Subbing: First Day

My first day of subbing was at a middle school on Austin’s east side. Later I found out from Annette’s mom, it was the worst part of the city in which to sub. It was far out of town in the middle of nowhere with only factories, strip-malls and pawnshops to dot the countryside. When I arrived I was told that there were 17 subs requested for the school that day. Partly it was because there was a teacher in-service that day but mostly it was because someone had shot at the police with an AK47 and now neighborhood was on lockdown and teachers were having trouble getting to work.

The teacher I was subbing for was doing the in-service onsite she told that she would be back at the end of the day. She also told me that they were great kids and that if they misbehaved to use the suspension forms. This should have given me a hint as to what was going to happen. Every teacher tells the sub that their class is good. She is the only one who ever told me to use suspension forms. All I had to do was hand out some tests and then an assignment. Easy.

First period was tired and they just tested me out a bit. They were loud and out of their chairs and screaming. The class talked, shouted, was rude, used foul language, etc. Second period was worse. They’d learned from the first period that I was unprepared. The kids thought the funniest thing was to ask for pencils and then break them, to ask for a test or handout and destroy it. I didn’t get a single test even handed back to me at the end.

In middle school teachers have little leverage because far and away the most important thing to most students is what their peers think of them. Every moment is an opportunity to be awesome or stupid in the eyes of their classmates. Cute girls who’re just becoming sexual and learning that they can command attention by getting boys to act out. In every class boys said and did all kinds of imbecilic things for the sexual bones that the girls threw their way: a smile here, a piece of eye contact there. While mysterious and seductive to their male peers, to someone twice their age their flirting was as subtle as a caveman dance. One 13 year old in first period left me a paper neatly folded on her desk: “My name is . My number is . Please call me.” It was shocking.

Paper was thrown; kids hit each other. When I got hit in the head with a rubber band I finally called school security. Without asking anything the man said “I’ll be right there’. Just before he arrived the kids shut up. They began working away quietly and when the security officer showed up at the door he asked what the problem was. I sheepishly told him that the kids had been out of control but they were fine now. He looked at the little angels and asked: “Are you guys being out of control?” That was all they needed and the room erupted in front of him in a blaze of insanity probably designed to show off how completely in control they were. “I wasn’t being disruptive. He was!!” said one. “It wasn’t me,” shouted his friend, hitting him. All hell broke loose. The security man made some brief threats about calling their parents and then he left and with him any semblance of authority. Looking back, it was all screwball comedy. This Asian kid who hardly spoke English came to me almost in tears. In a despairing voice: “Don’t call my parents! I’ve been working so hard!!!” As if there was any accountability at all.

The class’s reputation was so bad that by the last period, eight kids who wanted to do their work immediately abandoned ship and left for neighboring classrooms. “This sucks, is said one kid who stayed. Now it’s going to be all quiet in here.” And it was. Quiet and controllable. There was a conversation that went on and on… But that was ok. A cute girl flirting with her cute boys, an annoyance, not a threat.

While it felt like I was trying to stand in a cold rushing river for a few hours, for me the hardest part of the day was leaving. I tried to clean up the floor on which her class had used to store the contents of their backpacks. I wanted to let her know how the day had gone.

“It went ok.” I lied. “Nothing too bad.”
“Yeah, I heard they were out of control,” she said.
“Well, thanks.” I said.
“Thank you,” she said. And it was over.

She was stacking books and never looked at me during the exchange. The office told me I didn’t have to sign out. I left; feeling cheap, a call girl hired to keep the class busy while the girlfriend was away. Somehow I had misunderstood my role in the educational process and it stung. It was the toughest 75 bucks I’ve EVER earned.


the move ends

Change is stressful and requires a lot of attention. There are so many new things to learn and do that it’s easy to lose oneself in the muddle. The emotions you experience are more intense and you see things as if for the first time. Until now it’s been impossible for me to write to an audience about coming to Austin. Writing about things in the moment, as they are happening takes more self awareness and multitasking skill than I currently have.

But, like every other move I’ve made, the dust clears and you no longer need to find an apartment, get furniture, look for a job, etc. Well, perhaps I still do need to do a lot of those things but the urgency is gone. I have all those essential slots temporarily filled and I can concentrate on exploring where I have landed.

I want to start writing more about Austin, especially through the eyes of someone who is just returning to the United States after three years of being abroad and who has never before had pretensions of living in Texas. Austin is a really amazing and I can’t wait to start writing.

austin house hunt and alori property managers


I should warn you that this post is just a bunch of whining. Mostly about a really bad property management company. Coming to a new place is tough in a lot of ways. If one were all settled. One of the toughest is getting started (housing and job) while not having either of the two. Here’s a story of Alori Property Managementand how they made the process a little harder.

The first job is housing. It’s hard to apply to jobs without a home so it’s good to get that first. The last I looked for housing in the States was four years ago and craigslist was the way. Now, however, while there are lots of advertisements for places, it seems to have been co-opted by property managers or agents, both of which take their cut. Our experience was probably typical. In our first day looking we saw maybe 7 different places. There were a few nice ones and at the end of the day we decided on one we liked a lot.

The apartment was run by a property manager called Alori Apartments. We went to the place and filled out the application and put a deposit down. The first bad sign was that they seemed to have called it a day at 5:30 and were already drinking in the office. Everything seemed in order but it was odd because they didn’t seem excited about renting to us.

We both have impeccable credit but they were only interested in our rental history (we had none from the USA, only Buenos Aires) and if we had jobs (we just got into town). So they asked for a two guarantors. This was fine but when I asked if one would be ok, they got snippity. I asked for a few other questions like how the deposit worked, what happened in case of breaking the lease, and if we could look at the lease. They didn’t like answering any of them. I assume it was the alcohol.

My dad agreed to guarantee us they faxed him a blank form saying basically he guaranteed us. He asked for a copy of the lease (or something saying how much we were paying in rent, etc.) and they refused to provide it. He said he’d like to know what he was guaranteeing.

