Sunday, June 27, 2010

The End of Freshman Year

One year ago today, I arrived in Buenos Aires for the first time. I remember how the cab driver gave me his own personal city tour as he drove me to the house where I would live for my first month here. I remember sitting in the car and thinking "now I'm struggling to remember all these names, but soon these places will all be familiar to me"... and now they are. This anniversary has gotten me thinking a lot about the concept of "home". Where is MY home? Is "home" the place where you're from, or the place where you live? How long do you have to live in a place before it becomes your "home" and your old home becomes the place you used to live?

They say that after college is when your "real, grown up" life begins. With the exception of the 3 weeks immediately proceeding my college graduation where I went to the beach with my high school friends and spent my time tanning and binge drinking (not super grown-up activities) I have lived my entire "real life" here, as a foreigner in a country that is not my own. This is the place where I have "grown up" and first done all of those things that grown-ups do; work a full-time job (not just for the summer), pay rent, bitch about the state of the economy. Its been wonderful! Don't get me wrong, I love my life here, and wouldn't trade it for anything. But, like many expats, I feel like I have the Clash song "Should I Stay or Should I Go" on constant repeat in my head.

This weekend has been kind of an intense weekend to complete one year here. Friday night we had a "despedida" or goodbye party, for one of my friends who I've known almost the entire time I've been here. It really got me thinking about a lot of the issues involved in "growing up expat". To start with, most of my relationships with my friends, not to mention my relationship with my boyfriend take place in a language that is not my mother tongue. I keep in touch with my friends and family "back home" via Skype. I try to be responsible and save money, but then I can't put it in a bank account because I'm illegal here. I've made amazing friends here, but they're pretty much all expats themselves (from different countries around the world), and most of them will eventually leave. On one hand, it can be hard being a more "permanent foreigner", but on the other hand, I wonder if I, myself, could really leave. Could I learn to be a grown-up somewhere else, in some other way? I was initially only planning on staying in BA for one year -- a number which has now doubled, and even that seems too short to me. At the despedida, I had a long conversation with one of my friends who is also in a mixed-nationality expat couple. It was interesting because I discovered that they consider the same problems we do. If they move, where do they go? His country? Hers? A completely new place? Should they trade off a few years here, a few there? What's fair?

While this anniversary brought up a lot of questions that I don't yet have answers to, I do know one thing for sure -- I LOVE my life here. Even after my honeymoon period with Argentina has worn off, I still think to myself "I'm so lucky to live here" at least a few times a week. I can't imagine living my "real life" anywhere else... for now.

Friday, June 18, 2010

This is why I'm fat...

So this post is less related to me being a foreigner and more related to me being me. Those of you who know me really really well know that I am a complete food-porn addict. By food-porn I mean I LOVE sites dedicated to everything completely decadent about food. One of my favorite sites (which sadly has recently been shut down by its administrator) was This site was amazing. It had lots of pictures of crazy fattening food, most of which was either wrapped in bacon or dipped in chocolate. Sometimes both. When I would show this site to my girlfriends they'd reply with gasps of "Oh my god! thats disgusting!" I'd reply with a fake "yea, sooooo gross", the entire time thinking "holy crap I MUST eat that!".
Anyways, several months ago my boyfriend, Hugo, cooked "Bandeja Paisa", a traditional Colombian dish, for a group of us. It was AWESOME (you can see a photo of it above). Not only were the flavor profiles in this dish amazing, it also had one special thing that really put it over the top: a fried chorizo sausage. Yes, you read that correctly. This dish requires that you take a sausage (already a disgustingly fatty food) and FRY it. As you can imagine, once I got a taste of this puppy I was hooked --- I've been craving this dish ever since.
Last Sunday my willpower was particularly low, and I decided that I MUST have more bandeja paisa. So we went to the store to buy ingredients, and then I started cooking away. Again, those of you who know me really really well also know that I am prone to injury in ANY situation. So of course, in the process of frying my chorizo sausages, I ended up with some nasty oil burns. Now every time I look down at my hand and see my oil-splatter-shaped burn, I think the Universe is mocking me, saying "Rach - you took a sausage and fried it - you deserve this burn as a permanent reminder that this is why you're fat".

