I’m Famous

“What? Really? You mean for being on an Argentine tourism promo telling them that all you eat in Argentina is meat and carbohydrates?!”

Actually no, though when I find it on YouTube I will post it immediately. What I did was write an “overseas brief” for The Campus that’ll be published this Thurs. Given my devotion to The Campus and my desire for their website to get as many hits as possible, I will not post it here, but paste a link to it when it goes up.

Teaser: It’s all about humor. And is funny. Or else it’s not, which then will make it a really uncomfortable read.

Ok, here it is (Though, unfortunately, with a few of my favorite parts edited out. Just for the record, the sentence is “Yeah, I showed up to a party two hours early last night because military time still confuses me… LOL!” That is much more expressive and silly than their edit. Though I understand why they didn’t want to publish “lol” in a serious paper.):

http://www.middleburycampus.com/node/223

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La Primavera, FTW

Por FIN, it’s beautiful and sunny and warm Buenos Aires! I would have been completely satisfied with just perfect weather, but Buenos Aires had to outdo itself (btw, just had to re-write that sentence 10 times before I realized why “do itself out” didn’t sound right… apparently not fluent in English or Spanish at this point) by perfectly recreating the euphoric yet chill vibe on the Middlebury campus during the first day of spring after a our long, long snowy winter. Every first day of spring, porteños take to the parks in droves for “Día de los Estudiantes/Jóvenes” (Student/Young People Day) to tan, drink mate, drink alcohol, listen to music, play guitar, smoke pot, play soccer, and hang out with friends. Everyone gets a day off school — I made the executive decision to ditch the internship for this spectacle — and the parks (which are quite extensive here and very beautiful, with lots of lakes and palm trees!) are absolutely filled with young people. Our park was pretty tranqui but apparently at some others it can get rowdy, since this is the only day of the year it is o.k. to darty (for those in the 30+ range: darty = day party = getting drunk in full view). Also, porteños have an absurdly low tolerance, so everyone was a little loopy. It was the best. And now, some other updates:

Tomando y comiendo facturas in one of Palermo's many parks with some frands. SPRING!

Castellano update

Favorite new humor:

  • The only comedic word that translates as humorous in castellano is “clásico” for “classic,” which is really exciting. They use it in the exact same dry/slightly sarcastic way we do!
  • Quééé caballero” = howww gentlemanly (sarcastic); this phrase is very powerful because it has the ability to convince men here to do absolutely anything. As soon as you imply that they may not be acting like a man, they’ll buckle immediately to your every whim. Qué útil!
  • “Sabés que si!” = You know! So for those of you who speak Spanish, you’ll see that it’s just literally, “You know that yes,” and it translates perfectly as the, “Yeah, you know,” sassy phrase we always use in English. Funnn. (And for those who speak Spanish, you’ll wonder why it’s “sabés” instead of “sabes.” It has to do with the fact that in Argentina, we use “vos” instead of “tú,” and the conjugations are slightly different…)

Misunderstandings happen in English, too:

  • A good thing to constantly remember. My knee jerk reaction to any confusion or miscommunication is to think, “Ahhh my Spanish is so unintelligible that this person has no idea what I’m saying!” But then I started reminding myself that misunderstandings happen between native speakers all the time; I’m not always the one at fault! This has made me a lot more comfortable in some situations. An example: my host dad is a complete space cadet. I can say things perfectly and he’s like, “I don’t understand you,” straight up. For instance, he asked me if I was the same age as the girl who had stayed with them last semester. I answered, he didn’t understand, so I said, as clearly as I could, “No, we all study abroad during our third year of school. So she came during her third year, and I’m coming during my third year. That means she’s a year ahead.” I tried to cover all my bases. Then: “Oh, so you’re the same age?” What? The good thing is I’m often backed up by my host siblings, who are like, “DAD you are being so difficult.” Gracias, chicos!
Also, just had an after dinner heart-to-heart with my host parents about my language skills, and they assured me that I speak and understand much better than when I arrived. I finally got to work in my, “It is so hard to have a personality in a foreign language!” line, which I have been trying to slip in for a while in an attempt to express my, “Please don’t think I am actually this uninteresting in my native language!” sentiments. So that was a score. 

