So it is now July… the month of my departure. I have 2 more days here and tonight (Thursday) I will say goodbye to most of my friends as we go out for the last time. I don’t know how to sum up such an amazing experience into words or even into a long and rambling post, but perhaps I will try. I have met so many amazing people and made great friends over the past months- by far I will miss them the most. I will also miss the atmosphere of this city- to hustle and bustle but also the sense that time is kind of irrelevant, there always being something to do or somewhere to go and the freedom to do as I wish.
I wrote that before leaving the city… now I shall try to compile my thoughts as of returning home.
So the journey to get home was incredibly difficult. It began with possibly the hardest step- saying goodbye to my friends. By far my friends were the most important aspect of my study abroad experience. We spent lots of time together and forged friendships that bridged language and cultural barriers and came to mean the world to me. To say goodbye to these people who I came to rely on and some to love was possibly the most difficult thing I’ve had to do in my life so far. I have never felt so incredibly conflicted in my emotions and my desires- I longed to stay with my friends and remain in Argentina but I also wanted the comforts of home and a return to reality. My American friends and I used to talk about when we got back to our real lives (aka when we got back to the states) and now the struggle is to integrate my amazing experiences and friendships that were so different from the realities here at home into my “real” life in the states.
Even once I got home things were still very emotional. I cried as I unpacked my suitcases- not because I was sad to be home but because I missed my amazing friends. Unpacking meant my journey was really over. A harsh reality is also that yes, Argentina will always be there if I want to go back but my study abroad friends and the circumstances will never be the same if I go back- the experiences I had may no longer be available to me. I guess realizing that circumstances and lives are constantly evolving is a hard pill to swallow. It makes me treasure the time and experiences I have had all the more.
By far the things that have made the transition easier has been my family and the people that care about me. It feels right to be at home but it feels like something is missing- my friends who I fit in with and who cared about me. So to have the people here that care about me show it and to see their excitement to see me after all this time makes me feel like this is really home. The personal interest people have shown in my trip and the welcome home balloons & banners makes it that much easier.
Upon returning to the states I could predict some of the things that seemed overwhelming or incredibly different to me but some I had no idea. I think I saw more fat people in the first 5 minutes in Atlanta than in 5 months in Argentina. My first meal was a cinnabon in the airport but to my dismay I could not eat the whole thing- portion sizes are enormous. My parents camry seemed enormous. Basically everything seemed enormous- my bedroom, our house, wide open spaces, stores. It is amazing how little things change or maybe nothing changes at all. Receiving side dishes, a bottle of ketchup, salad dressing, free refills, and having the check brought out immediately were all new to me at a restaurant.
I owe a huge thank you to my parents for putting up with my bad moods and sadness lately and for being understanding. I knew this would be a rough transition since I had such an amazing time abroad. But I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Although it kinda sucks right now, I loved every second of my time in Buenos Aires and I wouldn’t give it up for the world. It was everything a study abroad should be and so much more.
Hope you have enjoyed reading this blog and thanks for commenting and showing an interest in my time abroad. I love you all!
So as you hopefully know the world cup has begun! While this is not that important or necessarily airred on TV in the states it is a BIIIIIGGGGG deal here! Even if it is not your country playing people here will watch every game they possibly can. If that means going out dancing and then not sleeping in order to watch 3 futbol games the next day so be it. Argentina had their World Cup opener on Saturday against Nigeria and they won 1-0 which led to celebration. I was walking down the street with a friend and a man on a bike was chanting the universal Argentine futbol chant- ´Vamos! Vamos! Argentina!´ and he starts singing about how we must celebreate the win and then he sees me and says ´We have to celevrate with the blond girl!´ My porteño friends just laughed and we kept walking. The next Argentina game is this Thursday against South Korea so should be fun to watch. Unfortunately, or luckily- depending, Argentina doesn´t have very much competition in its division. The test will start once they begin the second phase of play, where they will take the top 2 from each division. Not sure if it is bias or really true but the talk here is of a possible Argentina win of the World Cup. If that happens I´m going to be devastated to be at home when the championship game is played and not here with my friends and to enjoy it. Oh well, as long as I´m here I´ll enjoy it!
