What to Wear for a Dinner at Congress

Now, you might remember my encounter with a group of Chilean congressmen in Cusco last month (if not you can refresh your memory here). One of the gentlemen I met gave me his contact details so when I got to Chile I sent him a short note. I was happy to learn that his offer to host me for a few days wasn't an empty promise and we made plans for him to pick me up at the airport in Santiago after I'd be finished with all the hiking down south in Patagonia.

Now, if you know a little bit about Chilean history the name Pinochet should ring a bell. He was the head of a military dictatorship that ruled the country for 20 years. Now, he set up government in the capital Santiago but preferred to have the congress and senate as far as possible - in Valparaíso, a port city about 1 1/2 hours from the capital. It's like needed a congress in order to keep up the pretense of a democracy but really wanted congress out of his way.

So that's why my congress friend lives and works in Valparaíso and that's where I stayed for a few days. Now, neither the city itself nor the neighboring Viña del Mar are especially beautiful. True, the old(er) houses on the hills are pretty to look at and the view of the illuminated hills at night is great but the city centers are full of dirty streets and ugly buildings. One of these ugly buildings is the congress building. A military style blurb of ugliness that ruins the whole view but that offers great views from the building itself, especially from the formal dining room on the 14th floor.

Keep in mind that I just came from three weeks of hiking and camping so when my friend told me we were going to have dinner at congress I was a bit worried about not having anything appropriate to wear. Friends suggested buying a black dress but I guess I just didn't care enough. 

My friend has been working for the congress for over 20 years so he knows pretty much everyone. On a tour through congress he introduced me to a minister, congressmen and congress functionaries and everyone was friendly and surprisingly interested in my person. I went with sandals, jeans and my only "nice" shirt but noone seemed to pay much attention. Also, what I thought to be a formal dinner turned out to be a relaxing meal just with my friend because the days congress session took much longer than usual (due to a verdict at the international court about the border between Chile and Peru that had to be discussed extensively). All in all a very pleasant experience that was made even better by a few glasses of excellent Chilean wine!

view of Valparaiso and the congress building


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