Dinnertime chats: a couple interesting comments from the last few days:

  • Host brother recounting an incident at a boliche where a female friend came upto him crying, very drunk, and admitted that she was pregnant with his friend’s (her boyfriend’s) child. My family members were all aghast that she was preggers, but I was like, “Why was she binge drinking while pregnant??” They all kind of looked at me and were like, “What? Just like, once.” Am I crazy, or is that weird?
  • Conversation about how all the members of the family on my dad’s side live tobe 100+, and my host parents being absolutely fascinated. It got awkward when they started asking what they did to be so healthy, though; after listing a bunch of things and avoiding the elephant in the room, my host dad finally said, “Did they smoke?” Um, no. Knowing nods around the table. I quickly added that theyalso all liked afternoon cocktails and exercised, so maybe that was the reason? Uncomfortable.
  • My noting that lots of people were smoking pot at Spring Day opened up a new can of worms with the family: drugs! My host mom informed me that she wants to try smoking, and asked me if I had any pot in my room. Then they taught me how to say every possible drug-related term known to man, which was interesting but, given my inability to remember new vocabulary until I’ve heard it at least 150 times, probably won’t stick. Anyway, I’m surprised and fairly impressed.

Wanna hear about my social life? Of course you do! So my master plan of going to a program before the Midd program to pick up some friendz beforehand has totally paidoff: one of my favorite groups to hang out with I formed through a connection with my girl in a class at Road2! So I’ve been hanging out with these two girls who are living here and who graduated from Miami University in Ohio last spring, a porteña who we randomly linked up with, and then all their connections (one of the girls lived here in high school so knows tons of locals). Pretty nice! My host siblings have not once taken meout or ever really tried to socialize with me, but I’m meeting lots of people and having a great time, so I’m not too torn up about it. Also, all the Pomona kids and some Tulane ones in my program are really cool, so that’s been a really good group as well. Hooray for friends!

I can’t figure out how to organize this post for the life of me. Here is all the other stuff I wanted to write about:

  • Found out my host cousin is the regular DJ at my absolute favorite club here. OH my god. Next time he comes to dinner I am blatantly asking for 1) free passes, 2) VIP entry, and 3) input on his playlist. No shame.
  • Problema: I also cannot locate anywhere to study. I legitimately want to do all my homework, but my house is generally always noisy (everyone turns their music up really loud and talks really loudly) or smoky (common areas = smoking areas when they’re not being used as music venues), the national library is super far away, I don’t want to buy coffee every time I want to sit in a café an study, and outside I can’t get internet to look up words while I’m reading. Have never missed the Middlebury library so much.
  • I’ve started pointedly combating my secondhand smoke inhalation by opening all the windows off the laundry room (none in my room…), and closing myself off from the common areas. I’m actually really grossed out by the fact that sometimes my room is positively filled with fumes. If we’re being completely honest, I held my breath while passing smokers until I was at least 16, so this is a really kind of terrifying environment for me.
  • Gringo blunder: in Argentine history/politics class, all of us gringos were, as per usual, spacing off and doodling because we have no idea what is going on. Suddenly, we hear the phrase, “our compañeros from the United States…” and we all perk up. Wait, was he just talking about us? Then he says something, and we catch the phrase, “… who was running from Texas. What was his name?” So immediately we’re like, “George Bush!” Um, no. I go, “Rick Perry!” Noooo. Weird looks. Then he’s like, “Ah, Perot!” Clearly we had not been on board with the conversation and were not aware of the decade being discussed. Just stellar performance all around. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!
  • So to use the buses here, one must have coins to pay. What makes this system thrilling, though, is the fact that there is a shortage of monedas, or coins, so you’re always skimping around trying to manipulate every payment to garner change in coins, all while every vendor gives you dirty looks for innocently denying that you have any monedas to help with the change-making process. I actually quite enjoy this game, because it makes every time I get a few coins so exciting. When will getting 2 dollars change in coins ever again make my entire day?! Cheap thrills… literally.
  • This is going to sound silly, but my host mom’s voice drives me absolutely nuts. Like, I actually cannot stand to listen and have to put my ipod on when she is yelling at someone in another room or talking on the phone. This has never happened with anyone else’s voice, and I’m wondering if it’s actually the interesting squawk/shriek hybrid quality to it or just the fact that she usually is yelling right outside my door when I’m (trying to) take my afternoon siesta or study. Meh.
  • This is kind of embarrassing given I’m living in Argentina, but I’d actually never seen “The Motorcycle Diaries” before a few days ago. One exciting thing was that when I watched it online, there weren’t Spanish subtitles so I had to rely on listening — and I understood casi todo without trying too hard! It helped that a lot of it was with Argentine accents (never thought I’d say THAT). But really, everyone should see this movie and then buy the soundtrack.
  • So Toms shoes (the style) began in Argentina. But the only people in BA who wear them besides me? Homeless people.
  • I have also managed to lock myself in the bathroom in my house 3 times today due to the absolutely ancient system of locks our apartment uses. This was especially awkward when it happened at 8 AM, which is about 1.5 hours before anyone in my family wakes up, and I had to have my host brother roll out of bed and literally body slam the door open for me. Oops!
  • My friend from Pomona and I finally procured our Brazilian visas! We’ve decided that the loss of $100 was totally worth it to get a really cool colorful, shiny visa that fills an entire page in our passports.