So last Saturday night we experienced the best of Argentine infrastructure. Around 5pm we lost power… We looked out the windows and every other building on our street had power but our building had no power. The people below us had candles out since it was beginning to get dark. We had some little decorative tealights in the dining room so we lit them. I went to the grocery store and bought some more candles just in case we were without power for awhile. Around 8pm one of our neighbors came over and gave us some more candles and told me that he thought the power would be back on in about 2 hours. Turns out there had been men working on the corner of our street and they messed something up… hence no power. So when I went to the grocery store there were two guys “working” at getting us power back. Basically, it was 2 guys with no uniforms just hammers trying to break up a concrete sidewalk. This ghetto operation pretty much signifies how most things get done here. There is a general lack of organization or efficiency. Luckily for us, these ghetto workers did get our power back on. When we got home from a long dinner out around 12am we had lights! Yay!
The next night,our power went out again… A unisom exclamation of “REALLY?!” was heard throughout our apartment. We walked across the hall and eveyrone else had power. We knocked on our older neighborman’s door ro ask for his help and the land lord’s phone number. He brought a flashlight and came over to our apartment to look around. Turns out we had just flipped the breaker so he just flipped it back and thank goodness we had lights again. Craziness.
So much has happened in the past week… It was the bicentennial of Argentina, Anna arrived, Argentina v. Canada futbol game, and I got robbed- among other things. For the bicentennial there were 4 days of festivities where they shut down one of the main thoroughfares in the city for a big exhibition space and lots of parades. As much as the country is divided over politics and torn about their history they are still incredibly patriotic. The city was covered in blue and white and flags were hanging from every balcony. Overall, the events for the bicentennial seemed very cool but there were SO many people in one place that it was a tad miserable- you couldn’t walk or move without following the crowd. It also virtually paralyzed the public transportation infrastructure. Anna and I wound up being stranded by public transportation in another neighborhood quite a ways away from where I live in Palermo. But due to the immense number of people trying to get downtown we were unable to get home any way other than our own two legs. At least we got our exercise.
So on Monday (one the celebration days) my friends and I went to the World Cup send off game for Argentina. Argentina played Canada in a stadium in the city and it was amid much fanfare for both the bicentennial and the World Cup. People were crazy as we tried to get into the stadium. There were SO many people and just like everything here a general lack of organization. Not to mention it is an Argentine past time to attend futbol games drunk… But once we got into the stadium things were a little calmer. We had seats and could relax which was super nice. It was fun to see how passionate the people are but it also made me feel a little out of place because I didn’t know the chants and I wasn’t super into it (I was also a little sick). Overall it was fun and I’m so glad i got to go to a game while I was here.
Thursday night I went out with a big group of friends to a bar and then a boliche (club). At some point during the night I touched my purse and it was empty. Someone had pick-pocketed me and taken almost everything I had. They took my wallet and my phone. Luckily they didn’t get my keys. Also, luckily I did not have credit cards or my camera with me. They did get a copy of my passport and about US$40. It was just surreal because I had a small, cross body purse which I thought would be the safest. The same night, at least 4 other people I know also got pick-pocketed in the same boliche- so somebody made off that night. Thank goodness for my friends as they took care of me and made sure I was able to get home as I had no money. I don;t know what I would have done without my friend Cesar. In this situation I just have to think about the big picture- yes I lost $40 cash and yes it will cost me $75 for losing my phone… but I am fine and it could have been so much worse. I said from the beginning getting robbed here was inevitable.. well 3 weeks left in my program and it happened. So close to beating the odds…
On a side note about my last post, just the other day in the Buenos Aires Herald (an English newspaper) they reported that the police chief of the city of Buenos Aires had seen an increase in violent assaults on the streets. He said this was due to an increasing use of the Argentine version of cocaine- Paco. Thought this article was interesting since I had seen an assault victim last week. I guess this warrants my usual disclaimer- Don’t worry! I am never alone and I do my best to be as careful as possible.
