I’ve upgraded the site to Django 1.5 and take advantage of the new extendable AbstractClass user model. Unfortunately django-registration 1.0 isn’t completely 1.5 compatible and still directly imports User directly instead of using the new get_user method. Luckily the folks at django-registration were kind enough to post all the edits you need to make to their code to get it up and running with less work than I’d feared.
In Buenos Aires Christmas falls in Summer and Santa Clause wears shorts. It’s nice to come back and have some nice, down to earth, and really “normal”. This Christmas was low key, more like the ones in sitcoms than movies.
This year was the first time I did the rosary thing at Annette’s house. Everyone kneels on the floor and repeats Our Fathers and Hail Marys. It gets old quickly. I’m used to Judaism where even if you aren’t sure what’s being said, trying to figure out what page you’re on is at least a great brain teaser for the kids. You can focus on understanding what the Hebrew means. The praying was in Spanish so by the second time I’d figured it out. I think you repeat it 50 times… At the end there’s a small Jesus doll that people kiss the doll and get a giftbag of an orange and some chocolate.
After the rosary were the gifts. Growing up Jewish, Christmas as always what the “other” kids did. We’d have Hannukah and all. I remember always hearing about the kids who had one Christian and one Jewish parent and got presents for both holidays. That was epic, I thought.
Each year Annette’s family does a white elephant gift exchange. While I’m a part of it, I am not told or expected to participate because I don’t know anyone in Annette’s extended family. Instead, Annette’s mom buys presents for the people whose names I “draw” and when I show up I get presents from people who hardly know who I am. It’s funny because people thank me for things and I have to figure out what I apparently bought for them.
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.
“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.
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.
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) .
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.
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.
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!!!
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.”
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:
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 atto 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.
I found this meme on Avoiding Crisis: 210 Days of Self-Exploration.
Name five things you love in your new country
- My Friends
- No coffee to go
- More cultural events than you can wave a stick at
- How technology hasn’t completely isolated people
- Late nights
Name four things you miss from your native country
- My family and friends
- My sense of balance and stablity
- My ability to communicate
- Neighborhood restaurants with spicy “international” food (mexican, thai, indian, etc.)
Name three things that annoy you in your new country
- No bike lanes
- Relative expense of technology
- The garantia system of renting apartments
Name two things that surprise you (or surprised you when you arrived) in your new country
- Everyone has little dogs
- The fashion
Name one thing you would miss in your new country if you had to leave
- Kissing on the cheek
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
I recently had this conversation with a girl at a party.
nathan: it’d be nice to hang out sometime
nathan: your friend has my info
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…
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…
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.
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):
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?
[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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…”
I read on the internet that there was an exhibit of Kitsch (not be confused with kitch, which is) and decided to check it out. Kitsch is a word I never felt comfortable using for two reasons: 1) It always struck me as overly pretentious perhaps because 2) I never quite knew what it meant. Luckily Wikipedia was invented and now it’s definition is accessible to all:
Kitsch is a term of German origin that has been used to categorize art that is considered an inferior copy of an existing style. The term is also used more loosely in referring to any art that is pretentious to the point of being in bad taste, and also commercially produced items that are considered trite or crass.
The most interesting thing about the definition is how it’s reflexive: placing the viewer in comparison to the viewed. Calling something kitsch is essentially a judgement: “You think you are all that but you are wrong and you are making a fool of yourself because you are just like everybody else.”
As “bad taste” is generally in the eye of the beholder, the exhibition spoke much more about the curators and much less about the folks with bad taste. Fads were easy pickings and I recognized a lot of Yanqui style stuff but a lot of the things they picked on just seemed random. This next example is not so much kitsch as it might be Edward Gorey’s children:
Coming from Kitschlandia (thank you, jen) my biggest surprise was that many of these things labeled in the museum I saw as simply dumb cultural iconography that were a little over the top: wooden birds. The museum tried to explain their choice with notes explaining why the various items were in bad taste but I was not convinced of the museum’s own kitschproof credentials. As I walked through I was forced to wonder if the choice to back the paper with fleorescent pink and green was intentional or mistaken.
They seemed to be particularly ruthless on images of children dressed in finery.
They did have some good finds among which were a jesus painting that changed as you moved throughout the room and an old photo of a girl who had just got her hair cut with the hair attached to the photo. But anyone who is actually interested in seeing some real kitsch doesn’t need to shell out the 3 pesos for the museum when any feria americana, San Telmo market, or most porteno’s house will furnish a much more complete collection. For example, I took this photo one block from the museum. It is as fine a specimin as any you will find in the exhibit. I assume the gentleman is a brazilian golliwog?
Was this just an example of a museum being [gasp]
elitist? Or was this an example of a few dedicated individuals trying to educate the public? In a land where the mullet is high fashion I didn’t know and I didn’t care. For me, the far more interesting exhibit was the games collection next door. The museum had a collection of some games and toys historically played by Portenos.