On the agenda

  • Looks like October will be “kick into academic gear” month. I have a huge paper, presentation, and exam. Exciting thing is that I get to go to Brazil/celebrate Halloween (which I will obviously be celebrating whether or not I find an actual costume party: sabes que si) as soon as it’s all over. Perfect!
  • Places I’m going to try to visit before the end of the semester: Mendoza (wine country) with a stop over to Santiago, Chile; Mar del Plata, the fun beach town area; day trip to Colonia, Uruguay.

So, in conclusion, Feliz Día!

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On the road again/ a castellano update

50+ hours wasn’t enough; I was so craving more hours on the beloved omnibus that I set off for Córdoba, Argentina this weekend! Our entire study abroad program, plus the one from Montevideo, Uruguay, went on the trip, which meant that after over 2 months of trying my darnest to blend in, I was once again part of an enormously obvious yankee (in castellano argentino, “jank-ee”) pack. Córdoba is amazing; it’s much smaller than BA, has the oldest university in the country,

The central plaza in Córdoba is covered with college-age kids drinking mate and playing guitars. It is idyllic and I'm super jealous, because none of us could think of a single area like this in BA.

and is much more like a college town than BA. The good thing about the trip was that the city was beautiful. The bad thing was that every hour or so my friends and I would all look at each other and go, “I wish I was studying abroad here.” (For the 0 people reading this blog who this applies to: Midd is starting a program there next year- go!) It was so much more tranqui. I think we’re all getting a little overwhelmed with BA, and that’s because even after over month for them and over two months for me, it’s still so hard to feel like you “know” the city because it’s so enormous and chaotic. As one friend put it, “I feel like I’m doing battle with the city every single day,” which is so true. You feel constantly vulnerable, whether it’s to getting lost, robbed, overcharged, harassed by men, or generally confused.  Montevideo is much smaller, and the kids there say that although they still have stuff to explore, it’s nice because they now have a sense of the city and feel like it’s theirs. I think all the Buenos Aires kids were a little jealous. I’m sure it’s just a problem of the grass being greener on the other side, because everyone struggles in study abroad. But I also think that one thing I’m learning from this experience is that I don’t like living in huge cities.

Revelation #2 on the trip: it is very, very possible to live in another country for many months at a time and not become fluent in the language. On the trip we all realized we were having similar frustration with the fact that we weren’t progressing as fast as we thought we would; it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that I think most of us assumed that living in another country automatically means you kind of “soak up” the language. Not true. It takes a LOT of effort, and it’s entirely possible to improve hardly at all. I think at the beginning of the trip we were learning easier words and easier facets of the language — like the accent — and felt like we were progressing appropriately. Now it’s into more difficult stuff, which just — this is gonna sound juvenile but it perfectly expresses my sentiments — totally sucks. A friend on the trip who lived in Patagonia for a year in high school and is now completely fluent told us that living in a rural area is the key: no one speaks English, everyone in the town knows you, and you are a novelty, meaning that more people talk to you. So I’m getting a little nervous about my language acquisition now. At this point I’m pretty sure I’ll need to do some other kind of Spanish practice/immersion after studying abroad to get to the level I want to be at, but I guess it’s ok as long as I’m progressing at or above the pace of everyone else in my program. This week I plan to start making flashcards.

Revelation #3: I had an amazing weekend and am in the best mood I’ve been in in a long time. This was due to the fact that the entire trip, due to pure language exhaustion and the big Spanish dip everyone appears to be experiencing, we spoke English. I felt pretty guilty until I realized that I hadn’t socialized this much in about a month, and that my strict adherence to the language pledge had left me isolated and lonely. I decided that I can live in a country and be fairly depressed for 75% of the experience because I avoid English-speakers and don’t have many local friends OR I can work really hard at Spanish while hanging out with English-speaking kids who I enjoy and who make the experience 10 times better. At least they’re all from new schools, and at least some of them speak really good Spanish. I guess after 6 weeks or so of  trying uber hard to do the language pledge whilst being fairly miserable, I’m realizing that I should probably stop putting so much pressure on myself to make porteño friends and speak perfectly. Although due to “Revelation #2” I will be working very hard on my Spanish, I’ve lowered my expectations a little bit to allow myself to be much more happy and generally relaxed. Yippee!

