On our first day in Buenos Aires we were treated to a historical bus tour of the city. Most of us were exhausted after a sleepless night on our 10+ hour flight from The States, but we boarded the bus anyway, grateful that we had only to listen and observe as opposed to say communicating anything even moderately intelligible in Spanish. I’ll be honest and say that communicating in English would have been pretty hard for me at that point as well. When we boarded the bus, we found each seat had a small bag on it. The tour guide and one of the Argentine Fulbright Commission employees explained that in the bag we would find dulce de leche (literally “sweet of/from milk”) candies in two glorious chocolate meets dulce de leche configurations. They had also packed water and juice for us with little cups for everyone in case we got thirsty at any point during the tour. After they explained about the candy and the drinks, the grantee sitting next to me exclaimed “¡Cómo nos tratan!” (How well they treat us!). That phrase has stuck with me this entire week.
Just to preface a bit, what follows may come dangerously close to the first stage of culture shock. For those unfamiliar with this, the stages go something like NAIVE EUPHORIA -> FRUSTRATION -> INTENSE FRUSTRATION -> DEPRESSION -> NEW METHODS OF COPING -> ACCLIMATION -> MATURE EUPHORIA (dibs on MATURE EUPHORIA as a name for . . . . anything). That said, I have felt nothing but welcome here from the moment I successfully convinced the visa lady that I didn’t have to pay the $140 entry fee, (she didn’t see that I had a 9 month visa at first) to the moment yesterday when I arrived in my assigned province and city, San Luis. But first, Buenos Aires:
On our first night out in Buenos Aires, a group of us asked our hotel’s front desk staff where we should go eat. The attendant gave us the name of a nice little Italian place in walking distance and we headed off. We got wine, pasta and salads, made merry and chatted a little with our waiter . . . . and upon hearing that this was our first night in Argentina (and I think half in appreciation that we actually spoke Spanish and didn’t expect him to speak English) he brought us a beautiful ice cream made from Mascarpone with a rasberry/blackberry topping, free of charge. As a sidenote for those of you who have asked me, it’s becoming clear that vegetarianism is doable here while veganism is not when eating out. Anyway, this was a charming, much appreciated, and wholly unexpected gesture of welcome. This kind of generosity has pretty much been a constant so far.
Here is a list of the things the Argentine Fulbright Comission has done for our group of grantees:
- Bought plane tickets here (with specific meal requests) and shuttled us from the airport to the hotel.
- Put us up in a hotel near the Plaza de Mayo and arranged a bus tour for the first day.
- Gave a well organized and helpful three day orientation on adjusting to life here and how we can be successful Language Assistants.
- Arranged our travel to the provinces and gave us money for a taxi to the bus station.
- Made themselves entirely available to us during our time in Buenos Aires in case there was any kind of problem.
- Assured us that if there is any problem in the provinces (and they even consider not being able to travel as much as we would like to be a problem) that we are to let them know.
Now, here is a list of things my referentes (mentors) in San Luis, codenames BEST PERSON EVER 1 and 2 (BPE1) and (BPE2) have done for me:
- Picked me up at the bus station at 7 in the morning.
- Found me a lovely little apartment! (More on this soon)
- Lent me sheets and a towel until I could buy my own.
- Taken me to buy all the things.
- Lent me Argentine films and books because Sundays here are dead.
- Given me a phone.
- Helped me set up wireless in my apartment, para que esté conectada al mundo afuera!
- Brought me a TV they weren’t using and offered to set it up.
- Checked in on me to make sure I was functioning.
- Agreed to speak to me entirely in Spanish when we are not in the school where I’ll be a language assistant.
- Made me feel wanted.
Just so this doesn’t get too saccharine, I’ll share one unsavory experience we had with a waiter our second night in Buenos Aires (all the waiters are dudes here – I’ll have to look into why). A group of us were dining at a restaurant that advertised itself as “tradicionalmente porteño” (Traditional Beunos Aires fare). Buenos Aires is a port, so porteño/a means “people of the port.” One pair of grantees ordered gnocchi to share and the waiter brought a spinach crepe instead. The grantees told him politely that they had ordered gnocchi and not spinach crepes, but the waiter just checked his list and said firmly, “No. Crepe de espinaca.” It was clear that we were entirely capable of negotiating with him in Spanish, but all he would do when we tried to explain the situation was shake his head and say, “No. Crepe de espinaca.” Finally, the pair of grantees took the crepes because they looked good anyway and we were getting nowhere with this guy. When we were finished he brought us the check, and sure enough, he charged us for gnocchi. Now this is obviously not worth getting upset about. There are surly waiters everywhere. Hell, there are places where surly waiters are a marketable part of the ambiance. but it was the first hostility of any kind we had encountered and the waiter’s unwillingness to listen to us, even though we speak Spanish, was kind of jarring. Not much value to this story except to temper the above gushing, and to make it seem like I’m not in the first stage of culture shock. It’s cool. I totally am.