When I called at 11am the next day, they said that there’d been a terrible mistake and apparently they’d rented the apartment to someone else who had put in a deposit before us. I asked them why they’d accepted our deposit and he said it was a clerical error. He refused to say anything more or explain how it had happened. I asked him if it was usually their policy to accept deposits on a property while not telling applicants that they were considering other people. The man refused to answer.

It makes no sense why they did any of that. I really doubt someone was actually in front of us. Someone else just probably arrived after us but had a rental history and a job and so after taking our deposit they decided on someone else.

It was frustrating and emotionally draining because we had really like the apartment. It was strange too because Alori never actually told us that they preferred the other people, just that we weren’t fast enough in getting all our information in, something that they had been holding up.

So not a big deal, but it is really indicative of our experience here. It’s weird that a company like this could be so cavalier and unprofessional but it’s something that’s been coming up a lot. From the temp agency who doesn’t answer their phone to the tutoring agency who wanted me to sign a contract saying I wouldn’t tutor for any other company for two years.

It’s Texas and people here seem to make their own law.

set up

More learning how to program in Python. More information crammed in my brain. It feels good to get prepared for a new project. Lots of things I can learn how to do on my own. Like learning guitar, etc. My brother installed a few Firefox plugins (Firebug and Web Developer) for me so now I can doodle around with CSS and Javascript, playing with pages and making them look nice. I’m looking forward to making a blog and a personal website. I want to figure out how to install wordpress on my old/new site, twoifiplay.com, which right now has nothing at all.

So things are trundling along. It’s scary to go to a new place, especially after what happened last time. But things are different. I’m not drifting and purposeless. I’m excited about learning new web stuff and learning a new skill that’s transferable and transportable. Once I get good at web stuff again, that’s something I can do wherever so it doesn’t matter if I’m in Austin or Australasia.

e-learning

It’s ironic. I do so little but feel like things are moving so fast. Life is a whirl of meeting up with old friends and family who I haven’t seen in years.

Now that I have a nice new computer I can actually use it to do something. I’m taking full advantage of being in San Francisco to have my brother teach me what I need to know about creating interactive web apps (python, django, plone, etc.). My head is bursting with new information and my brain is craving more and more knowledge. Getting back in touch with this isde of my personality makes me feel stable and at home, an old friend I’d missed.

While I was away in Buenos Aires, I dropped all things computer. It’s interesting because while I was working in an e-learning company, I was shunted away from programming. Management didn’t like groups to interact or share each other’s skills. Not unlike the learning it instills, the job was an information production line, nothing more nor less. It’s exciting to think about another job where, like previous jobs, I will be encouraged to bring all my skills to the table.

I can hardly wait.

Reverse Culture Shock: Energy Drain

I’ve been back for about three weeks and shock is just about setting in. It’s as total as it is indescribable. I know it only by its symptoms. I am exhausted all the time. The actual tasks I need to do are easy: going to the mechanic, calling a friend, driving to the bank. It’s ironic because both the bureaucracy and the language is easier for me to navigate than it was in Buenos Aires.

The feeling is like having ice skated or roller bladed for a few hours, on taking the skates off you feel like you’re walking on air. You feel like you can run faster than a cheetah, nothing can stop you, your shoes have never been more comfy. But then you don’t know why you’ve walked just a few blocks and you’re out of breath already. The answer? Reverse culture shock.

Things seem like they should be easy, after all, I’ve done all this stuff and I didn’t even speak the language, I didn’t know anyone, I had fewer resources. I have none of these problems here in the States. It is not the difficulty of the tasks that is overwhelming, it’s that neurons in my brain are firing after having gone years without being accessed. My body is reconstructing relationships that it hasn’t considered in years.

Transport

“In my country there’s a problem, and that problem is transport.” -Borat

For my first year in Argentina my car (an 89 Camry) sat unused in my parents’ garage, so I gave it to a friend of mine who needed it. Now that I’ve returned she kindly fixed it up and handed it over. The car made it from Seattle to Portland just fine but then, on the way to Sacramento, the engine overheated and died.

It’s frightening to have your car die on the highway. When I started driving I used to imagine situations in which I’d imagine what I’d do in case I lost control of the vehicle. In this case the engine died and I lost power steering and brakes. Armed only with an unwhieldly wheel, an ebrake and some emergency blinkers for luck we somehow were able to coast into an Arco station. I poured in a $12 jug of coolant and it poured right out the bottom of the car. After some cajoling a guy working at the neighboring Subway came out and promptly disappeared under the car. He emerged, pronounced a leak in the water pump and recommended us a hotel where he and his girlfriend had spent the night the previous weekend.

We stayed at the Motel 6 slept hard. We’d spent so much time sitting and waiting for the car to cool, I’d eaten only some yogurt, a sandwich and some trailmix. Luckily we were just blocks away from Perry’s Automotive Service so we showed up bright and early with our broken car. They quoted us $460 to fix it (4 hours of labor at $80/hour) and, though it’s probably more than the price of the car, I decided to do the deed.

In Argentina I hardly ever used cars and never for long distance transportation as the interior of an Argentine bus looks more like an airplane than something you’d expect to have wheels. While I miss the freedom of the open road, it’s been wonderful to avoid the tragedy of a roadside breakdown. At least when you’re the one paying for it.

TWO GIRLS

2 Girls, 1 Worldview

 

TWO GIRLS

TWO GIRLS

Today was my first day where I wasn’t formally employed while in Buenos Aires. It felt good not to have anywhere special to be and it brought back this conversation I’d overheard about a week ago while standing at the bus stop. There were two blond American girls. You can tell Americans by their hair, their clothes, and that they speak English loudly in American accents. I sidled closer to try hear if they were speaking English. Finding people who speak English thinking that no one around them understands is an amazing voyeuristic pleasure. When we got on the bus I was able to get closer and overhear. One was telling her friend about her plans now that she had been living here in Buenos Aires for about 6 months.

“Why would I work for $10 an hour. In a few years I’ll make ten times that. Why not enjoy my time here? It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

“Yeah,” her friend said, “You don’t want to waste it.”

