I have become Argentine.  I can’t go a day without sipping a café cortado, or in today’s case a cappuccino, from one of the thousands of the ubiquitous cafés in this city.  I found this amazing organic café nearby called Natural Deli that also has a location in my favorite neighborhood, Las Cañitas.  Admittedly, I generally avoid most “health” foods and anything with the word organic, but this food is genuinely tasty. The other day I had their “deli integral” breakfast, which included café con leche, jugo naranja, carmelized apple/fruit salad, walnut bread, and organic yogurt with honey, a steal at 20 pesos.  One of my favorite hobbies in New York (my favorite spot being the Soho Aroma), I find myself obsessed with the café culture here and sit for hours in a different one every day.  The best part is that here it seems much more the norm to spend/waste(?) most of the day in one.

Sitting at this café, it occurrs to me that learning Spanish and being able to understand Argentines has been taking longer than I expected, and certainly more than it did when I learned Italian.  I’m still having some very frustrating days where I don’t understand a word, especially if I am a bit tired and not totally focused.  I can’t quite figure it out, but I’m starting to think that it might have to do with how fast Spanish is spoken and the fact that I am around people wit distinct Spanish accents.  But I am slowly picking up on some subtleties of the language.

1)    The “s” sound in any given word is not strong like in English.  If you say “Muchasss Graciasss,” it sounds very gringo. This goes for a lot of other words, like despúes and disculpa.

2)    “V,” “B,” and “P” sounds are basically indistinguishable, same thing goes with the way you move your mouth when you say them.  This makes it easy to make some major mistakes learning new words. “Vamos” sounds like “Bamos” the way it is pronounced and for the past month I just learned I was saying “vasura” instead of “basura” for garbage.

I order another cappuccino and start thinking about some random and in some cases rather amusing observations about Buenos Aires.

I haven’t quite figured out the bus fare.  For some destinations it’s $1.10, some $1.20 and others $1.25.  It’s obviously based on distance, but when I asked a friend how he knew which fare to pay, he said he had no idea and always just paid $1.20.  I have taken that approach, but more so because if I try to say the street name where I am going the drivers almost never understand me.  Apparently I have been cheating the Buenos Aires transportation commission $0.05, I just learned.  It’s $1.25 anywhere in the city, and only $1.10 if you are going a short distance.  Still not sure what the $1.20 is about.

Walking the streets one night in Recoleta, the most upscale neighborhood in Buenos Aires, I saw some people searching through garbage bags piled at the corner.  It was pretty late at night and an entire family including three or four children were all taking part.  All the contents of the bags were strewn all over the sidewalk. I figured they were searching for recylables to redeem for money, as I have seen countless homeless people do in New York, and as I saw in Brazil (the recycling capital of the world).  Every night I saw a different family doing the same, so I finally asked.  As it turns out, they are searching for food or any other usable items to live.  It made me really sad to think about, as I have been witness to it almost every late night walking the streets, and small children are almost always involved.  The real observation I want to make though is that this seems to be a trend in societies around the world, especially South American ones.  The richest of the rich live in a contained area, inside which or right next door to are the poorest of the poor people struggling for survival.

Walmart (barf) exists here!  I have warned my local friends about the evils of this institution and told them not to buy anything there.   The only problem is that they sell peanut butter that I have been craving.

When Argentines pass a church, they cross themselves.  I thought this was something Catholics did only in passing cemeteries.

I always thought New York was a really tough place for elderly people, but Buenos Aires is much worse.  How old people here ride the public bus here and walk the uneven pavement is a mystery to me. Buses move at such speeds, that sometimes I feel like I don’t even have adequate strength to hold on and there are no designated handicap seats or that hydraulic lowering thing to help people get off.  Walking isn’t much better.  In the past week, I have seen three elderly people fall in the street because of uneven sidewalk.

I have wondered a lot about why I get such a different feeling walking the streets here vs. in New York.  My friend Sarah, who visited BA a few months ago mentioned something I had somehow been totally oblivious to – the trees lining almost every block.

People REALLY don’t like spicy food, or it seems they might be scared of it.  The smallest hint of “picante” and they are gulping water., and though black pepper isn’t the least bit spicy, it’s almost never on the table.

I’m not saying everyone does this, but it seems perfectly acceptable, whether in the middle of the street or on the subway, to bare your entire breast to feed your baby. The women don’t seem to be shy, and the men certainly take notice.

Security guards are a big part of the retail world.  Sometimes there are several in just one small store.  The other day I went to a pharmacy that is part of a chain here and there were three holding post at different parts of the store.  People are also much more suspicious of stealing and I had to open my purse at the grocery store before leaving.  I can’t lie and say I wasn’t a bit offended, but I realize it’s nothing to be taken personally.

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