So last night at approximately 6am I was walking with 2 friends in Belgrano and we came across a guy laying in the middle of the street with a hysterical girlfriend and a cop standing there. He had a gash on his forehead and was not oriented at all. He did not know his name, the date, or anything. His girlfriend was hysterical and very drunk. I got Jonny to help me talk to him just to tell him not to move his head- he kept moving it anyway.Luckily I had some napkins in my purse so I put pressure on his cut which eventually got it to stop bleeding (Don;t worry I didn’t get any blood on me). Turns out he had been walking with his girlfriend and they had been attacked by a couple of guys and they beat him up. The cop was an idiot and did not care about the guy’s well being AT ALL. The cop dragged him over to the sidewalk by his shoulders and just kept asking him for ID which made him move to try to get it. His girlfriend just kept saying he was sick and she lived a block away so they just needed to go home. When a city ambulance finally showed up she started hysterically crying and the EMTs didn’t do anything. No SAMPLE, No what happened, No questions at all, No backboard, No nothing- at all. They just stood there, brought out a stretcher which the cop man-handled him onto loaded him up and drove away. I know I am not all knowing or a master but they didn’t even do basic things. In this regard it reminded me off the Bomberos in Guatemala- no equipment and not much training. Kind of terrifying when you think about it. I guess I’m glad I was there to help at least stop his bleeding but it was hard to watch them not take care of him at all when he probably at least had a concussion. Hopefully no one I care about has to call 911 while we are here…
So since I got here I have heard and been a part of lots of discussions as to why Argentina remains a 2nd world or developing country when it holds so much potential. The most common answer I have heard is the people. Argentines as a whole are very warm and friendly people but they have attitudes about lots of things that seem to hold them back. The majority of the Argentines I know have the mindset that you live your life for right now and you don’t worry about the future or effects of any of your actions. This is why they all smoke, why they go out every weekend, and why they litter all over the place. Argentines almost never pick up after themselves even outside or, my favorite, they will throw their cigarette butts on the floor inside a club. Does this seem wrong to anyone else? HELLO- ever heard of a fire?! But to them this is normal; someone else will clean it up later. They always say it is someone else’s job to pick it up. Overall, there is a lack of responsibility for your actions. This is compounded by the fact that while there are laws and regulations here (a few), the police force does not enforce much of anything and thus it turns into, more or less, a free-for-all. So you are left with a population who does what they want and no one to tell them that they cannot do anything. It is also worthwhile to point out the vast area and differing geography throughout the country, the history of corruption, the scandals regarding the current President and many other factors as to Argentina’s stagnation. I do not pretend to be an expert, just giving my observations.
Just yesterday one of my friends came home very frustrated about Argentines and their mindsets. He is taking an accounting class and the Argentines in his class wanted him to make up numbers and estimate when figuring data for a major project. They did not see being right or exact as being important when really- that is the point of accounting. This just illustrates the lack of regard or caring for most anything. While there are people here who work very hard and do their part it seems that overall the people here do not care to put forth the effort to advance.
So housing laws and leases here are extremely strict. When I first received my info packet before going abroad it stated that you could not have guests or make any noise after 10pm- I thought this sounded ridiculous and surely was an exaggeration. It most definitely was not. In Argentina, from 10pm to 9am there are strict noise regulations and any infraction means the police will show up at your door. The strict rules are compounded by the fact that the walls here are paper-thin. We can hear every time the people above us walk around in high heels, when our next door neighbors watch tv and, my personal favorite, whenever the baby that lives below us cries. I can tell you the baby below us has a mobile that plays Christmas music and recently got a new sound machine that plays “London Bridge.” It is also listed in our lease that we are not allowed to move any of our furniture. Some of my friends moved their beds and got yelled at by their maid because it is against the rules.
On a different note about houses or just buildings here in general, the toilets and light switches are different. Light switches are not vertical on/off but horizontal. One side has a light bulb symbol and if that side is indented the light will be on. This is not a major adjustment but the toilet situation can be a rather big deal. So the toilet in our apartment has a button on the side instead of a lever you push down- very straightforward. However, when you go out and have to use the bathroom you never know what you will find. You may encounter a toilet with a button on the commode, there may be a button above the bowl on the wall, there may be a hole in the wall with a pipe sticking up that you must pull on, or my personal favorite- there may be an old school pull cord. This is usually easy to figure out- the hole in the wall took me a bit to manage but now I’ve got it down. So before you get to the flushing stage, if you are a girl, chances are you require toilet paper. This is a luxury here. Many places have a creepy lady who folds the toilet paper and you must get it from her first and she will expect a tip. For what I’m not sure- I could have unrolled my own toilet paper, Thank you very much. Or my personal favorite is places that seem to feel toilet paper just is not necessary. Usually these are boliches or lesser establishments but you never can tell. I have noticed that people here carry packs of tissues with them to combat the lack of paper products in bathrooms here. Also, even if you are lucky enough to find paper products here, they suck. Most toilet paper here is not cushy but kind of like 1 ply industrial crap. Same with napkins- like tissue paper. They do not seem to understand the concept of absorbent paper products.
