to your house and you’ll bring them back?”
Martin: Yep, yep, yep. That’s a really big thing, that’s a really big deal.
Paige: We went from talking about the obsession of malls in Chile, to Amazon’s potential conquering of Latin America. Martin, thanks for coming on again, obviously, it’s always a pleasure to have you back on the show.
Martin: Thanks for having me.
Paige: As you listeners know, there’s going to be a vocabulary guide and transcript on the website if you get lost at all, so thanks for listening, and we’ll talk to you soon.
KEY VOCABULARY, PHRASES, AND SLANG
Tackle (verb) - to face or confront; to deal with
Example: I want to go out tonight, but I have a lot of homework I need to tackle first.
Booming (present continuous verb) - doing good business
Example: Business is usually booming in December as people shop for Christmas.
Straight up (phrasal verb) - totally, completely (derived from the barroom term, where alcoholic beverages that are not mixed with ice cut with water)
Example: The Tsunami in Chile in 2010 was a straight up tragedy.
Take up (phrasal verb) - occupy space
Example: My bed is really big it takes up more than half the room!
Decaying (verb) - something rotting, falling apart, deteriorating, or losing its structure
Example: Decaying trust in politicians led to the election of Donald Trump.
Stories - the number of floors a building has is measured in stories.
Example: The Empire State Building is 102 stories high.
You have - another way to say “there are” or “you can find”
Example: In many parts of Santiago you have these scooters for rent
Hole up (phrasal verb) - to say in one place for a long period of time
Example: I was sick, holed up in my room all weekend.
Handicap (noun) - a disadvantage, something that is not beneficial
Example: A handicap of being tall is that I always bump my head into things.
Buzzer - an electronic device for opening/unlocking gates or doors, often they can be remote control.
Example: Oh no, I forgot the buzzer! I hope someone is home when we get back so they can let us in the gate.
Take over (phrasal verb) - to assume control of; to conquer
Example: Can you take over driving for awhile? I am getting tired.
One toe in the door (expression) - a play on the more common expression “foot in the door”, which means having initial contact, having opportunity, basically having an “in”
Make a dent (expression) - have an impact, make a mark
Example: Even though I worked hard all day, I barely made dent in the
Grocery shopping (verb) - you can also say “go shopping for groceries” buying things that you use a lot of, like food and drink, but also paper towels (toalla nova), toilet paper (confort), etc.
Example: We usually go grocery shopping on the weekends, as we are too busy during the week.
Mom and pop store (noun) - a family owned business (mom and pop=mother and father)
Example: Even though it might cost more, I prefer shopping in mom and pop stores because you can get to know the people better, and it has more of a community feel.
Pop into (phrasal verb) - to go in and out of quickly.
Example: I like living in a neighborhood with small grocery stores that you can just pop into really quick.
It blows the mind (phrasal verb) - surprises and/or shocks
Example: It blows my mind how the rocks fit together so tightly at Machu Picchu
Uniformly (adverb) - just one way, totally the same, like a uniform, indistinguishable
Example: A lot of newer housing development are uniformly built, and so all look the same.
Monumentally - (adverb) Hugely, enormously, majorly, notably, widely, very!
Example: Starbucks has done monumentally well in the Chilean market so far.
Shuts out (phrasal verb) - Doesn’t allow to participate; closes the door to
Example: In addition to cars being expensive, high operating costs (fuel, tolls, etc.) shuts a lot of people out of owning a vehicle here in Chile.
**Notice how commonly we use “muletillas” in English, such as: like, I mean, you know