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

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

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…

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.

Moving to Buenos Aires: Living Alone

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 MOVED FROM HERE...

I MOVED FROM HERE…

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.

...TO HERE

…TO HERE

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?

KITCHENETTE

KITCHENETTE

... AND BATHROOM

… AND BATHROOM

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.

NOW I LIVE HERE

NOW I LIVE HERE

Expats and the porteño food experience

Cooking Torta Frita
MAKING “FRIED TART”

I like Argentine food. I like pretty much all of it. However I have noticed that there is a certain distaste among some expats, especially Americans, for Argentine food. Every expat has had their love affair with the juicy steaks, red wine, and dulce de leche on everything. This lasts about a week. Then they begin to get bored, then to whine a bit, then the real bitching starts. “I hate empanadas.” “Not pizza again.” “Please, gets me a real salad.” They complain that pizzas here tend to be overloaded with cheese, inevitably somehow involve ham, boiled eggs, or something similar.

Sure, things aren’t going to be the same as at home but they have a point: the flavors rarely change and there is little diversity. The same ingredients are repeated over and over. The classic place has eight flavors of empanadas and some places can boast 10 or 12 but really everyone here orders the same thing anyway. Porteños simply do not demand or want a variety in the dishes they are served. Pasta is traditional and good but they tend to stick to very strict ingredients and recipes — no crazy pink vodka sauces to be found here.

Going to the spice aisle, even in a very large store is at an exercise in frustration. Here, the idea of a large selection means 10 brands of salt, 10 brands of pepper, and five brands of Parsley. Porteños look on with fear as their expat friends add spices that they had to buy Barrio Chino .

Argentines have a lot of respect for their cooking tradition. As a culture folks here don’t like mixing in random things and experimenting with the same “no rules” attitude typical of Americans. One thing that’ll be interesting to see is if Starbucks’ presence pushes local coffee menus into offering more iced drinks. It might not be so. Diva provides one porteño reaction in her blog entry: Just say no [to Starbucks]. It’s a really interesting read and it’s good to see porteños aren’t just opening the door to US corporate culture. God knows how many expats are here just to escape Starbucks…

While many American expats miss the crazy diversity of home, perhaps there’s a method behind the staid and conservative Argentine cuisine. Apart from the famous eating disorder problem, perhaps this explains their thinness when compared to their yanqui counterparts. I was recently listening to a radio show about rethinking our ideas about thinness and one caller mentioned a very important point: that in places where they sense of cuisine, people feel more connection and derive more pleasure from their food than in places where folks are confronted by many choices, none of which they have cultural connections with. In turn, this connection and pleasure has been linked to gaining more nutrition from the food one eats, allowing for smaller portions. Personally, I think that this sense of cuisine helps porteños maintain their weight, even in this dulce de leche culture of medialunas, alfajores, and cream sauce.

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.

So long and thanks for all the beer

There’s a tear in my beer

THERE’S A TEAR IN MY BEER

Last week a bunch of folks met at Antaires to wish Ken a safe and happy journey back to the States. The beer there is delicious and from 7-9pm there’s a 2 for 1 happy hour on pints. I thought I was being really smart by ordering lots of these but apparently I was even smarter because I didn’t pay for any of them. Thanks to whoever bought me the beer. I would have paid but I don’t remember the waiter ever coming round.

One of the things I do remember is how, when we first got there, we chose to sit down at the tall, little, circular tables. This confused the waitress who realized that those tables are really meant for 2 people who want to talk intimately, not 5 individuals who are set on each claiming their own table. She tried to explain this to us and Alan and I, thinking ourselves the most proficient in Spanish, tried to offer various explanations so that she’d leave us alone.

WAITRESS: You guys might be more comfortable at a single table, all seated together.
ME: We’re happy here. It’s all good. Thanks.
WAITRESS: At another table you could all sit together.
ME: Oh no, it’s ok. We each want our own table. We’re quite happy, thanks. Can I order 4 beers at once?
WAITRESS [looking distressed]: Well… would you like me to move all of these circular tables together so that you can talk to eachother?
ALAN: We’re expecting more people. That’s why we’re so spread out.
WAITRESS [Rallying]: If you’re expecting more people I can push some of those group tables all together.
ALAN: Actually, some of us smoke and we just want to be closer to the door.
WAITRESS: Oh, I understand, why didn’t you say so!!!

But the funny thing is that, while some of us smoked, that had nothing to do with the decision to sit there. I’m also unsure if the waitress ever believed that it did though she certainly acted that way. I suspect she was willing to give up on the 4 extra tables and save herself from the weirdness of people who don’t know what group tables are for. I think this happens a lot when you’re speaking a new language. For the life of me I can’t remember ever having an exchange like this in the States.

So how long will you be here for?

Palermo Chico

Expats leave the country for different reasons: from not being able to stand four more years of Bush to trying to ditch that coke habit, from starting up your own third world sweatshop to just needing some fresh air and a change of perspective, we expats troop around the globe. We bring our culture and, more often, our money to exchange for some local flavor.

But for many of us there is an expiration date printed in a place where we just can’t see it. Sooner or later it comes up: that innocent question that hangs like a noose around the neck of every expat. It’s like asking a college graduate: so what’s the next step? It’s a mean question because most college graduates are facing a time of their life where there are fewer clearly defined steps. A better question would be “Do you have another step planned out?”

Either way, like dogs that sniff each others butts, expats ask eachother this question and then judge eachother by it. Keep in mind that part of the expatness of expats is that they’re not naturalized into the country. If you’re immigrating you’re a local that just doesn’t know the language yet. An expat is still keeping their origin as their defining characteristic.   A big part of the definition is that expats are NOT Argentine.*  Expats are always foreigners so there’s a weird status to who’s staying longer and each one of us tries to figure out the trajectory of the other almost immediately.

*Actually this is just one definition… the one I’m using right now….

Looking Presidential: Expat Frustration

Elections recently passed in Buenos Aires and of course I didn’t vote.  It’s just like in the States except I have an excuse: here I can’t. The biggest difference was that I really have no idea what’s at stake in the politics here and it’s not like the advertisements or what anyone talked about highlighted the differences between the candidates.  In face, I wasn’t privy to any cool political conversations.  People I hang out with apparently don’t like to chat about politics.

This doesn’t mean I’m not interested in US politics.  On the contrary, I follow politics a lot, listening to a ton of NPR podcasts and news.  Well, recently there’s a lot of talk about the idea of “looking presidential.”