Standing in the beige hotel bar in Las Condes, I felt different. I was one of about 100  foreigners who had gathered for the InterNations wine tasting evening and I didn’t really fit in.

Everyone else seemed to have an important job; there were diplomats, lawyers and finance types and I was just a teacher. Everyone else seemed to be dressed better than me; the room was filled with business suits, silk ties, chinos and strategically placed scarves while I was wearing a jeans, a t-shirt and a sweater (as they’re called over here). Everyone else looked famous or important; one guy had a face like Tom Cruise’s attached to a taller body while another was almost the spitting image of Michael Douglas. I still looked like plain old me. Everyone else seemed to live in Las Condes or in nearby Providencia but I had trekked in from Quilicura. And everyone else seemed to have business cards. I didn’t.

But none of this seemed to matter. The Chilean wine flowed freely (after you had paid for a wine tasting swipe card) and the people were friendly. As the name kind of suggests, InterNations is an online community for expats that organises social events and gatherings in a staggering number of major, and sometimes not-so-major, cities around the world.

Even though the group that gathered in the downtown Santiago hotel to sip Chardonnay and munch on nibblies was a real mixture of cultures and experiences, we all had something in common: we were living and working in a strange environment, away from family and friends. And because of that, we all seemed to have interesting stories to tell. Even me.

The first person I spoke to was an Englishman called Chris, who was one of the official organisers of the InterNations group in Santiago. He spotted me looking for a group to join and came over to introduce himself. Wearing a dark, tailored suit and a bright, red tie, he spoke quickly about his job in finance and his work as president (or secretary) of the local, expat cricket club. And of course, he mentioned the Ashes.

“It’s a good little group we’ve got going on here,” he said, with the kind of accent that sounded like it belonged to a used car salesman. We chatted for about five minutes and just as Chris was dashing off to welcome another lost looking guest, he grabbed the arm of another man in a well fitting suit who happened to be walking past.

“Here’s another Aussie for you to talk to mate,” he said over his shoulder as he hurried off to the other side of the room.

The other Australian was called Andrew. From Mackay in Queensland, he also worked in finance or law or something similar that requires a nice suit. After a stint in London, he’d come to Santiago with his Chilean girlfriend. We chatted about the ups and downs of living in this part of the world and about learning Spanish. It was nice to hear a familiar accent and to talk about Australia without having to joke about kangaroos, Steve Irwin and Paul Hogan.

After sampling another Chilean red, I joined a circle that had formed in a corner of the room. In the centre of the group was Paola, a Chilean who had previously lived abroad and now, along with Chris, organises the activities for the InterNations community in Santiago. With Paola, were three Russian men who looked like spies out of a dodgy Hollywood film. One was a journalist, another worked in the Russian embassy and the third didn’t get a chance to share his cover with me.

“Privyet,” I said to them, putting my very basic Russian to good use. “Kak Pozhyvayesh?”

Like the Hollywood spies they resembled, none of the Russians smiled or seemed impressed, although they chatted pleasantly.

A few minutes later, Naya, a young woman from the Greek embassy, joined the circle.

“Yia sou,” I said, drawing on the Greek I learnt at school. “Ti kaneis?”

Unlike the spies, Naya was slightly impressed. We also talked about the joys and trials of learning Spanish and living in Chile.

The rest of the evening was spent chatting in similar circles to people from all over the world. Among the notable expats were a fellow journo from the US who had lived in Belarus, a mad Swedish scientist, with a shock of Einstein-inspired curly black hair, and an eccentric Brit with an Irish name who was spruiking an English language play due to commence at the end of the month. I also had the chance to speak Spanish with authentic latinos from Argentina, Venezuela and Colombia, who unlike most Chileans, don’t feel the need to speak as fast as possible all the time.

Towards the end of the evening, I bumped into Ilya, the Russian who works at the embassy. We started chatting again and after I told him I was a journalist by trade, he paused, looked at me and said in very good Spanish: “You should come and visit us. We have a cultural centre and a library with books in Russian, English and Spanish.” He paused again. “You could be very useful to us.”

Definitely a spy I thought, as I went to sample another Chilean red.

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