“I’m From Chile. I’m From Chile…” – Contextualization Problems Happen Often

The following is the story that a friend of mine told me 35 years ago when I studied in Munich, Germany, in the 1980s.

I am from Chile, I am from Chile:

A short man from Chile arrived at Munich airport hoping to enter Germany. However, when asked for his passport, he explained in broken German that he did not have one. The immigration officer informed him that he could not enter without a passport and threatened to send him back to where he came from. The short man became agitated and began shouting, “But you cannot send me back, because I am from Chile!” As more people gathered to watch the scene unfold, the immigration officer made the decision to send the man back to the airplane. Onlookers heard the man shouting “I am from Chile!” repeatedly as he was escorted away. Little did they know, the man was likely a member of the socialist opposition that was persecuted under the military dictatorship in Chile.

A short time after that incident, one of my friend’s peers, a law student who had interned with the border police, shared this story with him and he then told me. My friend’s peer had considered whispering to the short man to say the word “asylum” which would have saved him from being sent back. But he did not, as he formally was a member of the border police corps.

Apart from the experiences of those who were persecuted under authoritarian regimes and their struggles to find safe haven elsewhere, this story highlights the difficulties that arise when people wrongly assume that their communication partner knows the same information they do, but without sharing this information.

I am since then using the tagline “I am from Chile, I am from Chile” as a clue that I give whenever I am encountered with a person that does not communicate properly.

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