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I live in Chile, which is often considered to be the world's most seismically active country. Not that there is a single criterion for such things: Japan and Indonesia also have strong cases for being the most seismically active countries, but Chile certainly has a strong case---including being the site of the world's strongest earthquake, the 1960 Valdivia Earthquake. In any case, Chile is an obviously seismically and volcanically active country.

Before I came to Chile, I had felt one seismic event (I won't say earthquake for reasons described below) in my life: one night in Portland, about a dozen years ago, I noticed my ceiling fan swinging and excitedly got on Livejournal to a horde of other people confirming that this was, indeed, an "earthquake" somewhere in the 5's. Since coming to Chile in April of 2016, I have felt more seismic events than I can keep track of. There has been a swarm (the Spanish word translates literally into English) recently of temblors, little quakes around 5 on the richter that have unknowingly woken me up from sleep, or given me a little jolt in the middle of the day. In other parts of the world, this would be a leading news item, or at least an exciting piece of gossip. When I met my friends tonight, we didn't even mention this minor occurrence from six hours before.

In Chile, they don't even use the word "terremoto" for anything less than 7 on the richter, and even that barely qualifies. My students have asked me (without intention to brag) what the English word is for something small, like a 6.5, that obviously couldn't be "an earthquake". And I reply that it is an earthquake, if not a national tragedy. The strongest "temblor" I have felt here was a 6.9, equal in magnitude to the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in California, but here it was an event that caused no fatalities, little or no serious injury, and no serious damage that I could see. 6.9 is strong enough that people remember it, but are hazy on the details: did it happen this year or last? What month? It wasn't big enough to be memorable.

Not that people are quite so blase during the middle of a seismic event. The best analogy for people in the United States would probably be a thunderstorm. If a bolt of lightning crashes near your home or work, it is probably something that is going to be attention-getting, and that you are going to react to with surprise, fear, and a little excitement. It is hard to stay totally immune to those reactions! But, on the other hand, you will probably not refer back to them as a defining moment, weeks or months later. Another good comparison would be to tropical storms for people living along the Gulf Coast of the United States: people on the Gulf Coast would probably react to being in even the outer bands of a tropical storm, but can't remember every one of them years later. On the other hand, everyone in the Gulf remembers where they were during Hurricane Katrina, just like everyone in Chile remembers where they were during the 2010 Earthquake (which was the 11th strongest earthquake in recorded history).

The overall conclusion I have reached after two and a half years in a seismic country, is that people can accustom themselves to anything, and that we are afraid and unprepared for what we are not familiar with, but that it is easy enough to adjust.

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