Cognates + Taboo = I can say anything.

Ok. I’ve never understood the whole “I understand better than I speak” thing, because I feel like I can use the words I know to say just about anything, but once other people start using vocabulary that I’m not familiar with, I’m completely lost. Bad thing is this means I still cannot understand my host siblings, but good thing is that I’m good at talking at people! The simple strategy is as follows:

Step 1: Attempt to create the word’s cognate in Spanish. This could require saying the word in a castellano accent; like funeral would be foo-nair-all, which doesn’t actually work. But wanna know some random words that do work like this? “Delivery,” “amenities,” “cocktail,” “crouton,” “shopping” (which actually means mall- same thing). Huh! Or could require adding an –o or –a to the end. This works 60% of the time, if only to get you close enough that the porteño can figure it out.

Step 2: Opportunity to flex my Taboo muscles and talk around the word! Veteran? (I’m getting all these examples from dinner a few nights ago, hence the randomness.) “People who fought in wars”! Hole punch? “When you use a machine to make holes in pieces of paper to put it in a folder with rings”! Real-estate agent? “The person whose job it is to sell and rent apartments”! This is a dream, since Catchphrase/Taboo (thinking it’s more like Taboo with my de facto vocabulary limit) are my favorite games in the world. Which is also me speaking in hyperbole, but not kidding about loving them; if any of you reading really want to make my day/help me re-learn English upon return to Midd, suggest Taboo. But I’m warning you: my already finely honed skillz + the ones I’m acquiring now may result in a pretty sound beating.

EVERYTHING IS URGENT

My cultural tutor’s e-mails to me scream, “LEAH THIS IS AGUSTINA HOW ARE YOU.” Our program coordinator sends texts that say “Call me now, urgent,” leading recipients to panic that there’s been a death in the family when all it is is that she needs to know the name of one of our classes for a form. Our writing teacher sends us messages WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS WHEN SHE CAN’T WORK HER EMAIL AND THINKS THAT NO ONE HAS TURNED IN THEIR ASSIGNMENTS. I can’t figure out why, in a culture that is so

An example. Too much emotion.

acutely unaware of timetables or schedules, everything is urgent. Signs are in all caps, big news on the TV is in all caps followed with the ever-present “!!!!!!!!” It’s like a 14-year-old on Myspace has translated all communication from conveying appropriate emotional intensity and urgency to “AHHHHHH!!!”

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10 Weeks In!

COOL! Great things that occurred this week:

  • Finally found BA’s hit music radio station! This immediately made Monday the BEST DAY EVER.
  • Discovered pilates, which are magical. I get all spacey and smiley for a full two hours after each class; my family has no idea what to do with me.
  • Happened upon the greatest bar game when stuck talking to boring people: pretend you’re from a random Nordic/Eastern European country! Way more fun than telling people you’re from America, especially since as soon as the word “norteamericana” (this means USA; no one cares about Canada) has left your lips, people also assume that you’re (to be indelicate) slutty and not smart. It’s fun also to pretend to speak chosen dialect — for instance, Icelandic, which requires speaking English with a fake heavy German accent and adding in lots of weird noises and “floofens” and “flofens” — in front of porteños. Also important to tell them that you learned Spanish while on a cultural exchange because telling them you learned Spanish in high school in Latvia will suriously damage your credibility.
  • I started my immigration project by interviewing my building’s Paraguayan doorman. Very interesting.
  • My friend and I freaked out when we realized that we’d bought non-refundable airplane tickets to Brazil to see the Iguazu Falls in October. Imma say that again: we accidentally bought non-refundable airplane tickets to Brazil. Ruh-roh.

BUT, we have decided to make the best of our unexpected travel arrangements and appreciate the fact that we’re hitting up a new country. Maybe the visit to the Brazilian consulate to obtain an expensive and complicated visa will be exciting and interesting? We’ll see.

(While I’m on the topic of Brazil: at clubs where it’s pretty difficult for Americans to enter, people assume you’re Brazilian since American accents sort sound of like Portuguese from afar. I love this for one reason: Brazilians are schmexy. So when people go, “Are you Brazilian?” what I actually hear is, “You look like Gisele — you must be Brazilian!” I mean, if you say so!)