And here we have a whole worldview. You see, there is this idea in the states that during your adult life (called Real World) if you’re not contributing to corporate America then you’re shirking your duty. Children, the senile, the mentally handicapped, and students are generally excepted from this. But on graduation, every student knows what they’re in for. These girls, I assumed from looking at them, had just graduated. Many new graduates take a parentally funded trip abroad to “experience the world” before heading on to the Real World.

Now you may think I’m about to judge them for thinking that they are immature and lazy. On the contrary, traveling is an amazing way to find yourself. However, working in another country enhances the experience you’d have and does not diminish it. There are tons of jobs you can get in other countries which you would never be qualified to do back home. But in a worldview where you work for money, work can be seen as a chore rather than an opportunity. These girls were trying to avoid the Real World (which is a pretty terrible place) by putting off working, but work isn’t the issue.

If you do it right, most fun things are lots of work. The only thing is that because you enjoy what you’re doing, you don’t call it “work”. Getting paid for doing what you want to do is the goal, but apparently these girls seemed to have such a dreary idea of work that they were willing to pass up the experience of getting out into the community in order to avoid it.

SIEMPRE HAY UNA SALIDA

Resignation

SIEMPRE HAY UNA SALIDA

SIEMPRE HAY UNA SALIDA


It was the last day of a coworker, a fellow expat. We had been hired on the same day almost three years earlier and now he’d decided to go back to England to try his luck. I asked him if he wasn’t worried about the economy. “When it’s time it’s time.” He said. And I knew in my heart that at that moment that it was my time too. But such a big move can be scary and and it can be easy to ignore your heart when a good paycheck and a comfortable life are on the chopping block.

Perhaps to make sure I wasn’t going to back out, about 4 months before my intended departure date I told my manager that I was leaving and asked him how much notice he wanted. He said a month would be ideal but that two weeks would suffice in a pinch. I assured him he’d get it. Then every two weeks or so he’d ask me about it and I would assure him that there was no change of plan. Then, one day, he said he would really like to know so he could plan a little. I said I’d let him know in a week, it depended on my friend taking vacations with me. A week rolls around and I haven’t talked to my friend (he’d been sick) and my manager wants me to give a month’s notice. I let him know about the situation and tell him I’ll let him know Monday (it’s Friday). He explodes.

Manager: You said you’d tell me today.
Me: Yes, and now i’m telling you it’ll be one workday later.
Manager: But I need to know today.
Me: Do you need this information for any particular reason? Are you going to do something today with it?
Manager: I told the owner I’d meet with him about what to do about your position.
Me: Well, it’s a month in advance so I can just get you off the hook and email him telling him that you were under a false impression and I’ll take full responsibility. It won’t be on you.
Manager: It’s not about that. He doesn’t care. But you gave me your word, this is about personal integrity.
Me: You told me you wanted a month’s advance notice and you’re going to get it. It’s more than a month. You don’t need the information today. You asked me for a favor. I said ok. Now I’m telling you that you’ll still get your favor but one day later. And you’re telling me that, though you don’t need it, it’s about personal integrity.
Manager: Well, if you don’t want to pick a day, I’ll just pick a day for you. We’ll say that your last day is July 11.
Me: You’re firing me?
Manager: [looking shocked] No. I’m just telling you when your last day is.
Me: Isn’t that the same as firing someone?

The conversation continued in about the same way for awhile and eventually ended with his taking the high ground and letting me have till monday to decide. My mind cleared of all doubts, it was a joy to tell him.

texnat?

Let me just briefly explain the title of the blog:

It started with EXNAT, my blog about being an expatriate in buenos aires (expat+nathan=exnat). Now, after what will be three years abroad, I’m moving to Texas. Yes, Texas.

I once drove around the country for 3 months visiting 36 of our 50 fine states but when I never messed with Texas. My friend and I drove over 20 hours across the state to avoid sleeping there. Texas has always been a bit of a scary place to me. It was the mythical place that cowboys came from. Not cowboys from Westerns, the cowboys in my high school who chewed tobacco and always looked like if they ever actually noticed me they would beat me up. I’m from Sacramento and the “cowboys” from Sacramento are just working class white idiots who dress that way for the image. They’re not idiots because of dressing that way. They’re idiots for the chewing tobacco, among other things.

But anyways, it’s time for me to ride off into the sunset towards Texas country. Why Texas? A girl. Her name is Annette.

 

ANNETTE

ANNETTE

SUNSET OVER BUENOS AIRES

Ex Exnat

SUNSET OVER BUENOS AIRES

SUNSET OVER BUENOS AIRES

Friends, Portenos, Expats: Lend me your ears.
I come not to praise exnat, but to bury it.

That’s right, after months of not posting, it’s time to put a fork in this little blog: it’s done.

My first blog, triptrap, was the travel blog I wrote in until I arrived in Buenos Aires and was written from the point of view of a traveler. As obvious as this might seem, it’s worth mentioning because when I ceased to be a traveller, when I began to feel at home, I needed something else.  Here I was in a home. Not my home, rather I was a semipermanent visitor in someone else’s home. With this newfound existential angst I needed a new blog and here exnat was born.

I loved writing this blog and I loved the comments I received and the community I became a part of. I also loved plunging the depths of the expat psyche. It’s been lovely but all good things must come to an end.

But don’t worry, I will still be writing a blog.  The difference is that this will be a blog about a real passion of mine: games. I’m just starting it and it’s called twoifiplay.  While I’ll probably write about expat things every so often, it’s really an opportunity for me to share interesting games with people who might not otherwise come into contact with them.

So for those who update your blog subscriptions, I’ll be seeing you soon.  And for those who don’t, goodbye and it’s been pleasant.

Besos,
Nathan

8 rules for your first expat year

EXPAT RULES

So you’ve decided to move to Buenos Aires. It tougher than you might think. Most expats experience some serious culture shock after the first few months of honeymoon anesthesia wears off. Here are some hints. I welcome more.

