Archives for posts with tag: Buenos Aires

Don´t get me wrong. I am not a hypochondriac.  But sometimes, I look around and start wondering about all the unhealthy habits people have in Argentina. Things that few people seem worried about. I drink coffee at work now. Every single day.  As I look down at our white mugs stained permanently brown, all I can think is what it must be doing to my teeth and feel the urgent need to go and brush them.  I watch people sip mate (see my other post, ¨The Uruguayan Obsession¨) all day long, and while there isn’t the obesity problem we have back home, all I think about is how many spoonfuls of sugar are being consumed and how it is that half this population isn’t on their way to diabetes. I watch my coworkers down a 2.5 liter bottle of regular Coke before noon and almost everyone around me put what must be a week’s worth of salt on things, from salad to fries to crackers, to pizza.

Safety standard differences are another thing. In Argentina I´m not sure there even is a standard.   Read the rest of this entry »

I’m at the Continental gate in Ezeiza airport, confident I am at the right gate without double-checking given the five people I see typing furiously away on their iPads. I begin arguing in Spanish at length with the gate attendant. After forcing everyone through yet another bag check before boarding the plane, they find three large tubs of dulce de leche in my bag and tell me it’s considered a gel. I am livid since conveniently there is no hope of putting any of it in my checked bag. Every time I travel I seem to become increasingly frustrated by the inconsistencies of various American air transport companies, and this is the last straw.

A friend of mine has done me a favor and organized a car to pick me up through her company’s account and has put the car in the name of an employee. A woman is standing to greet me when I step off the plane and as we wait for my bags to arrive she begins asking me about my flight…in Spanish. I am jet-legged and half asleep so at first it doesn’t occur to me how weird it is to be back in the U.S. and speaking Spanish again. Then I realize the name of the employee my friend has used is Latin and my driver based on her accent is obviously from either PR or DR. I am still trying to figure it out as the luggage carousel begins to move, thinking how unlikely it was for her to think I was from either of those places given how ghostly-white skin and my Porteña accent. Once in the car she explains that her company had told her that I was from Argentina and didn’t speak much English, but she tells me she suspects I do!  I begin to laugh.

My first day back after 10 months in Buenos Aires, I never have felt so short walking the streets in Manhattan.  At first I can’t figure out if it is just that I have forgotten how tall people are in North America and how much more I blend in being almost 5’8, or if something is actually different.  A few days later it occurs to me that I have arrived just in time for fashion week and that this year for the first time it is taking place only a few blocks from my parents Columbus Circle apartment.  I hope I won’t feel so  midget-like for long.

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Some of the most interesting experiences I have been having over the past few weeks have been during lunch hour at my job.  I am fortunate enough to work with six really great Argentines, who in just the past few weeks have helped me to understand so much more about the local culture and language, that if nothing else were to develop from this job I would leave happy with that experience alone.

A night of cultural exchange

The first few days I kept pretty quiet and tried to smile a lot. Deep down I was really frustrated and got the feeling that my coworkers thought I was mute or really shy. The reality was, I understood so little of what was being said that there were few moments when I felt like I could actually contribute something.  I insisted everyone speak with me only in Spanish and I tried my best to not use English, but I has definitely been a challenge but one that has served me well.

In only the past few weeks I have really begun to catch on and finally interact and be myself, tell stories, laugh, and make jokes with everyone. I can even understand most of the stories my coworker Cecilia tells in super-sonic speed typical of a Bariloche native.  I still find myself saying things that I realize only later were way off topic because I misinterpreted something. I am known to tell some pretty long-winded stories in English, so you can only imagine how long it takes me to conjugate then translate everything in my head to tell my weekend’s gossip in Spanish. But I do my best, and everyone has been especially patient.

When I first began thinking about working for an Argentine company I wasn’t sure how I would be viewed, whether some spoiled gringa or that people would be frustrated by my still developing Spanish skills.  But it seems like we have very mutual feelings of wanting to understand so much more about each other – me about “los Porteños” and them about “los Yankees” (pronounced more like “Shankess.”) Because of the pronunciation, I sometimes don’t realize they are referring to North Americans and not the baseball team.

We ask each other questions non-stop throughout the day, whether it be food, pop culture, music, celebrity gossip, language, cultural habits the topics are endless. No one ever seems to tire of asking, however random it might be.  Our daily lunches together are long, leisurely, and filled with lots of fast talking (amongst them, while I try my best to catch on), laughing, and non-stop cultural exchanges.  If my plan was to fully immerse in a new culture and language (it is), working for an Argentine company with all locals is my golden ticket.

As I sifted through our delivery menus one afternoon, I began playfully complaining about the monotony of the food options.

“I have got it down.  Argentines eat six main food groups – meat, potatoes/fries, pizza, pasta, empanadas, and medialunas or some form of these,” I said while smiling coyly.

They laughed, emphatically denying this.  But I knew I had a point.  I motioned to the stack of delivery menus and challenged them to count how many menus weren’t one of more of these food “groups” and not much else.  The sheer number of empanada-only restaurants was evidence enough for me.