MEH. Class: 

So remember how I said that class was great and I could totally understand the professor? Unfortunately, the other 50% of my academic career here in BA is completely unintelligible. The professor is great — reminds me of Professor Morrison, who is one of my all-time favorites, in addition to most of my other profs at Middlebury — and apparently really funny, but my comprehension in class is: 0. I was about to lie and say that the following is a “sample” of my notes from the entire 4-hour class this week, but let’s be honest: this is everything I got.

  • Illegitimate because of the war (the dictatorship)
  • The key is civil society
  • 1983 Sept: amnesty for those who had participated in the Dirty War
  • Alfonsín signed something (literally just “Alfonsín firmó… algo.”)
  • [list of acronyms]

I also can’t read his handwriting on the board, so it’s like a fun game of Pictionary where the answers are all just more words and names I don’t know. It’s ok, though; at least I’m learning a lot from the readings.

COOL? Here’s a funny thing I forgot to write about: the fact that my strategy at the beginning of this trip (still…) was to just say “yes!” confidently when people asked me a question that I had no hope of understanding. This strategy usually worked, unless the question was 1) not a yes or no question, or 2) I clearly should not have been answering in the affirmative. Some examples:

  • Clerk: Do you have a frequent shopper card? (or whatever words they used)
  • Me: Yes!
  • (Awkward 5 seconds of silent eye contact during which I make no effort to produce said card, confirming to both of that I have no idea what is going on. Clerk is no help and continues to stare me down.)
  • Me: Umm… No?
  • (I know this is the correct answer because the clerk nods and continued ringing me up. Phew.)
  • Clerk: Would you like to pay in 4 payments or in one payment?
  • Me: Yes!
  • Clerk: Which one?
  • (Completely confused as to why clerk is inquiring as to if I’d like to charge my $8 pair of earrings in payments and assume I don’t understand the question.)
  • Me: Can I just… pay? For the earrings?
  • (Clerk takes pity and rings me up.) 

MEH: I am having some trouble with my homestay. 

COOL! Now I’m going to brag on the Middlebury program a little bit. Might sound betchy. But. The more I encounter other programs, the more I realize that the Middlebury program is the best. Reasons why:

  • Most of the time, we all speak Spanish within our group outside of class. None of the other groups do this, which is understandable but really bad for their Spanish immersion.
  • Our level of Spanish is the highest of all the groups I’ve met, and our coordinators even told us it’s the highest they’ve ever had in this program!
  • We don’t wear backpacks proclaiming the name of our study abroad program. @ NYU kid on the bus the other day: you didn’t blend in.
  • We know more about the culture. For instance, at least 5 kids in the program already consistently carry around mates and their thermoses, whereas the kids from other programs don’t even know the rules about drinking it (they’re very specific). They also don’t do the cheek kiss thing, which I don’t relate to at all because this is easily one of my top 5 favorite new cultural acquisitions.
  • We have to get good grades in our classes, unlike other students who do a pass/fail option or just have to show up. This means that Midd program kids actually study, pay attention, and do work.

COOL! Internship rocks.

I’m working at this think tank called “Generación Política Sur,” which is a progressive group of young professionals associated with the government. I’m doing all of my work in English, which means that I’m actually a valuable asset (as opposed to internships in Spanish friends did in my last program, which are usually pretty low-level because, frankly, you don’t have anything to contribute if you’re still learning the language). So we’ve been charged with finding other think tanks or university programs in the U.S. that are either progressive or are doing research in similar policy areas, and then are trying to get them to partner with GPS for fellowships, exchanges, seminars, or whatever. The best part is talking to the people who work here and picking their brains about Argentina and politics. Oh, and they have weekly seminars and bi-weekly “chats” with Congresspeople who want to learn about specific research areas, both of which I can attend. Bonus is that every once in a while, I have the office to myself for the entire day, which means that I turn my music up as high as I want (which anyone who has ever lived on my hall knows is… quite loud), get my mate and thermos out, put my feet up, and chill out by myself. All while doing interesting research that doubles as a summer internship search. It is idyllic.

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A new project.

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.

Entertainment

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.