Side note- In Punta Del Este there were GP toilet paper dispensers and toilet paper- Big Island is taking over the world! Haha!
This past weekend my program took a trip 2 hours outside the city into the countryside to San Antonio de Areco. The day we went was a national holiday, their version of Labor Day. We took a bus the two hour trip and then walked about 30 minutes threw a quaint little town to a park where we could hear an announcer in the distance and saw LOTS of cars parked. As we entered we saw a huge riding ring for horses and a herd of 300-400 horses running in the ring. All around the ring people had set up their areas with traditional grills, chairs, and food- it was clear this was an all day activity. The people were all dressed in traditional gaucho or countryside attire- tall riding boot, big leather belts, button up shirts, berets or for the women boots with ponchos or the same outfit as the men except with a skirt. It became blatantly obvious that this was not a tourist event, but a traditional and authentic Argentine activity. We were close to the only non-gaucho people there. People not only stared- which is now normal to us- but they would stop walking to gawk or just slow down. We always say we feel like zoo animals but this took it to a new level. Despite not fitting in at all we still walked around the market and found a place to watch some of the events.
The first event had 10 gauchos (cowboys) on horseback, they were holding the reigns of a second horse which had a bell around its neck. There were 10 other horses which had been trained to follow the sound of that particular bell that followed along behind. So for the competition all the horses were mixed up and the gauchos had to be the first one to round up all ten of their horses. As the gauchos were announced the announcer also stated where they were from and it became clear this was a HUGE deal for people of the countryside as gauchos had come for all over Argentina just to compete. The winners also received cash prices and I think there may have been betting on the winners on the side.
The second event was like a traditional rodeo. They had three poles in the ring which they tied a wild horse to and then a gaucho tried to ride it for a certain time period- until the bell. This reminded me of home, haha. These horses were absolutely crazy and could jump ridiculously high. Unfortunately this was not a safe sport and we saw two people get hurt. The first was kicked in the knee and taken away in an ambulance and the second was riding a crazy horse when it flipped and essentially landed on top of him- miraculously he got up and walked away. I was glad they had several ambulances there on stand-by.
Besides watching the events we ate some traditional Argentina asado- DELICIOUS. I had a sandwich of chorizo (sausage) and then Alfredo got a huge plate of other cooked meat. They just gave you the meat on a big platter still on the bone. Luckily Alfredo asked and for a price they cut it up into pieces that we could pick up and eat. They don’t even marinade the meat- maybe a little salt and cook it over an open fire or coals and it turns out SO GOOD. I’m not a big meat eater, especially beef, but here I could eat it all the time. We also had licuados, which are kind of like fruit smoothies. These were perfect for the heat of the day and delightfully refreshing and for only 5 pesos (US$1.25).
It was definitely an experience that most tourists or people who visit this country do not get to see. A legit traditional Argentine activity. A great experience with great friends.
So I am close to halfway done with my time here in Buenos Aires and I am not sure how I feel about it. I arrived in February not speaking much Spanish and not knowing what to expect at all. Now I am conversational in Spanish and feel like this city could be my home. While I may never totally fit in here, I know my way around, I have mastered public transportation, and I find myself hanging out with porteño friends on the weekends instead of English speaking friends.
So far this experience has taught me many lessons. Now I can empathize with others who may not fit into a culture or who are the minority. It is a totally different feeling when you look different than the rest of the people or are used to a totally different culture. Although, assimilating (or trying to assimilate) into another culture has taught me a lot about myself. Also, watching others assimilate or fight it has taught me at times how I do not want to be. I even find myself liking certain aspects of this culture better. Before coming here I never would have thought of American culture as cold, but looking at it now I find myself agreeing with the people here. In the US we don’t touch each other much or show much affection, whereas here the greeting is a kiss and with people you are close with an embrace also and you do the same when saying goodbye. Whereas at home it may be a handshake or just a verbal acknowledgment. This physical contact and effort to come together can be very reassuring and shows how you feel about a person. The culture here just seems so warm and inviting, even the greeting is a part of it.
