Chileans, and especially santiaguinos, are formal and bureaucratic ad absurdum. You will often find yourself enmeshed in derisory red tape to even buy bread in a bakery (it is not unusual for several people to be standing behind the counter, one for till duties, one for bagging items and one for stamping till receipts with a ‘delivered’ stamp). On top of that, nothing irritates formalistic people more than in-your-face criticism and if you are stuck in a situation where you have no alternative, complaining is most likely counterproductive. However, Chile is a pretty efficient country, and despite the frequent unnecessary paperwork, you will mostly get things done professionally and reasonably on time. Yet that does not eliminate the fact that Chileans like to keep things formal.
It may seem obvious in your own mother tongue, but the need to utter ‘please – por favor’, ‘thank you – gracias’, ‘excuse me – con permiso’ and ‘I’m sorry – disculpe’ will not be exempted if your grasp of Spanish isn’t great. If you need to learn four phrases in Spanish, let them be these, or else you’re likely to get short shrift.
That said, Santiaguinos have a reputation for being less polite than the rest of the country’s population – although this is probably magnified by other rivalling Chileans. It’s true that locals tend less to say sorry than Anglo Saxons when incidents don’t involve an obvious fault, like bumping against somebody on the street for example, but this is more likely attributed to a cultural difference than an act of disrespect. In any case, Chileans tend to be more restraint and ceremonious than Spaniards or other Latin Americans.
Avoid embarrassment by using Usted as opposed to Tú when addressing adults, unless they ask you otherwise – then they’ll say ‘me puedes tutear’. Remember that the formal form of Usted is not so much a sign of distance, as it is a sign of respect and even affection