Moments:

  • 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.
Posted in Middlebury in Argentina | 3 Comments

First trip, first classes, first missin Amurica

Jujuy

            So this weekend a friend and I went to Jujuy, a province in northern Argentina below Bolivia. The three main things to do in Jujuy: look at beautiful scenery, wander through cute little towns, and buy llama-print clothing. We hit all three. The upside to

Lil town in Jujuy.

the fact that we spend upwards of 50 hours on buses over 5 days (planes were grounded due to ash from the volcano) was that we got to see lots of cool scenery. The downside was the fact that we were on buses for 50 hours. Some interesting things:

  • So we stayed in a different hostel almost every night, which meant meeting lots of interesting people. Resolved: the people who backpack around South America are by far the coolest group of people possible. Just straight up crazy adventurous, full of amazing stories, really laid back, and extremely friendly. So obviously now my new plan is to backpack around South America at some point, because I feel like the fact that I speak Spanish would make it even more fun (more info/bonding opportunities). Lemme know if you want to join.
  • We set off with pretty much zero information about the area, and sometimes went to some small towns just because we wouldn’t have to wait as long for the bus for another small town. This meant some mistakes, like going to a town that ended up being pretty much the most empty, boring place imaginable. Upside to this 2-hour bus ride was getting the opportunity to go through a national guard checkpoint. A lot of people smuggle drugs from Bolivia, and there was even a wall of newspaper clippings of all the kilos of cocaine this particular checkpoint had confiscated! Cooool. Good news: if any of you are considering smuggling cocaine from Bolivia to Argentina, I have your answer — give it to gringa tourists! In a blatant show of ethnic profiling, we were shoed through the checkpoint without so much as a glance into our bags.
  • Btw, about Bolivians: so one of our teachers told us that if we’re ever feeling bad about our Spanish, to talk to one of the Bolivians selling food on the streets in BA; they all enunciate really well and basically “talk like robots,” he told us. There is a Bolivian fruit stand outside my building. New friends?
  • My friend and I blend in pretty well in Buenos Aires, but we did not blend in in northern Argentina, which has a population that is much more Bolivian in appearance (Bolivians are largely of indigenous descent). The funny thing was that the porteños failed at blending in about as much as we did (though for different reasons; for us it was the hiking boots, and for them it was the fashion boots). I’m glad I got the chance to see rural Argentina; it’s kind of like how if a foreigner had only seen the Upper East Side, a trip to rural Idaho or something would reveal an entirely different side of the country. Lots of Argentines aren’t like the porteños I see on a daily basis, which is important to know.
  • Speaking of porteños. One of the most frustrating things that happened my first few weeks here was how I would ask a question using the right words and grammar and a vendor or clerk would act like I was speaking complete gibberish. Just complete lack of understanding. It was incredibly disheartening. A porteña at my hostel informed me that this is a “thing.” Porteños apparently do this to foreigners to force them to say it better, and only “understand” when you improve your accent/pronunciation/grammar.

Starting class

Starting classes this week has been pretty exciting. Here’s the DL on the two I’ve had so far.

Class on “International Politics: The Agenda of Commercial Liberalization, Processes and Resistance”: This class pretty much delivered on every stereotype I’d collected about la UBA before arriving. Our professor immediately assigned us Marx, loves using the word “hegemony” and blaming capitalism, passed mate back and forth with students during class, spoke about GW Bush with absolute disdain, gestured towards me and the other American in the class every time he talked about the United States (and our world hegemony), and arrived 30 minutes late the first day. Things I did not expect: the class is really small, a lot of our grade is based on discussion, this professor talks really slowly and I can understand mostly everything (BIG deal — we’re not expected to understand anything for at least 1 and ½ months), the professor has a syllabus and is really organized (very unusual for la UBA), and the other students are super nice, even reminding each other to talk slower in small groups so I can follow. I’m really pumped, since this class is pretty much exactly what I was hoping for in terms of learning about world economics/politics and liberalization from the standpoint of Argentines. Really interesting, but I feel like it’s gonna get awkward that I’m American reeeeal fast. Already, I can’t remember one good thing that was said about America, and the professor has a kind of worrisome habit of asking me to explain American history/policy to the class. Which is appropriate when it’s just “Leah, how many Mexicans live in the United States?” (though still debatable…) but less o.k. when it’s about explaining the difference between Bush and Obama’s reaction to the economic crisis. Which kind of catches you off guard, especially in a foreign language where I definitely need some planning time to figure out how to talk around words I don’t know.

Class on “Recent Argentina (1983-1999)” and on the transfer to democracy: A lot of foreigners in this class, which makes sense I guess. The cool thing about the fact that it’s a class on Argentine history that we obviously have no background in is that we all get tutors and a special packet of readings for foreigners that has extra info. I feel like if there are 8-9 other Americans in this class, it can’t be too difficult. Especially since a lot of them speak pretty low-level Spanish. Definite score on this class.