Being a celiac and not able to eat bread I find myself in a tough spot almost every day. I often cheat my diet otherwise in many cases I would go hungry.  It seems that anything and everything you order, whether it be a bread dish itself, is accompanied by…you guess it, more bread.

“Okay, so tell us…in the U.S. the most popular sandwiches are peanut butter and jelly and tunafish, right?” asked my coworker Sebastian.  I stopped shuffling the menus like they were playing cards and then started giggling.  “No, no! Someone may eat a peanut butter sandwich occasionally, but it’s more likely something you eat all the time when you are a kid.  As for tuna fish, for sure there are lots of people that don’t really like it and then in an office there is the whole smell/breath issue,” I said giggling a bit more.

I rave a lot about the fruit here (more on that in another post), and was shocked when my coworkers commented that they thought Americans probably didn’t eat much fruit because of how expensive it is, citing that an apple could cost something like $1. I know that having grown up in a place like Manhattan with so many food options and with a mom who was very into giving us healthy foods that my perspective might be a bit different than someone from, lets say, Mississippi.  But surely fruit is not a rare occurance in households across the U.S.

Sometimes you just have to laugh at all the funny things people around the world think of your culture.  I remember when I studied abroad in Milan, and my Italian roommate confessed to my American roommate Dorothy and I that she thought before she met us that we were going to be fat.  She was also under the assumption that Americans ate eggs, pancakes, and bacon for breakfast – every single day.

Don’t get me wrong.  I totally understand why these stereotypes exist, pretty much a direct result of what is portrayed in American movies and television.  And for me one of the best things about immersing myself in another culture is to learn how people view my culture, laugh about it, and also share with people the reality of my life back home.

I have learned how to make instant coffee taste good.  Here they make it “batido” or beated, which I had no clue about until my coworker Veronica showed me one day, and now I’m hooked. I have opened up their ears to pure, old-school, east and west coast rap music (or maybe they think of it as noise, I’m not sure yet), while they have opened my ears to Calle 13, Bajofondo, La Mala Rodriguez, and of course, cumbia.

I have a feeling my coworkers will never forget working with me after what happened at the other night’s happy hour.

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Dakar 2010 post race celebration, La Rural Buenos Aires

Well up until two weeks ago I hadn’t.  It was a pretty big deal here over the weekend, plastered on every news channel during the day that it was impossible to ignore.  For those of you who are big fans, I hope I don´t seem totally ridiculous not ever having even heard of the sport before.  I felt bad enough, my Spanish-only speaking friends kept repeating the word “Dakar” to me with all different pronunciations, explaining different parts of the race and hoping something would eventually ring a bell.  I think they assumed something was getting lost in translation.  But it wasn´t.  Nevertheless, when in Rome right – so on Saturday afternoon I grabbed my camera and ran towards the throngs of fans lined up at the convention center known as La Rural, a stone´s throw away from my new apartment and where earlier this year I had gone to see fashion shows.  Fashion show it certainly wasn’t.

In simple terms, Dakar is a two-week off-roading endurance race of motorbikes, four-wheelers (quad), cars, and trucks across long distances.  It’s a rally race that travels through rough terrain with over 300 drivers that include amateurs and professionals.  I know so little about the race and don’t yet understand enough of the Spanish on TV so I had to turn to Wikipedia and the official Dakar website for some info.  Dakar racing began in 1978, originally with a route from Paris, France to Dakar, Senegal.  But due to security issues in Mauritania in 2008, the race was moved to South America for the first time in 2009 and remained in Chile and Argentina this year.  The opening ceremony on January 1st, 2010, also at La Rural, was attended by more than 800,000 people and the race´s start went throughout Buenos Aires, provoking energy, enthusiasm, and at the same time chaos in this city that I thought only futbol could create.

Motorbike competitors

I half jogged towards the long line of fans standing behind the blockaded road towards where I assumed was the best place to watch.  There wasn’t a single opening in the crowd for me to sneak in so I had to settle with standing on my tippy toes and constantly moving to try to get a better view.  Competitors kept driving in on their motor bikes/four-wheelers to a hysterically cheering crowd, sometimes waving flags of different countries and often performing stunts on their bikes before parking them along the avenue and waving to and signing autographs for excited fans.  I was able to squeeze in and get some pictures with a few of the competitors – an Argentine from Tucuman an Australian, amongst a few others.  It was an especially big deal because Marcos Patronelli, an Argentine, won in the quad category so people really went crazy when he came motoring out.

I was shocked at how big a sporting event it is here and how many die-hard fans there were shouting the names of all the competitors as they rode by.  Also surprising is that some of the athletes were women, and many came barreling out on these supped up motorbikes that looked bigger than they were.  Sadly, over the years it seems that accidents have been a common occurrence, not only involving participants but often bystanders as well.  The race has also been criticized for its environmental impacts and according to Wikipedia the Dakar Rally has reported that the carbon emissions of the two week race are about equal to a Formula One race.

Argentine competitor from Tucuman

Nevertheless it was a site to be seen and somewhat of a cultural experience seeing the energy and excitement of the aftermath of a sporting event that doesn´t seem to get much hype back home.