This experience has also shown me a lot about the true meaning of being independent and truly removed from your immediate support system. While I have always thought of myself as independent I have never been in a situation where I lived on my own and was responsible for most every aspect of my life. At times this has been overwhelming to me, such as when I first got here. But I am now able to cook a fair assortment of things, I have learned how to get around, and discovered that I can manage on my own- in a foreign country! I think one big factor in all this is that while I am removed from my support systems they are still able to function through e-mails and skype which both make me feel not as far away. To be honest I can count the number of times I have been truly homesick on one hand but I would account this to lots of e-mails. We all know no matter how much I may love it here it would be impossible to not miss home. I think the hardest thing about being here and the thing that can make me homesick fairly easily is not being able to fully express myself or be understood as a person. Sometimes what I want to say or how I am feeling just does not translate into Spanish and in times like this I feel very very alone. While I have some close porteño friends sometimes I just cannot communicate what I want to and this is extremely frustrating. Sarcasm and commentary can be hard to put into a context that they can understand, or even just common phrases in English that don’t have a Spanish equivalent. I never realized how important it can be to have friends who get you inside and out, who you have inside jokes with and who always know when you’re kidding and when you’re serious- being here has made me realize how valuable those people are and how hard life can be without them. Just to be understood- sometimes I would give anything. But on the other hand, when I go on trips with my American friends and we only speak English I feel like I am missing something. I think this will be a hard transition to being at home. I don’t want to lose all the Spanish I have gained while being here. But more than not wanting to lose it I just love this language and I want to keep learning and eventually be truly fluent. I will have to find a Spanish buddy. Or get mom and dad to the speaking stage- get ready!
This transition would have been impossible without my friends here in Buenos Aires- both other foreigners and porteños. While my other American friends and I can make each other feel more at home and understand each other, my porteño friends have taught me about the city, the language, and the culture– invaluable knowledge.
Hopefully my next 2 months will be as good as the last 2! Here’s to living the dream in Buenos Aires!!
So Castellano (Cas-te-cha-no) is the name for the dialect of Spanish spoken in Buenos Aires. They pronounce certain letters differently and use lots of words that are different from the rest of the Spanish speaking world.
The biggest difference is the pronunciation. In Spanish classes in the U.S. you learn that a “ll” is pronounced like a “y”. Well here a “ll” and “y” are pronounced as “ch”. Examples, street in Spanish is calle so in class you learn to pronounce it “ca-ye” but here it is “ca-che” or when you say “my name is..” you learn to say me llamo (ya-mo) but here it is pronounced me cha-mo. This is crazy to get used to and I still have to be conscious of it sometimes to remember to make the “ch” sound.
The three biggest phrases used here are: che, jaja and dale. Che is kind of like for a joke or with friends. Jaja is the same as haha in English. The most Argentina phrase of all: Dale. I feel like there is no clear definition of what this word means and it can be used as anything but mainly: lets go, it’s ok.
Different words(word in Castellano, word in regular Spanish, word in English):
Chamoyero- Mentiroso- Liar
Pomelo- Toronja- Grapefruit
Chocla- Maize- Corn
Manteca- Mantequilla- Butter
Chau- adios- Bye
Chico- Pequeno- Small
Medias- Calcetines- Socks
Remera- Camiseta- Tshirt
Pollena- Falda- Skirt
Aca- Aqui- Here
Barbaro- Fabuloso- Great/Fabulous
Re- Muy- A lot
Boliche- Disco- Club
The also like to rearrange letters to make new words. For example pizza can be “zapi” or cafe is “feca.”
Sometimes they give a word a whole new meaning such as jodar which is spanish is to have sex but here it is to go out dancing or with friends (imagine my shock when I typed that in google translator from a text from a friend, lol).
The other huge difference in the colloquial language here is that they do not use the tu (you) verb form. They use the vos form which is not taught in the US and is only used in the region of the Rio de La Plata. It is actually easier to form than tu but means the same so I kind of like it. Just wonder if my classes back at UMW will let me use it when I get back or not.