Things I miss about the United States (absence makes the heart grow fonder): 

  • Efficiency. You have to stand in line for everything, but it’s mostly frustrating because when you get to the front of the line at the grocery store after a 30-minute wait in the express lane because all you have to do is buy some eggs for breakfast (all hypothetical…), the cashier seems entirely unconcerned with the queue stretching the length of the store and continues to chat with other cashiers, swipe items as slowly as humanly possible, wait 3 minutes for the manager to arrive with change, etc. Or another example: checkpoint near Bolivian border, where one national guardsman checked all the suitcases while 3 others stood by, watching and chatting. Come onnnnnn.
  • Healthy food options. There is no whole wheat bread, skim milk, non-sugary cereal, or meals that do not include large amounts of butter and salt. My personal rebellion has been cooking enormous quantities of vegetables. I have decided the only reason

    Veggies! Typical meal nowadays.

    people here are not morbidly obese is that they smoke like chimneys and drink mate constantly.

  • Good party dance music. They are really into electronic dance musak here, which is fun for like… 2 hours. Luckily, I have now located the two clubs in town that have regular hip-hop/reggaetone nights. Yussss.
  • Fewer smokers. Half this population could probably be categorized as chain smokers, and the other half are on their way. My entire host family constantly smokes inside the house. This is weird, but I keep thinking about how people feel about paying other people’s lung cancer bills, since Argentina has universal healthcare? Wouldn’t that be a huge strain on the system? Currently unable to find a single non-smoker to whom to pose this question.
  • Punctuality. They are wayyyy late to everything. Not cool.
  • Staring being socially inappropriate. So the normal reaction when someone is staring at you on the subte is to look at them so they’ll look away, yeah? But following quite a few instances of awkward sustained eye contact, I realized that this is not the appropriate reaction here because they do not look away. At least in the U.S., people pretend like they’re not all staring at everyone else.

One big thing I appreciate about Buenos Aires:

  • Meals/coffee. People here are just obsessed with sitting with friends and chatting for hours and hours. Waiters will never give you the check without asking, and that’s because people spend inordinate amounts of time eating and getting coffee. The coffee “shops” here are enormous and more the size of regular restaurants, and are always full. And it’s not like in the US where if you want to sit at a table for 4 hours, you should probably buy something at least every hour. Here, a cup of coffee and a medialuna and you’re set for an afternoon. Also, absolutely no food or drink comes to-go, which is actually nice because it forces you to slow down.

EXTRA:

  • Woke myself by sleep talking the other night (normal), and was pleasantly surprised to find that I was speaking Spanish! Quite proud.
  • Upon hearing some Central Americans talking about chicken in a hostel, realized how acclimated I am to the Argentine accent (the double “l” is the difference, and the word is pollo) and how strange it sounds to hear other types of Spanish. I’ve even pretty much fallen into it myself by this point, which is exciting because after Colombia, Argentina has the prettiest accent. What I need now is to get the rhythm right. Basically, imitating a really corny Italian accent gets you pretty close here (probably because a huge percentage of the population is of Italian descent).
  • Heading to a Bible-themed theme park tomorrow. More deets to follow, but this should be good.
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This is an English Binge

(because I’ve spoken only Spanish all a week and writing in English feels totally weird)

Ok, this post is a lil long. In fact, I might even recommend reading it in two parts… but make sure you stop at an exciting cliffhanger (for example, “What classes will she choose?!?”) so you remember to finish it up.

Castellano:

  • Por fin, I feel like I can see an improvement in my Spanish! Having all the Middlebury kids (and a few from Tulane, Pomona, and Williams) arrive has really made me appreciate how far I’ve come in the last 5 weeks language-wise; my accent is really good at this point (rrrrrrr’s rolling off the tongue), and my general grammar and speaking skills appear to be quite advanced. I still have trouble understanding native speakers when they get going, but a program coordinator today made me feel better by telling me that he got his PhD in the U.S. and wrote a dissertation in English and still can’t understand Americans when we’re all in a big group talking quickly. But at least now, Argentines understand me when I speak.
  • Favorite new word in castellano: quilombo. Significa: basically, but without being a bad word, a clusterfuck (though the translation is “mess”). But the great thing is, it can be used in a positive sense too, which I’m choosing to interpret as a “hot mess.” Infinitely useful.

