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.”

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.

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.

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.

Kitschy Kitschy Coup!

I read on the internet that there was an exhibit of Kitsch (not be confused with kitch, which is kitchen witchery) 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.

A WOMAN AND HER CONCH

A WOMAN AND HER CONCH

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:

LOOKS LIKE AN EDWARD GOREY POSE

LOOKS LIKE AN EDWARD GOREY POSE

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.

BAD TASTE IN CHILDREN?

BAD TASTE IN CHILDREN?

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?

THE DARK MAN HAS MUCH COFFEE

THE DARK MAN HAS MUCH COFFEE

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.

HOW ARGENTINES LEARN ECONOMICS

HOW ARGENTINES LEARN ECONOMICS

As we escaped from the museum he implored us to take more photos and spread the word about wonderful, peaceloving Argentina.

THE ANTI-ANTI-ANTI TOUR OF BUENOS AIRES

FIRST THERE WERE TOURS…

THEN THERE WERE ANTI-TOURS

THEN THERE WERE ANTI-ANTI-TOURS

NOW THERE’S THE ANTIDOTE!!!

In a highly postmodern, deconstructionist tour, you now have the exciting oppurtunity to pay me money NOT to take you on a tour. You hire me to anonymously and authentically interact with you as you wander lost in Buenos Aires. I will ask you for directions in Spanish, invite you to sit at my table, even invite you to my estancia for the weekend. Or maybe I won’t! That’s the beauty of it! As you will not actually know if it is me (or one of my employees) you will be GUARANTEED to have an AUTHENTIC EXPERIENCE in a safe*, paid-for environment. Or maybe not. That’s why it will be so unique.
Signup for your tour now!

*We cannot guarantee your safety.

Menem spelled backwards is Menem

Menem spelled backwards is Menem

So Carlos Menem is back and he’s launching his political bid from La Rioja. If, like me, you don’t know who he is, I will give you a few hints. The first is to consult the obvious fountain of knowledge: his entry on Wikipedia. The second place to check out is his bio at carlosmenem.com, which seems to think he still is President of Argentina. I’m not sure about the factual accuracy of the bio but I could not help but be impressed by its description of his daughter:

In his activities tending to the maintenance of exterior relations, one can mention the role carried out by his daughter, Zulema Maria Eva Menem, in an outstanding position as his father’s and President’s company in the frequent official visits around the world. His daughter impeccably represents the role of First Lady, giving some freshness to the rigidity of the protocol. She has always seemed to be prepared to comply with the rules of the ceremonials subject to the different customs and cultures of the countries she knows. Her elegance in manners and dress, added to her spontaneity and sympathy does not pass unwatched among the highest personalities of foreign governments.

This would be her:

Zulema Mar�a Eva Menem

Looking for a woman

I’m looking for a woman,
That will work to set me down,
I’m looking for a woman,
That will work to set me down,
I’ve bin looking all night long,
She can’t be found.

When I was travelling in Peru I saw this sign and thought it was funny:

Looking for a girl or a woman

The sign says: WE NEED A WOMAN OR A YOUNG WOMAN. I thought it was so sexist it was funny so I snapped my photo and forgot all about sexist Peru.
Buenos Aires is a cool place: big, cosmopolitan, and advanced. But sexist as all get out. So this business is offering a few different jobs on Monster.com. Here are two of them.

The one for the men to apply to:

Monster.com notice for men

And then the one for women:

Monster.com notice for women

Any coincidence that the project leader should be a man while the person who gives tours should be woman? This is so common here that they will actually say “No. We’re looking for a man” or “Sorry. Only women.”

Machismo society is what it is. I have to be really honest and say that I don’t know why I’m shocked. But for some reason I am.

Ña Serapia and El Preferido

Ña Serapia and El Preferido are awesome argentine restaurants in very different ways. both are small and both are super established in the community. both contain mostly locals but both are known to tourists. both have great “normal” homecooked food, though different types and with completely different vibes.



the main difference is that they both capture a different and well preserved part of the buenos aires culture. Ña Serapia is from the north and serves awesome comida criolla: empanadas, guisos, soups, tamales, etc. I get the tamale every time. They have an excellant couple of hot sauces that aren’t chimichuri and that’s really great. But this isn’t the reason why it’s great. It’s great because every time I go there the owner comes up to me and looks into my eyes and shakes my hand in a very serious way. Also, even when he’s not smiling, which is rare, he has this lighthearted look about him like he’s doing what he wants to be, like this is his first day of owning a restaurant and he wants to make a good impression on the customers.



El Preferido is completely different. The food is also homespun. My favorite dish is the tortilla de papas (potato omelete) During lunch it has many waiters wandering around and they never speak to you. This is another classic porteño thing. They ignore you perfectly, always finding a distraction elsewhere in the restaurant when you need the check. On the plus side this means you can chill out for hours with your orange juice as they flutter about you obliviously.



Both are intimate in their different ways.