1. Avoid all needy expats at all costs

There is a love/hate relationship between expats and themselves. It’s the nature of the beast. On one hand it’s nice to be around folks who’re like you. On the other hand expats who are not here for love are, at best, a fairly unstable bunch and generally don’t have family or non expat support groups. At worst expats go braindead doing all kinds of stupid things they would never do back home. If you are acclimatizing to a new place, you’re better off not being around energy drainers.

2. If you are a needy expat, stop it

Look. It’s tough. The food is different. The weather is different. The bugs are different. You are lost all the time. People act differently.

That’s why you’re here! Enjoy it! I promise you that the only ones who’re really going to be intrested in your problems are needy expats who just waiting for a chance to dump their problems on you in return.

3. Take classes

This is a super awesome way to make friends. Cultural centers, workshops, take a night class in painting or dancing or singing or woodworking or anything else you’ve always wanted to do. Spanish class doesn’t count (see #1) .

4. Excercise

It’s hard to excercise in a new place. Go running. Join the local soccer game. Or start your own (hopefully not with 100% expats). Join a gym. Take yoga classes and meet people. Whatever, just do something.

5. Realize that moving to a new place is tough

Things get better with time. You’ll eventually not be lost and you’ll be able to communicate just fine but it takes time. How long that time is and how much you enjoy it while you’re in it is up to you.

6. Every day do at least one nice thing for yourself that helps you feel at home.

One step each day. Even if it’s only one tiny little thing. It could be signing up for the gym, buying yourself a flower, drawing yourself a picture for your wall, relaxing and listening to some good music, something.

7. Learn the language

The sooner you can talk like you do in your native language the sooner you can be yourself in your new home. Until you can talk fluently you won’t be able to express who you are. This is unbelievably frustrating. You can take it down a notch by learning faster.

8. Get involved in the culture and community in which you live

I can’t speak for other places but it’s great to live in a place where not everything is owned by a multinational corporation (yet?). Take advantage of not having to feel isolated from your fellow human being. See where you can apply some of your skills. Try something out that you never have before. I’ve hardly got involved at all in the community around me after two years. I wish I had.

 

The Manshake

ANTEBESO

Cheek Kissing.  It’s a custom I really love. For American’s such as myself it seems really intimate but it was explained to me on arrival by a coworker who pointed out that from a health perspective it’s far more sanitary than shaking hands. First of all you hardly touch cheeks and second of all people are likely to be less likely to have touched said cheek to something nasty earlier in the day than their hand. The hand is disgusting. Everybody knows this. But they smile and just grip harder…

Also I love the etiquette of kissing. In the vast majority of meetings everyone goes around and greets every other person, kissing them as they do the rounds. Every guy expat has had the male/male kissing experience. You know, the “oh my lord I am kissing a man.” Or for the Italians out there: “Oh my lord I am kissing a man not twice but only once.” This can be uncomfortable the first time as you’re right next to the person’s face when these thoughts are going through your head. However, they pretty much go away after a few months. Just kidding, they usually go away immediately.

However, this weird fear is not only on the part of expats and it turns out that somes Argentine guys don’t like kissing expat guys. It’s true! Why? I am not a porteño guy so I don’t know the motivation but I understand it as it was explained to me. So for most porteños this is just an automatic thing they do, they don’t think about it much. However, as soon as an expat is thrown into the mix, some question the acceptability of their own culture. Apparently the porteño is aware that it’s not the custom of the expat and for that reason he himself feels uncomfortable that perhaps his own culture could be misconstrued. Or that it just suddenly seems awkward. Or he doesn’t want the expat to misunderstand this as some kind of sexual advance. Or I have no idea.

Anyways, this is when the manshake enters. The manshake is when a porteño guy kisses everyone in the room (girl and boy alike) until he gets to a male expat, at which he shakes hands. Personally I can’t imagine myself in the States trying to bow to Japanese people to avoid seeming aggressive. Also it’s probable that I have the motivations way off on what these Argies think. Who knows?

Until next time.

Beso

Perhaps… Perhaps… Perhaps…

I recently heard this poem read and I found it very inspiring.

PERHAPS…
for the loneliness of an author

Perhaps these thoughts of ours
will never find an audience
Perhaps the mistaken road
will end in a mistake
Perhaps the lamps we light one at a time
will be blown out, one at a time
Perhaps the candles of our lives will gutter out
without lighting a fire to warm us.

Perhaps when all the tears have been shed
the earth will be more fertile
Perhaps when we sing praises to the sun
the sun will praise us in return
Perhaps these heavy burdens
will strengthen our philosophy
Perhaps when we weep for those in misery
we must be silent about miseries of our own

Perhaps
Because of our irresistible sense of mission
We have no choice.

by Shu Ting
translated from the Chinese by Carolyn Kizer

Another Meme: 7 Random Things About Me

7 RANDOM THINGS

7 RANDOM THINGS

1. I have not had a TV in over 9 years. This is technically a lie. I have had a TV now in my apartment for about 2 months. I have still not turned it on though. On the other hand, because I have not built up an immunity to TV, when I see it in other people’s houses or in bars I am completely transfixed by the magical moving pictures.

2. For years my dream job was to be a rabbi. But that was just to read the books, I didn’t like the social aspect of it all and I didn’t like praying at all. Later a dream of mine was to be to be a professional magician but I decided that it was too manipulative and stopped. I prefer jugglers to magicians though I can barely juggle. My new dream job is to be a storyteller or a game designer or both.

4. When I was very young (2 or 3 years old) I had the belief that I came into the world with perfect knowledge, however the moment I learned a new word I would cease, forever, to be able to understand what it was meant to express. For a long time I was scared to learn new words. I still believe this to some degree though I am no longer scared.

3. Keeping with words, I have written 3 pages in my journal almost every day for the last 6 months.

7. I love games. A lot. I just like them in general. Among my favorites: Go, Chess (though it’s a bit competative), Truco, Settlers of Catan, Casino, Egyptian Rat Screw. I like games you can win together. Like games? Live in Buenos Aires? Let me know and maybe we play.