World Cup Fever

So I actually started writing this post yesterday while watching the World Cup, but I ended up getting so wrapped up in the game that I never got to finish! Here it is:

So I recently read an article written by an American who had come to Buenos Aires to see what the first few days of the World Cup would be like here. The author's basic conclusion was that Argentinians like soccer. Reading the article, I just kept thinking "Wowwww, you really did some back-breaking investigative journalism on this one, didn't ya??" It'd be like if a foreign journalist traveled to the US to see the Superbowl and came to the shocking conclusion that Americans like football and complex carbohydrates. I kinda wanted to write the author an email that just said "Seriously?! Seriously??!!". Anyways, walking the streets here now anyone can see that the World Cup is a biiiiiig deal here. On every single street there are vendors selling Argentina jerseys, blue and white crazy hats, blue and white vuvuzelas (those annoying noise makers that you hear if you watch the games), blue and white sweaters for your dog, blue and white everything. Every bar, restaurant, and store is showing their Argentine pride by hanging flags, putting jerseys on manikins, etc. The really nice part is that this morning work is canceled... for the entire country! The game is on from 830-1030, and then the work day starts at 1030. A few of the companies where I teach have actually set up large screens in their break rooms and are ordering a full breakfast for all their employees to try to get them to come watch the game there, so then they can start work at 1030 when the game ends. Otherwise, their employees will have to deal with what promises to be an insane traffic situation as the entire country heads to work at 1030. I have to leave for work at 1045 and am already dreading the group hump session that my subway ride downtown will undoubtedly be.

For me, the World Cup has been a really funny experience. Last year, I would have maybe lasted through two minutes of a soccer game before I could no longer even feign interest. Even just two weeks ago I was complaining about how all people want to talk about lately is soccer. But now, the excitement about it all has really gotten to me. Last Saturday, when Argentina scored its first goal in its first game, my boyfriend jumped up screaming "GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAALLLL!!!!" He opened up the doors to our balcony and we could hear literally the entire city screaming "GOOOOOAAAAAAAALLLLL!!!!!!" I think that was the moment when I caught the bug. This morning (as there is no work) I did not have to be up early. However, here I am, at 9 am, sitting on my couch, COMPLETELY wrapped up in this game. When Argentina scored its first goal (well actually all of them) I too was jumping up and down screaming "GOOOOOOAAAAALLLLL!!!!"

The next day: so this is bad. I have become a completely different person. Yesterday, we talked about the World Cup in every one of my classes. Last night, I changed the channel off of the movie we were watching so I could check Argentine sports center and see what happened with the other groups (in phase one of the tournaments the teams are divided into groups, with the top two teams from each group advancing). My boyfriend tried to play it cool and pretend to be less shocked than he was. Today, instead of reading my usual trashy gossip blogs online, I found myself reading articles about the World Cup. Whats happening to me?????

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Say what now?

So one thing that I've noticed as of late is that many curse words (well actually curse phrases) here have to do with whores and/or their mothers. First, there's the classic "hijo de puta", literally "son of a whore", but more meaning "son of a bitch". There's lots of good ones though. For example, when she stubs her toe, Pame (my Argentine roommate) shouts "La puta madre!!!!!" which literally translates to "the whore's mother!". Can you imagine shouting that in English? How funny would that be? I think when I move back to the States, I'm gonna keep using that one, but in English. Another good one is "la concha de tu madre" which translates to "your mother's pussy". The other day, watching the World Cup, Messi (the best player on the Argentina team) missed a shot on goal, and the camera zoomed in on him clearly screaming "la concha de tu madre!!!!". Can you you imagine if Kobe missed a shot, looked into the camera, and shouted "your mother's pussy!!!". I think I would die laughing.

