For a more serious segment
For our class with Middlebury, we do an investigation throughout the semester on some aspect of the culture that we find especially interesting. Some things students proposed: fashion, the healthcare system, the differences between all the neighborhoods, food, health, etc. I’m really excited about mine because I think I’m going to do something about social class in Argentina. Although it is in major decline, one thing we can appreciate about America is that we have a robust middle class. Latin America is the complete opposite; on the one hand there’re barrios like Recoleta — which represents the pinnacle of the monied class in Argentina — while on the other there’s a vast percentage of the country living in poverty. When I told my teacher that this subject interested me because of how I’d heard my host brother talk about the lower classes, she said, “Well, if they’re a typical Recoleta family, they’re racist and conservative.” Zinger. Interestingly enough, Recoleta is the only barrio in Buenos Aires where Christina (CFK) didn’t win in the recent primary elections.
(2-day update on this: Wow. Just for kicks, looked up the Gini coefficient of U.S. vs. Argentina, which shows the inequality of income distribution. Guess that that was some wishful thinking, because Argentina definitely has a Gini coefficient of .41 compared to the U.S.’s .45 on a scale of 0-1, meaning that the income distribution is more equal in Argentina. I knew the U.S. was kind of dismal on the Gini front, but somehow thought the 2001 financial meltdown would have put us a little ahead of Argentina. Humph.)
Also, I’m thinking of doing something about the glaringly apparent connection between skin color and class. It’s extreme. Half the little kids running around Recoleta in blazers and khaki after class at prep school are completely blonde, whereas it’s unheard of to find a single black person — and very few dark Latinos — in pretty much any middle-class neighborhood, private school, or university. To be fair, we have a pretty striking correlation in the U.S. ourselves. But Argentina is an exaggeration of every kind of class/race issue in the U.S. today; or, más bien, just how the U.S. was 50 or 60 years ago. It’s really uncomfortable and sad to see.
Ok wait. So I wrote that paragraph like a week ago, and have just figured out what I’m actually going to do: immigration! (But I’ll keep the other ideas up so you guys can really just get all up in my thought process/learn about Argentines.) It’s really interesting to explore, what with the immigrants from Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, China and (inexplicably) Senegal. Since my host parents are * kind of * idon’twannausethiswordbut racist (though technically xenophobic- Flight of the Conchords, anyone?) I think they’ll have some good insights into how Argentines really feel about the poor Paraguayans, Bolivians, and Peruvians (well, spoiler alert: they don’t like them). And each group has a different profession that they typically fall into, different levels of adaptation, etc. (ALSO, there is a super powerful Chinese mafia here. Intriguing.) I’m starting with the Bolivian fruit lady outside my building this week, and I’ve been instructed as to where to go to find the Senegalese selling jewelry on the streets, who my host mom is fascinated with/impressed by.
Very exciting, and also really interesting to compare to U.S. immigration issues. And ties into social class/race issues. So perfect. I’m dying to start.
Aaand regressing to a slightly fluffier topic matter: boliches. So the key to not spending loads of money every time one goes out here is to know promoters, because it is their job to get people to come places, and they let you in free. (I had a friend earlier on who was all, “Everyone takes advaaantage of my promoter friend and just hang out with him because they just want to get in places for free…” And I obviously was like, “Oh wow, that would be really hurtful and manipulative, wouldn’t it?” and then immediately tried to seek out her biffle for free entry. Gotta do what you’ve gotta do…) So anyway, good news! I’ve started figuring how to get places for free, and my friends and I have started discovering less touristy/really legit bars. For instance, my favorite this week was an “afterwork” where all the young Wall Street types in BA go for sushi and happy hour, all still wearing their power suits. Incredible people-watching opportunities.
As expected, I’m all about the reggaetone here. I have discovered a genre that I have termed “soft reggaetone” that is less Daddy Yankee and more… tranquilo. Here’s a link to this type of reggaetone that’s errwhere (please try to ignore the terrifying display of Ed Hardy devotion):
(And actually on second watch, this a really creepy video. So just minimize and listen.)
In addition to anything by Don Omar, another song that you should all know/play at parties. It is delightful. Don’t let the little kids throw you off; this song is boliche gold.
Things that are still hard
- I miss living with all of my friends at college. Spending a day lazing around your room doesn’t seem quite as antisocial/depressing when you live next door to your best friends, who pass by to chat every once in a while. But living in an apartment (and in a room closet without windows/floorspace) without friends and with host siblings who are only very slowly warming up to me is kind of… sad. (Reminds me of an Onion article I read entitled “Area Woman Excited To Finally Experience Unbearable Loneliness Of Having Her Own Place.” I mean, though not quite as dramatic.)
- The level of social energy that is necessary to maintain. Whenever we go out, I’m in hardcore make-porteno-contact mode, but it’s incredibly draining. You don’t realize how relaxing it is to have a group of friends until you’ve constantly had to make new ones for two months straight. Rapidly approaching my limit of “So what are you doing in Argentina?” conversations.
- On that note: it is super hard to make porteno friends. It’s easy to make acquaintances; portenos are really friendly. But I still have a long way to go before I can even start to be funny in castellano, which I feel like is the key to actually being a member of a friend group and not just some random foreigner who tags along.
- Gringo blunder: In class, a sheet was passed around for us to sign, write our names, and put a number. All 5 gringos put down phone numbers, and only realized today that we were supposed to give our passport numbers. Whoops. (I told our teacher that he’s all set if he wants to chat with us on the weekends, though.)
- Proudest moment of the week: convincing a very drunk Argentine that I was from Ecuador. Baller. (Ecuador is irrelevant; the being a quasi-convincing native speaker was the win.)
- Hmm: my host family is fascinated with my salads. Iceberg lettuce with tomatoes is as far as they generally get, so they are always entertained to watch me construct my meals… and then sit and watch me eat it while commenting on my strange use of ingredients.