5. I once did a joke documentary by driving around the USA for three months with my friend. We asked people on the street, in bars, in restaurants, on boats for jokes and we recorded them on audio tape. We did it because no one can remember jokes and what if everyone forgot all their jokes at the exact same moment? It wouldn’t be funny…

6. Yesterday Pip tagged me to do this meme thing. I didn’t know what it entailed and I was at work so I was a bit of a grouch about it. Full disclosure, I got freaked out that someone could tell me what to write in my blog. Which is silly. Sorry Pip, it turns out that this is actually fun to do. And now, because you can make people do things by tagging them:

I HEREBY TAG EVERYONE READING THIS RIGHT NOW TO DO THIS LIST. YEAH, THAT MEANS YOU. NO LOOKING AWAY. YOU’VE BEEN TAGGED. DO IT NOW!!!! THERE IS NO ESCAPE!!! BWAAAJAJJAJAJA!!!

Expats and Local Holidays: Dia de Amigo

 

HAPPY FRIENDS DAY!!!!

HAPPY FRIENDS DAY!!!!

Today is Friends Day in Argentina, a holiday about which I am intensely ambivalent. First, let me say that the idea is great: a moment to honor the friendships that have endured and the new ones you’ve discovered. Just lovely. However, I have a few reasons to be a little skeptical. Firstly, I don’t have a lot of friends. Secondly, locals take it pretty seriously and last year I didn’t know that it was significant. Some folks called me up to hang out cause it was friends day and were a bit insulted when I said that I’d hang out with them later and that night I felt a little tired. Lastly, I think that it’s just an opportunity to insult folks WAITING to happen. I mean, seeing as there are different friend groups it could be fairly easy to unintentionally blow folks off. I’m really scared that there’s someone I forgot to call…

So let me just say publicly to all my blog friends out there, where ever you may be. Happy Friends Day!!!! And here’s a joke for you about keeping up relationships while overseas:

So this Irishman goes into a bar and orders three beers. The bartender thinks that this is a little weird but serves them up and the Irishman drinks them over the evening and heads home. The Irishman becomes a regular of the bar and each time he comes in he orders the three beers. The bartender thinks this is strange and one day suggests his ordering one beer after another so they’ll be fresher when he’s drinking them. “Oh, you don’t understand” says the Irishman. “The other two beers aren’t for me, they’re for my brothers back in Ireland. When I left we all made a pact that when we drank we would drink for the other two and in this way we’d remember each other.”

This goes on for some time until one day the Irishman comes in with a terribly sad look on his face. He walks slowly up to the bar and orders only two beers. The bartender immediately says “Oh, I’m so sorry about your brother.” “No no… ” Says the Irishman sadly “My brothers are fine. I quit drinking.”

Dungeon Dorks and the expat hierarchy

Monsters in Buenos Aires
So I was checking out this forum on Buenos Aires Expats and came across some guy starting up a Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) game.

This was apparently his second post and he wrote:

Hi all,

I’m starting a D&D group (preferably in English) to meet in about a month. If anyone is interested, I’ve set up a website at http://dnd.meetup.com/1024/ to discuss it. And if you have questions, as I’m sure some of you will, please feel free to contact me via the Contact Me link on that page.

Thanks for your interest.

D&D is a game where you play out the role of a mythical character like the elves and warriors and stuff. It’s like Lord of the Rings meets choose your own adventure except the possabilities are endless. I used to play this game with my older brothers. I always used to be a halfling thief and most of what I did was get sent upstairs to get them drinks and snacks. I was 10 years old and it was awesome.

I mean, one of the best ways you can get introduced into a place is to go with what you know. If you like to draw, find the local artists. If you like to play polo, join the local polo club. But what if what you know is something fairly unknown in where you are? A better idea would have been to try to find local gamers and access the city that way.

But even more interesting was a comment on the post. This other guy had commented 204 times so he probably sets a lot of the tone over on BA expats. He wrote:

Not sure if you’ll thank me again for my interest but I find your interest in that game rather surprising. There you are in that beautiful country and you want to play D&D.

I saw this text on your page “Also, if anyone has suggestions for a good, safe first meeting location, I’m all ears!”, if you’re looking for a safe place to meet people then I’ll go ahead and suggest Villa Lugano, it’s a beautiful part of town where you’ll feel right at home.

Best of luck

What a jerk! The tone of this comment raises the ambivilence that expats play in eachothers lives. From what I understand, this forum is for expats trying to network with other expats to share experiences, solve problems, and hang out at the monthly dinners. Why then is someone so entrenched in the community so negative? Are there levels or circles of expats and this guy somehow broke the rules? Is this newcomer not “cool” enough to comment on an expat forum? It’s funny how you can travel 10,000 miles and still feel like you’re back in high school.

Expat Meme

I found this meme on Avoiding Crisis: 210 Days of Self-Exploration.

Name five things you love in your new country

  1. My Friends
  2. No coffee to go
  3. More cultural events than you can wave a stick at
  4. How technology hasn’t completely isolated people
  5. Late nights

Name four things you miss from your native country

  1. My family and friends
  2. My sense of balance and stablity
  3. My ability to communicate
  4. Neighborhood restaurants with spicy “international” food (mexican, thai, indian, etc.)

Name three things that annoy you in your new country

  1. No bike lanes
  2. Relative expense of technology
  3. The garantia system of renting apartments

Name two things that surprise you (or surprised you when you arrived) in your new country

  1. Everyone has little dogs
  2. The fashion

Name one thing you would miss in your new country if you had to leave

  1. Kissing on the cheek

The Buenos Aires Housing Hunt ABCs

VILLA CRESPO OR BUST

VILLA CRESPO OR BUST

I wrote this list while waiting in line to see what turned out to be a small dank apartment.

A is for Arte. “Estoy arte de esperando aca en el frio.”

B is for Blanco. They like you to be earning in “blanco” in order to get a place.

C is for Clarin. Clarin is really the only place people seem to advertise. If anyone knows a better way let me know.

D is for Dormitorio. 2 ambientes does not equal 2 dormitorios.