But what we found when we entered was two men arguing loudly about the state of affairs in Argentina 30 years ago. To be fair, it was actually it was one man, the curator, haranguing a man who was trying to leave. I think that shouting about politics in a museum is something that could only be acceptible in Buenos Aires. The man left and the curator looked pleased with himself. He came up to us and told us to take as many pictures as we wanted. This had the curious effect of making me not want to take any more pictures. I asked the curator what exactly they were discussing and he said “No no… we weren’t discussing!!! We were… talking. Nothing but talking…” This was the last thing I understood for the next few minutes because he started explaining to me how Argentina had been on the verge of nuclear weapons in the 1940s but had stopped its programs because it was too peaceloving, how a neighbor of his who lives in Cordoba found a nugget of gold the size of a football while digging for potatoes and about many of the finer points of macroeconomics.
As we escaped from the museum he implored us to take more photos and spread the word about wonderful, peaceloving Argentina.
For the first 18 years of my life I lived with my parents. After that I left for college and for the next 8 years I mostly with friends and, every odd summer or so, with my parents. When I came to Buenos Aires I lived with my friends Lysa and Juan for the first few months. Then I decided to move out into an apartment by myself.
I had never lived alone before and it was incredibly intimidating on a few fronts. However, as both of those facts made it more attractive, I decided that it was now or never. For a multitude of reasons ranging from economic solvency to fear of themselves many people never get the oppurtunity to live alone and I took it with gusto. I’m interested to hear what other solitary expats feel about living alone in Buenos Aires but this is my experience.
I was faced with two options. I could rent a fully furnished place for the prices you see on craigslist. That wasn’t going to happen. Or I could find a nonfurnished place that didn’t need a garantia because I didn’t have one. (I write about garantias over here.) Well, a coworker of mine was luckily vacating his apartment and I moved right in. It was one bedroom, one dining room, one kitchen and a den. Unfortunately they were all combined into the same room. There was also a bathroom. I should explain about the kitchen. It wasn’t really a kitchen. It was a “kitchenette” which is the what the foldaway bed is to a real bed.
My first problem was that I didn’t have anything. I didn’t have plates or silverware to eat the food that which I could not cook without pots and pans. I couldn’t even buy food in the meantime because I had no fridge. I ate a lot of empanadas for the first few weeks. I should also mention tha, while I had no sheets, bed, or lamp, I did have a futon which my friend Alexis had given me on her departure back to the States.
The lack of these items exposed other, more glaring issues like 1) I did not know how or where to get them and 2) I did not know how to ask. I was still at that stage where people think that because you speak like a 4 year old you must have the same needs and desires as a 4 year old. While this was actually true I had the additional “adult” responsibilities of being a consumer and buying my own toilet paper.
Starting from scratch and getting all the items to live in an apartment was very difficult for me. I don’t really know why it was so difficult but I think that I was so overwhelmed by other things that it was always impossible to get the bigger picture of what was going on, what I needed to do what I wanted to do. This was made much more difficult by the insane, nagging eternal question: “When are you going home?” I didn’t have any idea and my life was a constant weighing of things that would never have seemed like a big deal: should I buy chairs and a table if I’ll be here for a year? How many chairs? How big of a table? and so on. Even after a year and a half, with no immediate plans to return and an apartment full of everything I need, I still play this game: Should I buy a washing machine if I’ll only be here one more year?
So living alone not only brought up these very existential questions, it also isolated me from my friends and from an immediate social support network. Now if I were feeling down, or even just wanted to hang out, there wasn’t anyone automatically there. I would actually have to pick up the phone and call folks. This would have been great in a world where I already had a social network but, in retrospect, I was asking for trouble by doing it. This isolation was compounded by the fact that this was the first time I was living in a city anywhere close to as big and bustling as Buenos Aires.
Looking back a bit over a year later I’ve moved to a bigger and nicer place, am much better adjusted, and love not having to worry about other people’s dishes. I also love that I have my own furniture and can do whatever I want. It makes me feel more solid, less transient. Living alone helped me in the long term, perhaps, but taking the plunge so soon, without having fully acclimatized set me back overall and made the integration process more difficult than it had to be. If you are moving to Buenos Aires and you are deciding between the two and have never lived alone before, approach it with care. It’s not for the faint of heart.
IS THIS A TOUR? SIGN UP NOW TO FIND OUT
As seen on craigslist. I now conduct tours of Buenos Aires. And, because everyone needs an awesome company name, I’ll be:
- December 2017
- April 2017
- December 2016
- November 2016
- May 2015
- October 2014
- January 2014
- December 2013
- November 2013
- October 2013
- September 2013
- June 2013
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- June 2012
- January 2011
- December 2010
- December 2009
- August 2009
- February 2009
- January 2009
- October 2008
- September 2008
- July 2008
- June 2008
- March 2008
- January 2008
- October 2007
- August 2007
- July 2007
- June 2007
- May 2007
- April 2007
- March 2007
- February 2007
- January 2007
- December 2006
- November 2006
- June 2006
- November 2005
- October 2005
- September 2005
- August 2005
- July 2005
- June 2005
- May 2005
- April 2005
- March 2005
- February 2005
- December 2004
- September 2004
- August 2004
- July 2004
- June 2004