Things Argentinians Like

Soooo I don't know if I'll ever get around to loading up all my old e-mails but here's my ongoing list of things Argentinians like.
1. Complaining about how much they think Argentina sucks. (I, for the record, love living here). When I first moved here, rather than telling me what a beautiful country this is, etc. all the Argentinians that I met constantly warned me that I would probably get robbed and eventually kidnapped for ransom. Ironically, Argentina is actually a fairly safe country, and the odds of that happening are pretty slim.
2. Being really afraid of sickness. When I first moved here the swine flu panic was in full swing and people were really flipping out about it. People were wearing medical masks just to go out on the street and many large public events were canceled. what was funny actually is when you would see someone with their swine flu protective mask hanging around their neck because they were smoking a cigarette.
3. Putting whole olives on their pizza, but for decorative purposes only. Here, all pizzas come with a few olives on them, but I have yet to see anyone (American or Argentinean) actually eat the olives. Everyone just picks them off. I can't figure out why they still insist on putting olives on the pizza. I feel bad for the olives; they probably traveled all the way here from Greece, just to get baked, picked off, and thrown out.
4. Putting sweaters on their dogs. For some reason, during the winter, at least half the dogs here have sweaters on. Even the homeless people put sweaters on their dogs. And its not that cold here!
5. Letting their dog shit all over the sidewalk and then not cleaning it up. Yea, no pooper scooper law here. There is always soooooo much dog shit on the sidewalks.
6. Throwing things off their balconies without regard to who is below. This one I know is eventually gonna bite me in the ass. On the sidewalks you always see like a huge water stain or something that makes it obvious that someone in that building was mopping their floor, then just walked onto the balcony and threw the dirty water on the sidewalk. Im pretty sure I'll finally get hit when im like dressed up and on my way to an interview or something.
7. Getting things delivered. Argentinians LOVE getting things delivered! You can get anything delivered here too. You can go to the supermarket, pick out your groceries, then have them delivered. We have seen pizza, empanadas, sushi, pastries, meat from the butchers, and ice cream get delivered. Probably the most exciting one ever tho --- beer. YOU CAN GET BEER DELIVERED TO YOUR APARTMENT!!! Its every lazy alcoholic's dream!
8. Hair removal. Maybe its that most Argentinean have Spanish or Italian ancestry (both very hairy) or maybe its their proximity to Brazil, I don't know. But I do know that Argentinean love hair removal.
9. Buying underwear, socks, and pantyhose from the Paraguayan ladies who sell them on the street. Im actually inferring that they love this one. I see a lot of Paraguayan ladies selling underwear, socks, and pantyhose on the street corners, so I'm assuming there must be some sort of market for them. Or it could be like the olive thing; they're just there for decoration.
10. these really weird baggy and then tight pants. ok, so this one im going to try really hard to describe because this is like nothing we have in the states. so these pants are usually made of cotton or linen. they are super baggy and poofy at the top (they kind of look like the pants that Alladin wears), then at about the knees they change and become skin tight. WTF. i really don't get it. I think maybe the only advantage of those pants is you could like poop out a watermelon into your pants and no one would know. or your ass could just be really really fat and no one would know.
11. these sneakers that have a slit in between the big toe and the rest of your toes. i think they kind of make people look like ninja turtles.
12. leg warmers. i just want to stop people on the street and be like "hey, 1984 called, and it wants its horrible fashion trends back". also, they don't just wear them over leggings, they also wear them over jeans.
13. bromances. argentina is definitely the land of the heterosexual man kiss. here, you greet someone by kissing them on the cheek. everyone does this, including men. its really funny to see an american or english guy say hello to people here, they are obviously sooooooooo uncomfortable kissing other guys on the cheek.
14. fernet. this is a type of alcohol, that here is always drunk with coke. actually a few people have told me that fernet and coke is the national drink. sooooo the thing about this one is that everyone acknowledges that fernet is in fact disgusting. you can not drink it plain- its way too gross. it creeps me out a bit because it kind of curdles the coke when you make the drink -- the coke develops a thick head. i know that drinking too much coke can burn a hole in your stomach, so im pretty creeped out by anything that can curdle coke. after trying it though, i became a fernet convert and now almost always drink it when I go out.
15. frutigrans. these are these hard cookies that come in a roll and in different varieties. im pretty addicted to the oatmeal raisin ones. its disgusting how quickly i finish off a roll.
16. absurd English names for stores. theres a pizzeria called "Crack". i liked that one. also i saw an ad for a car parts company called INA FAG. But...I've found the definite winner in the competition for "most absurd store name" and it is... ::drumroll please:: .... TRAMPS. No joke---- there's a women's clothing store here named "Tramps"!!!!!!!! I DIED laughing the other day when I saw a woman walking around downtown with a shopping bag that said "Tramps" on it. I had this image in my mind that she just went to the store to pick up some tramps (lower-back tattoo included???).
17. having irish surnames. so i know that some of the famous liberators of latin america were from irish decent, but i still can't get over this one. right now there are advertisements everywhere for this book by pancho o'donnell. what a name~ pancho o'donnell! thats sooooo quality.
18. tanning in a bikini even if they are grossly overweight/pregnant. I really think my favorite sight was the pregnant ladies tanning their pregnant bellies. I was just like ohhhh god.
19. Drinking mate even if its 90 degrees out. Mate is a type of hot tea that is incredibly popular here. Its drunk out of special mate gourds with a special straw and its very common to see people walking around the park, etc holding a mate gourd, drinkin some tea.
20. wearing jeans and leather boots even when its 90 degrees out. This one really kills me. I'll be there suffering in the sweltering heat while wearing a sun dress, and walk by women wearing jeans tucked into leather boots. I want to stop them on the street and say "are you crazy!?!!?!?!?"
21. Really long lines. I think this is actually a latin american thing in general but it gets pretty ridiculous at times. For example, today I went to the bank to cash my paycheck. There were two lines; one for priority customers, and one for the rest of us poor schlums. The kicker: there was only someone actually working at the priority window! The rest of us just had to stand in line waiting to see if someone in the priority line would let us go before them. I waited for over an hour just to cash a check! I would go to another bank, but the problem is that they are all like this. They never have nearly enough people working. Its even worse if you have to do something involving the government. those lines are INSANE. On my way to work i pass by the ministry of something or other (I dont even remember which one it is now) and the line is always around the block... at 7:30 in the morning! the office doesnt open till 10! People spend all day waiting on line just to get their forms filled out! there are mobile coffee and pastry carts that hang out over there and go up and down the line selling breakfast and lunch to the people who are waiting.
22. having really crazy jobs. let me explain this one. as a former student of labor i've found this one to be pretty interesting. here the labor supply far exceeds the labor demand so the price of labor is quite cheap. therefore, there are all sorts of jobs here that don't really exist in the united states. for example: the human billboard. at main intersections when the light turns red guys will walk out into the crosswalk and just hold up billboards in front of the cars waiting at the red light. thats their job! also, we put the garbage out on the street daily here and you dont have to separate your garbage from your recycling because there are people whose job it is to go through all the garbage and pull out the recycling. you see them on the street mostly in the evening pulling these huge wagons filled with recycling. also people will sell you anything anywhere. there are always people on the train selling not only things like soda and candy but also random shit like booklets to hold your cds or harmonicas. even though you can buy candy at any kiosko (there is usually at least one per block) you dont even need to go to the trouble -- because people come right onto the bus and try to sell you candy! the bus drivers just let them hop on and off the different busses all day long selling candy.
23. Protesting. When the weather is warm there are all out protests with marches and drums every day. Sometimes there is more than one in a day. They protest EVERYTHING. As you know I'm all for creating equality in whatever way possible but even I have to admit that it gets a bit ridiculous. It just becomes such a hassle every day. The metro is shut down a lot and you don't know until you get there that you have to find another way to work.
24. complaining about inflation. this is actually legit though. at first i thought they were crazy when people told me that inflation here is 20-30% per year, but now i see that its definitely true! over the summer prices REALLY went up -- its crazy! thankfully im making more money!
25. ordering coffee or lunch from a restaurant and having it delivered to their office on real dishware. people will call a local restaurant and order something to be brought to their office but not like normal delivery, like on real dishes! you see waiters walking through a restaurant with a plate of food on their tray (like normal), then they just walk right out of the restaurant, down the street, and into a nearby office to bring it to the person there! how funny is that! why go sit at a table AT the restaurant if the restaurant will come to you?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