E is for Entendido. Es entendido que 2 meses de comission es demasiado y esperado.

F is for”Friend”. Anyone who calls you “friend” in English is on my list of people who will cheat you.

G is for Garantia. It needs to be from Capital and a family member.

H is for habitable. As opposed to desirable.

I is for Inmobilaria. Spanish for “bottomfeeder”

J is for Ja Ja Ja. What you think when you see the poor SOB at the end of a line to see a lame apartment that the guy showing you says was reserved yesterday.

K is for Kapitalistas. nuff sed

L is for Living/Comedor/Cocina. A room where apparently everything happens.

LL is for Llamar. As in “El depto esta reservado pero es posible que la garantia seria mal y si venis lunes, demasiado temprano puedes dejar cien mangos con nosotros te tal vez te llamamos.”

M is for Modern. Modern apartments are smaller, stuffier, have less light, and portenos prefer them.

N is for Nathan. The apartment looker.

O is for Opinion. You will generally want a second one…

P is for PH. Portenos love them cause they have no gastos.

Q is for Quito. As in “Things are cheaper in Quito, Ecuador.”

R is for Renovar. “No vamos a renovar este departmento. Lo pintas vos.”

There is no RR in the expat housing hunt. We can’t pronounce it.

S is for Sabado. Most of the house showings happen on Saturday afternoon. Yay!

T is for trampa. Like advertising an apartment saying you don’t need a garantia and then trying to sell you the garantia you don’t need…

U is for ups! As in “Ups! No tenemos las llaves para abrir el depto. Lo siento, parece que estuviste esperando aca chupando el frio… Llamanos mas tarde en la semana.”

V is for vender. Much more popular than alquiler.

W is for Why do I even want to move? My apartment is just fine as it is.

X is for eXnat – A blog that feels your pain.

Y is for Y are you reading to the end?

Z is for Ze end of zis list.

Who are these expats?

EXPATS

EXPATS

Due to a recent comment on my blog I want to clear up what exactly this expat thing is. An expat is someone who’s living in a place that they do fundamentally identify with. This is very different from an immigrant. Quoting from the Wikipedia article on expats:

The difference between an expatriate and an immigrant is that immigrants (for the most part) commit themselves to becoming a part of their country of residence, whereas expatriates are usually only temporarily placed in the host country and most of the time plan on returning to their home country, so they never adopt the culture in the host country – though some may end up never actually returning, with the distinction then becoming more a matter of their own viewpoint.

Expats retain their culture and identity as being apart from their host country. And ambivalence on return is key. Expats run the gamut. There are expats who have definite plans to return, vague and shifting plans to return, and no plans whatsoever to return. However, all of them fundamentally identify either with their country of origin or some other group independent of the country they live in. Or they’re in love and they don’t care where they live: home is where the heart is.

My Nature

TIGRE TREE

TIGRE TREE

One of the big changes for me in moving to Buenos Aires is from small city to big city. I have no idea how many people live in Buenos Aires but I’m told 12 million. That’s a lot. A LOT. But the consequences aren’t so much in having a barrage of folks around you at all times (which is new for me) but more than anything not being able to escape so easily. Everywhere I’ve ever lived before there has been nature of one form or another around but in Buenos Aires all you have are parks. Admittedly fairly close there are tree filled places but it’s not that accessible to get there without a car and no one I know just goes there for the nature.

When they think of nature most folks think of Tigre which is a lovely little vacation place just up the road. It’s at a river delta and there is a maze of islands you can get to by quaint wooden ferry boats. This weekend was freezing but I needed my nature fix and headed with some friends to what I can only call their vacation house in Tigre. It’s more of a cabin on stilts than anything as there is no running water or bathroom. However, that just makes it all the more attractive.

WHY THE HOUSE IS ON STILTS

WHY THE HOUSE IS ON STILTS

It was cold. Unusually cold. So cold, in fact, that it snowed for the first time in over 50 years. I am not making this up. It was really really cold. That didn’t stop us from participating in the awesome outdoorsy tradition of campfire cooking. We stepped out from Argentine asado tradition by having only roasted veggies. No meat. Yum! And there was something about the cold that made the intensity of the experience, the sheer feeling of being alive and out of the city just incredible.

COLDER THAN IT LOOKS

COLDER THAN IT LOOKS

Being away from the natural world has been a huge change for me. It felt wonderful to get back to my hippy tree hugging roots. Even as snow comes down outside, Spring is coming soon and I’m looking for good places to go camping on long weekends. If anyone has an idea, let me know 🙂

Expat Housing Hunt: Not getting the memo

NO ENTIENDO

NO ENTIENDO

Today might have been one of the most frustrating days of my time in Buenos Aires. It started off great. It started off with a haircut.

Hair cuts are awesome and they just completely change your perspective. Any time you want to get new perspective, cut your hair. Even if no one else notices, you know you’re different and you get to look at that stranger in the mirror. Maybe it’s symbolic of cutting away the old. Think about it: they cut away the oldest parts of your hair, leaving the newest growth. I haven’t cut my hair for 9 months but today I woke up early and took Diva and Kiki’s advice and got a hair cut.

I didn’t know how to describe a regular haircut so I asked for a “classic” haircut. “Oh, classic like short in the front and long in the back?” asked the barber. Only in Buenos Aires could a mullet be a classic haircut.

While I was waiting for the haircut I read the Clarin and wrote out all the apartments I would visit later in the day. Apartment hunting is tricky in Buenos Aires because no one is renting right now and everyone wants to rent. It’s much easier to sell the property instead of renting and the prices are great for selling and there’s lots of demand. If you’re anything but first in line to get an apartment you are nothing at all. You’ll simply be viewing an apartment that someone else wanted so you have to go super early to get the good deals.

Also the rents right now are terrible (and probably only getting worse). However today tons of great deals came out. I couldn’t believe it and I made a whole list of all the houses I would visit, planning out the order and everything.