I have a new family:

  • Off to a good start. My room is about 2/3 the size of the smallest Middlebury dorm room I’ve ever seen, but it’s o.k. because the family seems nice, which is obviously a lot more important. There are two sons and a daughter who are all in their 20s that also live in the house (everyone here lives with their parents until they get married), and the kids have already introduced me to some of their friends and invited me out with them, which is cool. The older son and his friends are a little intimidating — they speak in this Argentine slang called “lunfardo” sometimes that is full of sexual innuendos and that’s almost like another language. I can’t understand a thing they say. Interesting note on lunfardo: although it has about 20 words for “to fuck,” it lacks the equivalents for “random,” “awkward,” or “sketchy.” Our program coordinator informed us of this right off the bat — apparently lots of American students have inquired about these three words. lolz.
  • Also, I’ve found that although Argentina has legalized gay marriage, it is only relatively tolerant. For instance, pretty much every new guy I’ve met (this happened with the Mexicans, too), his friends would point at him and joke, “He’s gay.” After a while, I’m like, “Uh-huh, I get it. It’s funny because… he’s not…” But this kind of joke is endlessly entertaining for boys here. To the extent that my host brothers literally introduce every male member of the family like this.
  • We had a whole half hour segment in orientation today about how Argentines are completely unconcerned with political correctness, and that we should try not to be offended. My host family is a perfect example of this. They’re very nice people, but one brother blatantly told me the other day that the reason they don’t like the people from other Latin American countries because they’re “dark.” And he wrinkled his nose when I told him I’d lived in Belgrano and went, “We don’t like Belgrano; they’re the new rich …” I think they family’s also pretty conservative; I just had an hour-long talk about politics with my host dad, which was prompted by the fact that apparently my internship is with a superliberal Peronista political group that my host parents clearly despise. To get an idea of his leanings: he told me the “other” side of the story of the Mothers in the Plaza de Mayo who demonstrate for their disappeared children from the Dirty War, and told me that many of their kids were quite violent and killed people, too. This while my host sister whispered “assassins…” under her breath about the Mothers’ lawyer, who apparently got his law degree while in jail for killing his parents?? It’s like a telenovela. What a quilombo. I guess they’ll provide an interesting contrast to my professors at la UBA, who are actual Marxists. Like, full-fledged party members who often demonstrate in the streets. Interesting.

Orientation:

  • Started out with a bang. Having slept for 1 hour after a night out, I arrived at the orientation looking quite disheveled to find that, to my dismay, we were scheduled for a day full of activities. Yum.
  • One interesting thing I learned the first day: apparently I was not delirious when, at 7 AM on Thursday, the taxi driver kept handing me back my bills and kept telling me that I’d given him a 2, not a 20, and a 10, not a 100. Apparently, he was stealing my money and quickly changing out the bills- trickyyy.
  • I’m going to take a couple classes in Argentine politics and do this internship with a political group that’s really active right now because of elections in October. One class will be on the transition from the dictatorship to democracy, and I think the other one will be some topic on international politics. Pretty pumped.
  • My “cultural tutor”: so for la UBA, we are paired with a porteno student “cultural tutor” who’s supposed to show us around/answer questions. This is because — to quote one of the Middlebury program alums who came and talked to us the first day of orientation — “the first month is a complete disaster.” Apparently, although la UBA is the best university in the country, it’s really hard to figure out what’s going on—you don’t have textbooks, syllabi, or pretty much any direction. The visual for this was a circle with a dot in the middle that our program coordinator drew on the board; in the US, the student is the center, with everyone working for their success. In Argentina, it’s reversed; la UBA is the center, and the university couldn’t care less what the students do. We were informed that, “the first month, you will have absolutely no idea what the professor is saying. Ever.” Great. Anyway, because of this, I was paired with this really nice girl who took me around town that night and invited me to visit El Tigre and Iguazu with her. She also said that her brother is a club promoter, which is awesome because knowing a promoter means free entry to clubs! And she buys me food; today, while walking to the BA Stock Exchange, she asked if I’d tried a certain chocolate here. I said no, so she bought me one on the spot! Obviously the quickest way to my heart. GOD she’s good.
Other activities
  • Rollin rollin rollin. I’ve started riding the buses! Major confidence booster.
  • Engordandome. Reasons I will probably get fat here: there is a pastry shop between me and the gym, pastry shops also exist every 10 storefronts or so, I have a jar of dulce de leche in the fridge and plan to eat it all, I have now figured out public transport so will walk less, Argentine pizza is to dieee for, my host family informed me that it’s happened to every American girl that’s lived with them, etc.
  • “Cooking.” My host dad is super impressed that I make omelets every morning, and is now under the impression that I am some kind of master chef. Ok, I’ll take it.
  • Reading HP in Spanish. Great decision. Now have acquired the vocabulary to speak with ease about owls, wands, sports involving brooms, and — most importantly — dementors.
  • Taking siestas. I’d say I now qualify as an expert.

Aight, chau!


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