i think the doorman in my building fears/hates me

As a foreigner living in a neighborhood with almost no other expats (there are certain neighborhoods here that are heavily populated by foreigners), people in my neighborhood often have no idea what to do with me. One of those people is the doorman in my building. Granted, we did not get off to a great start as I first met him when I somehow managed to drop my keys down the elevator shaft in the middle of the night, thus rendering me unable to enter my apartment. He went down to the basement and retrieved them, and then we got to talking. After hearing me speak for a minute he asked where exactly I was from (my accent is a bizarre mix of Peruvian, Spanish, Colombian, and Argentine Spanish). I told him that I was from the US, he responded with an "ahhhhh" and a head nod, and we both went our separate ways.

Over the next few weeks we exchanged pleasantries as I walked in or out of the building. But sometimes (when he was feeling extra friendly?) he would shout random words in English at me as I left the building. A few weeks ago I was heading out to work, and I said something like "have a nice day" to him. He replied by shouting "WAAAAAATERRRRR" at me as i headed out the door. This is not the first time this has happened to me. Sometimes if people know that I speak English, they shout random English words at me. I think they do it just to let me know what they know, kind of to show off their knowledge.

Anyways, today I was sitting on the subway, heading back from work, when the doorman got on the train. He walked by me, we said hi, he moved to a different part of the car. We both knew that we were heading back to the same building (a 3 block walk from the subway station). Would we walk together? When the train stopped at our station the doorman bolted out. Walking up the stairs to exit the station he looked back once to check that I was still behind him, then continued to rush on, even running through a bit of light traffic to get ahead of me. When I got back to the building he was here. He greeted me with a "HEEEEY! I saw you in the subway today". I wanted to reply "Yea, I saw you too, I also saw the back of your head as you ran away from me!", but I didn't. I just smiled and moved along. This man hates me or is deeply afraid of conversation with me. I think tomorrow when I get home from work I might just stand by the door with him and be like "Sooooo whats up with you lately?". See what happens...

to blog or not to blog

Several years ago, when I first moved to Spain for my semester abroad, I considered writing a blog. Being the indecisive girl that I am, I asked my friend Sydney, "What do you think? Should I write a blog?". She, being quite decisive, told me "No, no one will ever read your blog". Ouch Syd, ouch. So instead I wrote a long series of e-mails detailing my experiences there (and now here). I may try to upload my Argentina mails, but well, I just don't know. Anyways, now that I'm a big girl, living in Argentina, I've decided to give this whole blogging thing a go. I do imagine though that Syd is right. My bets are that my mom and Howie will probably read my blog (my mom trying to be interested in whats going on in my life, Howie because he seems to read just about everything on the internet). I guess we'll see what happens...