Well, I got to my first place early. A half hour early. Usually someone shows up soon afterwards and there are at least 5 people at the time when the apartment starts being shown. This time there was no one, which was really strange. Even stranger was that no one came to show the apartment either. Well, I went on to the next one on my list. And waited. And waited. And nothing. No one there either. So I went to the next one. No one. I went to all six or seven on my list. Nothing.

At first I was irritated, then confused, then by about the fourth something clicked. I realized that there was something seriously wrong that I was missing here. And this is a huge part of being an expat, not knowing the rules or even if there are rules. I was filled with this idea that because it was a long weekend no one showed up or the Clarin cancelled all their ads for the day, etc. etc. It’s not like I haven’t done this same thing before too many times. I know that the Clarin keeps web ads up for awhile but I had double checked!

Super super frustrating day.

How to pick up porteñas….. NOT!

PARTIES CAN LOOK LIKE THIS

PARTIES CAN LOOK LIKE THIS

I recently had this conversation with a girl at a party.

nathan: it’d be nice to hang out sometime
her: totally
nathan: your friend has my info
her: what?
nathan: uhmm… like… if you want to…
her: you look tired
nathan: but i…
her: go to bed

I decided it was high time to figure out how to pick up girls and where else to go but the internet. Porteños (people from Buenos Aires) are always telling me that Porteñas (their fairer counterparts) are the most beautiful women in the world, so I would need some very special help to get me through this.

[ENTER BLOGOSPHERE: STAGE LEFT]

Here I recommend three diverse articles that might help.

Nightlife in Buenos Aires: Hooking up with a Porteña by A.J. Hayes

Favorite Quote: Even if you honestly can’t speak one word… suck it up and learn a few key phrases like “my Spanish is very bad” (“mi castellano es muy malo”) and “if you want, you can practice your English with me” (“si quieres, tu puedes practicar tu ingles conmigo”).

Caveat: While these techniques can be used by anyone, those are not the one night stand photos I’d post on my blog…

Picking Up Girls in B.A. Know How by Diva

Favorite Quote: Here are some examples possible situations and the correct way (I mean the porteño I-can-F…-them-all way) to behave.

Caveat: Diva has no experience in picking up girls. This may only work for picking up Diva.

Sex in Buenos Aires by David Stone

Favorite Quote: Next thing I knew, she emerged from my bathroom wearing nothing but a Sheraton bathrobe, albeit not for long.

Caveat: This approach may only work with prostitutes.

Now with all my questions answered I feel prepared to go out into the big wide world to win over the girl of my dreams! Though actually now that I think about it it sounds like a lot of trouble… It’s the long weekend and I’ll probably stay home and paint or draw or make games or something…

MEDIO CHETO

Art Por Tres: Lunch Specials in Palermo Viejo

MEDIO CHETO

MEDIO CHETO

Everyone has stupid stereotypes that have nothing to do with reality. I’m no different and one of mine favors the old and dirty over the bright and shiny. Appearance often goes a long way in Buenos Aires and I feel if an ugly restaurant can fill up a crowd of locals then it’s worth checking out. It was for this reason that I always preferred the classic Palermo classic El Preferido over it’s brighter, shinier neighbor ArtX3. The first thing ArtX3 had going against it was attractive and colorful exterior and it’s hip name, smacking of coolness, didn’t help at all. But the kicker for me was that it portended to be a Mexican restaurant which has got to be a lie.

It’s an accepted lie. While the concept of Mexican food sells, I don’t think most Porteños would want to eat it. As a culture, Argentines have a love of new cuisine that is unmatched except possibly by Nebraskans and folks from the Midwest of the USA. Restaurants here probably weigh serving hot sauce with the real possibility of a lawsuit. No worries cause most people don’t know (and aren’t interested) in what it is. Instead Mexican restaurants seem to copy the pictures they’ve seen in travel brochures. White creamy stuff? Must be Mendicrim! I can’t complain – it’s not like real Mexicans eat cheddar like we eat in our Texmex.

But I digress about these silly stereotypes of mine. The point is that for all these completely superficial reasons I avoided ArtX3 until one day the prices went up at El Preferido. Desperate to find cheaper lunch options, I noticed ArtX3’s lunch specials along and discovered a very interesting part of Porteño culture.

Now I’ve said that this is a Mexican food restaurant. However, knowing that no one actually WANTS Mexican food for lunch, the place drops the facade and serves up cheap and delicious Argentine fare to a crowd of mostly school children. The restaurant’s philosophy must be that Mexican food is nice and all but real human beings have to eat real food. And Argentine sensibility dictates that real food is Milanesa (chicken fried steak) with cheese and french fries, spaghetti, empanadas, or anything else that every other restaurant serves. Luckily I love these “stick to your ribs” dishes; they remind me of my mom’s cooking before she became vegetarian.

I have never tried the Mexican food at ArtX3 but the real food is excellent, especially for the price. A solid estofada con pure (meat and potatoes) will set you back 7.50 pesos. Another really wonderful part about this restaurant is that the waiter/owner has zero problem bringing me tap water with every meal without the typical judgmental sideways glance. Now that I’ve been coming in for awhile I get it without asking.

It may be bright and shiny but I recommend this place it to anyone who likes regular Argentine food and eats lunch in Palermo Viejo. Just remember to order the lunch specials – everyone else does.

What they do back home

Every expat wants to know what’s happening back in their home country. My home country? Well…

USA! USA! This guy is from Brooklyn (not Japan as the label says):

Cookie Monster + Cookie Hero = Cookie Contest

Today Buenos Aires has born witness to a Cookie Monster who was apparently left uninvited to Frank’s delectable invite. However, our top investigators (me) have now discovered the true nature of the beast.

Has Frank always been a Cookie Monster? Is it a sinister Mr. Hyde type character who comes out when the moon looks most like a round, unbitten cookie? Has Frank dabbled in the science of cookies too long and fallen prey to his own visionary yet immoral cookie experiments?

A shocked community asks in one united voice: WHO CAN SAVE US? One stands apart from the rest. He is Exnat, the Cookie Hero. He faces the Monster, challenging him to a COOKIE EATING CONTEST.

