Why Chile’s parks are full of courting couples: the family unit

Take a stroll through Santiago’s Parque Forestal and you’ll invariably notice something peculiar: couples all around, kissing on benches or stretched out with the grass in their hair. Wondering how a strip of city parkland could inspire such romance? We decided to find out.


It’s striking how a trip into any green space in Chile presents such a dreamy phenomenon: couples, young and old (we’ve counted up to 7 at once) engaging in public displays of affection that would surprise even some of the world’s most outwardly ‘free thinking’ countries.

Sebastian Catalan, a student and tour guide from Chile’s southern Araucanía region, lives with his friends in Santiago. “It’s an outdoor love-fest,” he says. “All the parks are full to the brim with them, making out.”

What prompts the Chileans to behave so passionately? There’s a simple answer: they’ve got nowhere else to do it.

‘Kangaroo Society’

“The only time a Chilean even thinks about leaving home is when he’s leaving the country,” says Catalan. In the near future, he plans to use his family’s land to start up his own tourism company. “When I go back, I’ll definitely move in with them again.”

The nuclear family is by far the dominant household unit in Chile. According to the 2011 National Youth Survey (Encuesta Nacional de la Juventud)carried out by the Chilean National Youth Institute (Injuv), 75 percent of Chileans up to 29 years old live with their family, while only 14.2 percent live independently.

The arrangement – which to many Americans or Europeans might seem strange – where parents keep their children cozy until they enter their married lives, has been coined by sociologists as a ‘kangaroo culture,’ after the Australian marsupial that famously keeps its ‘joey’ in a furry pouch on the front of its own belly.

Higher education, which has attracted more and more students each year, is cited as the main factor which keeps young people at home with their parents; those studying at university tend to remain in their parents’ homes significantly longer.

Home Sweet Home

Leaving for work each morning suited and booted, a young Chilean looks forward to returning home to his mother for a traditional family supper.

“It’s all a part of the Latin culture,” says Fernando Gonzalez, a Santiago-based sociologist. “We like to be fully cared for by our parents (especially our mums) even if we have jobs and money. Anyway, even if we want to leave home, our parents consider it unnecessary and they’ll make their best efforts to stop it.”

It seems the Chileans don’t really mind either way – who would, if their parents were happy to look after them until they reached full adulthood?

An American blogger, who married a Chilean and lives in Santiago, discussed how her in-laws once cut short their family holiday, driving 2.5 hours home just to take her dog out walking for the few days she wasn’t there. “Not only because they are fabulous,” she said, “but because they are Chilean.

“They always do things like this. I used to be offended that my mother-in-law would walk into my apartment and immediately start washing my dishes or cleaning my kitchen, but now I know that she’s not judging my housekeeping skills, she’s just trying to help.”

A generation of change

The census, taken this year, showed that 61.6 percent of young Chileans have at one point considered leaving home, an idea that becomes stronger the older the person gets.

“This is the first Chilean generation that is considering leaving their parents’ home before getting married or going to live with a couple,” says Gonzalez.

“Today, Chile is in a period of change,” affirms Rodolfo Wagner, a Santiago-based psychologist, in Chilean newspaper El Mercurio. There’s the so-called ‘kangaroo generation,’ he says, but also young Chileans who abruptly separate from their families. “As it’s a behavioral pattern that is installed, our society hasn’t yet developed a rite that allows adequate separation.”

The lack of on-campus student accommodation at universities, and a house rental system in which new occupants have to supply their own household appliances where other countries might offer more temporary solutions, all conspire against the emancipation of the young, independent Chilean.

But even as the new generation is increasingly in contact with its own tastes, rules and boundaries, it looks like parks will remain the preferred destination for a bit of rough and tumble.