This might seem like a really weird list:

1) Heinz ketchup

2) Heinz baked beans

3) Goya black beans

4) Cosmetic and makeup/perfume product

5) Magazines

6) Peanut butter

7) Whole wheat bread

8) Imported cheeses

9) Zip lock bags

10) Mint gum

11) Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

Off-the-top-of-my-head, these are some of the things in Buenos Aires that either don’t exist, are prohibitively expensive, or of the brands they have here aren’t very good.  You never realize how much for granted you take something as simple as Heinz ketchup until you are forced to use a really gross kind like Hellman – then you start thinking about this small things.  If I had the power to make a prudent business recommendation it would be for Heinz to tap into this market ASAP, as Hellman’s seems to have a complete monopoly on all condiments.  Some of the things on my list are so expensive I have resisted buying them.  For example, my drugstore brand Maybeline mascara that costs about US$5 is about double here.  Anything electronic, Nike, or Levi’s you can forget about buying here too, unless you want to pay anywhere from three to four times the US price.  My brand new Nikon D90 camera, which I paid US$950 before I left I saw here for $9,000 pesos – almost US$3,000!   And even more, what I started to think was who could possibly afford to buy that here?  Also odd considering how close this country is to so many rice and beans eating Latin countries, beans seem to be a rarity and the one time I saw them they were imported and almost US$3 a can.  I met with my Argentine language partner this week and he was asking me something about food and I mentioned the word “frijoles” and he had no idea what I was talking about!

Today I read a really great interview of a very well-known photographer, Amy Vitale, whom I highly respect and just so happens to also work for National Geographic.  I loved what she had to say about traveling the world :

”The more we try to create what is familiar to us, the less experiences we will have and after all, what is the point of traveling if you just want a repetition of what you have at home? It is all about adaptation and experiencing where you are.”  

I couldn’t agree more and I am by no means saying that I couldn’t live without any of these things (smoke detector aside).  But it’s just one of the really interesting things to take note of when you travel – how something as important and essential as a smoke detector doesn’t even exist here!  Part of what I love most about living in another country is the the challenge of not being totally comfortable and having everything that you are used to.  It’s one of those things that makes you appreciate just how good you have it back home.

One of the things I like to observe when I travel is how much a country actually differs from what one can read in the guide book.  The Lonely Planet book I read talked about how the sidewalks in Buenos Aires are a mess, both because they are totally deteriorating and because there is dog excrement everywhere.  At first I thought the book was exaggerating, especially given that New York dog walkers aren’t so good about cleaning up after their dogs either.  But now having been here for almost two months I totally get it.  People really LOVE their dogs here and there seems to be absolutely no concept or rule that you must clean up after them.  Just as on Park Avenue in New York, there are dog walkers here that march down the streets dragged by 10 or more dogs that almost always seem to be barking. So basically it’s not a question of if but when you step in a pile of grossness – apparently my time hasn’t come yet but it’s basically inevitable.

I do think the “warning” paragraph on the neighborhood La Boca is overdone – sure there are things to watch out for, but they say not to wander even a block outside the main streets but you end up missing so much of the neighborhood that is interesting, the non-touristy areas where the houses are almost on platforms because a river used to run through the streets and I missed seeing the soccer stadium the first time because everyone was so focused on staying on the “safe” streets.

Another observation.  When people in Buenos Aires ask if you can speak their language they don’t ask if you speak Spanish, they ask if you speak Castallano.  The first time I heard someone say that I was really confused.  But they treat it as if it’s a totally different language.  Other than the fact that they use the “vos” verb form instead of  “tu,” some other words for things (“Palta” instead of “Aguacate” for avocado), and that they pronounce any word with ”ll” in it as ”sh” it is still Spanish in my book.  Of course then combined with that is the fact that Portenos speak a mile a minute.  At first I thought it was just me and that I was having a really rough time understanding Spanish as I was learning, but I have a Colombian friend here and even he says he has trouble understanding.  Today I was walking in the street and passed a woman who muttered something.  I had no idea what she was saying and admittedly pretended as if she hadn’t just tried to ask me something (somehow without fail in most foreign countries I have visited people always think I know where I am going and can give them directions).  I kept repeating in my head the sounds of what I heard….no words forming yet, until all of a sudden I realized she had said “que calle (pronounced “cache”) es esta?”  Once I realized what she had said I felt quite dumb, but such is life trying to understand Castallano as a foreigner.

I have also started to wonder if it’s totally normal to hit on people while on the job here. I know before I talked all about how the machismo isn’t bad here, and it isn’t.  But as of recently, I have had more experiences with this not with people in the streets as you would expect, but on the job!  Example 1 – I went to the American Airlines office to see about changing my flight. There was a big line.  When I got to the front I decided to try to have a go at doing everything in Spanish even though I knew the attendants spoke English.   Everything was going well until all of a sudden he wanted to know why I wanted to change my flight to stay longer, what were my reasons to stay, did I have a boyfriend here, etc etc.  Then told me I was pretty.  All well about 10 people were waiting behind me.  I tried to use it to my advantage and see if I flirted he would wave the $300 fee but he couldn’t.  I left without changing it and he kept repeating that if I needed anything I should come back to see him.  Haa… Next was when I went to try on some boots.  The guy started speaking Spanish with me, asking me where I was from, what was my name etc.  Then he insisted on putting the boot on my foot.  Then asked more questions about where I liked to go out where I had been in Buenos Aires.  I told him I didn’t want the boots but it didn’t seem to matter.  He then told me that he would give me his info and take me dancing one time to a club if I liked.  I left without the boots or his number.

Despite all the sometimes annoying adjustments of being a foreigner in a new city, there are so many amazing ones .  I haven’t even gone into some of the really amazing cultural activities I have taken part in here but look out for them in my next blog.

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