Is the MONSTER in hot milk or will Exnat’s eyes prove bigger than his cookie stomache?

Which expat are you?

HAY UNA SALIDA

THERE IS A WAY OUT

[NOTE: This this the original post. The updated list is here.]

Ok, so you’ve decided to move to a place without immigrating. You must be one of the following:

Escaping the past

Drugs, heartbreaks, failures, deaths? Leave it all behind and don’t look back. If you’re in a rut, a hole, a mire, join this group of expats who escape the black hole that was into the future of never ending possibilities. Careful though, some of those things you thought you were leaving behind just might be you.

Escaping the future

Running from the rat race, fleeing responsibility, and putting tough decisions on hold in a world of sleeping beauty they enter timeless expat-dom, the kingdom of eternal youth and no cares. Here your language skills that everyone had back home guarantee you a living wage. A little extra effort gives you a career. Sure you get paid in “monopoly money” but what this expat really wants is some space to “figure it all out.”

Working on a project

These expats save up enough to live in the former colonies without working so they can use their time to finally write that book, that masterpiece, that itch that they’ve been meaning to scratch.

Globalization

Everyone needs English. And you don’t need a degree to teach English in a foreign country you only need, well, English. Also someone has to be managers to all those American companies that are moving down South in the giant sucking sound that is the global market. Moving to another (read: 3rd world) gives a lot oppurtunities that you could never get back home. Are you making lots of money in local currency or next to nothing in dollars? No need to bother thinking about it when you’re so busy filling up your CV (international talk for resume) with goodies.

Corporate Transfer

As far as this guy is concerned he’s still in the states. Small things have changed for him like Cokes come in 1.5 liters or 2.5 liters instead of 2 liters but the rest is the same. After a year he has found no need to expand his 100 word vocabulary, the accent of which makes you cringe.

Important note: This is a pure stereotype of mine. I know no one like this.

Learn the language/dance/music/culture/etc.

Definitely the most fun, interesting, and knowledgeable, this expat generally hangs out with the “locals” and pays local prices too. They have a huge advantage over other expats in this because they immediately make local friends through their interests without trying. Other expats have to wrack their brains wondering if they like chess enough to join the chess club, etc. This expat type rarely sticks around too long before moving onto the next chapter in the story of their life.

Retired

This isn’t so much a type of expat as an attribute of any of the above groups. If this is the only attribute you have then I certainly not met you yet. Most retired expats have at least church meetings to go to. They generally hang out with 100% expats. But usually they’re taking classes, doing self exploration, or working on a project of some kind. Only back home do people just retire and do nothing.

Kicking Around

These are backpackers with fear of the road, they travel without moving. Were they travelling too long and just got tired and/or lonely? Did they really want to hit the road but never had the guts to start? Whether they’re living on their parents wallet and just jolling around, they’re close cousins of the future escapists. The big difference is that instead of escaping, they’re living in the present, without a care in the world except which party to go to next and where to find peanut butter.

Did I mistake or leave out your favorite expat? Make my list complete by adding your thoughts in the comments section and I’ll add it to the permenant list.

What little girls are made of

PART THE FIRST: WHEREIN BROWNIES ARE OBTAINED

Today I went to an expat blogging meetup that was in a cookie factory called Sugar and Spice. Frank, who owns this gingerbread house of a store, was very generous and hospitable to invite us. And the spread was delectable.

This is a man full of cookies
TOO MANY COOKIES
For me the most interesting thing was that he chose to have his Buenos Aires blogging meet up at 10:30am till 12:30pm on a Thursday. This is highly convenient if I, like most expats, roll out of bed at 11am in time to arrive fashionably late for some milk and cookies for breakfast. As it so happens I have a job and it was fairly inconvenient. Unless I wanted to take a day off work and eat desserts. So personally I was ambivalent but I think that the sheer audacity of the planning speaks to the fluidity of the expat schedule (or lack thereof). It also could have been that the store was small and Frank didn’t want 50 people all crowding in to get free samples. As it was: GOOD JOB FRANK FOR A PERFECT EVENT! He also promised to be hosting a wine and savory cookie event very soon. Please email him with questions as to the particulars. We hope it will be soon. Frank was so kind and gracious that he gave us all little gift bags with delicious brownies, which leads me to the second part of my post.

PART, THE SECOND: WHEREIN THE BROWNIES ARE EATEN

The six brownies were immaculately wrapped in a beautiful orange cardboard case with a ribbon running all through it. Much of the food experience is presentation and let me tell you, had the King of Argentina himself walked in through the door at that moment I would have felt proud to give him part of one of my brownies. But he didn’t and after work I gave the woman at the art store one of the brownies and, in turn, she gave me lots of little 10% off coupons and a kiss on the cheek. I hopped on my bike and headed to painting class.

Image of Nathan and Diva
I SLYLY PUT THE MOVES ON DIVA

My painting teacher has been talking about folks bringing in food since we began the class. Last week someone bit and brought in 3 bottles of “expensive” wine ($4US = expensive). It was lovely and to return the favor I decided to cut up The other 5 into fourths and for my classmates.

Everyone was very appreciative until one girl, not knowing who brought them, said “This is all fine and good but these brownies aren’t really something Argentine.” As if the nationality of the food somehow had some relevance. I said “Hey man, this is cultural exchange.” And the teacher said, “What do you want him to do, make a locro?”

The box it came in was orange and beautiful and the girl liked it. At the end of the class, after she’d taken the last bite of the American cookie, I gave it to her.

cooking with porteños

Porteños will sometimes deceive you, by seeming to go crazy, mixing anything they find in the fridge into a stew. This is an illusion because they will only do this if the fridge only contains 6 ingredients.

Marc returns


WHEN I HEAR “UNITED STATES” THIS IS WHAT I THINK OF

When coworker of mine recently got back from the States he was immediately faced with an array of questions from the US expats in the office: What was it like to be back? What had changed? What were the differences? As he spoke we savored the Indian curries, rolled our eyes at the anal retentive scheduling, cringed at the corporate box stores. “Our country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, but we live here…”