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Moving to Buenos Aires: There are a few cultural changes to get used to after having lived in North America all my life. Here is my top 10 list of things I had to adapt to:
- Cash is the main mode of payment everywhere: stores, restaurants, health clubs, rent, school you name it. What makes it difficult is that ATM’s are scarce. The maximum amount you can withdraw is $235 dollars per transaction with up to two or three transactions a day. Lots of logistic planning!
- They hardly speak any English in Buenos Aires. This was a major adaptation for me since I do not speak Spanish. I have been used to people speaking English when I travel. Speaking Italian has gotten me by so far. I learned that in Argentina (especially Buenos Aires), the accent has been heavily influenced by Italians who immigrated there in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Italian influence was so strong that it lead to a development of a language called Lunfardo which blends spanish and italian. Not enough for me to carry on a conversation.
- Moving back in a small apartment after being a home owner for so long. I went from having four floors to 2 1/2 rooms with a kitchen / living room. I had to start going to the laundry mat. Having neighbors is nothing new. Neighbors in the same building is something else, especially when your neighbor is in his twenties from Guatemala and likes throwing parties every night!
- Grocery shopping. To get every thing I need, I have to go to between three and five different stores walking: the butcher, fruit and vegetable market, panaderia (bakery) and supermercado (small grocery store).
- Breakfast at a restaurant is between 8:00 AM and 11:00 AM. They serve la promocion del desayuno (breakfast special); cafe con leche with three medialunas (croissants) or tostado (toast with jam). No eggs and bacon, fruits, omelets…The kitchen opens at 11:00 AM and there are no coffees to go. Argentinians take the time to sit, enjoy their coffee and read the newspaper.
- Inflation! Prices go up monthly in Buenos Aires. For 2011 it is reported that inflation will be around 15% to 20%. If you were in BsAs five years ago, expect to pay double for everything!
- After driving for so many years, I no longer have a car in Buenos Aires. I use public transportation: busses (collectivo) and subway (subte). Buenos Aires has an amazing public transportation system. Monday morning going to school, the first car was so jammed packed, people had their faces against the window. I waited for the next one, same thing. I learned you have to push your way in, so, I did. Once inside I had to hold myself against the door frame so the door would close (I saw people doing it). People lean against each other to hold on. Beware of pick pockets!
- Becoming a member at a health club. It requires a doctor’s certificate stating that you are in condition to train. It is the law! It took me 4 hours to find out that this type of examination is done between 7:00 AM to 10:00 AM in a very specific place. I found a way around it though. Time will tell if my trick will work…
- Crossing the street! Seems simple enough. Well, in Buenos Aires, there is no priority for pedestrians, they are part of the street traffic. People will cross at any given time, they are used to judging the distance and speed of car. In trying to develop this talent, I decided to follow the people. Bad mistake, good thing that Argentinians are cautious drivers. I will respect the traffic lights until I have this skill mastered. At least, I have become accustomed to the traffic light system.
- Going to a restaurant. Who doesn’t like eating out? Don’t show up at a restaurant in Buenos Aires at 6:00 or 7:00 PM. Why? Kitchens are closed. They open between 8:00 PM and 9:00PM. In some restaurants, the main dish and side dish are ordered separately on the menu (each with their own price). Same goes for ordering pasta, the sauce you choose is ordered separately.
Just one more as a bonus..
Bonus: Cooking something in the oven is easy. Not so much when it’s your first time using a gas oven! It’s a good thing that I made friends with people in the building who showed me how to use it!
At first, it seemed overwhelming. There was so much to adapt to. Facing each one, has been a great, fun experience! I got to know the owners of the corner markets, panaderia and butcher personally. They recognized me on my next visit and were happy to see me. I get to practice the Spanish I am learning at school on a daily basis. I am able to capture every given moment as I discover new places and learn new ways of doing things. I am no longer in my comfort zone. I take the time to sit, enjoy my coffee and meet people. It is a very humbling experience that leaves me feeling good about myself. It is incredible how a smile from a stranger will lift up your spirit all day.
Have you ever felt discouraged when confronted with a new, unfamiliar situation and realized that it was an opportunity to be in touch with yourself? Maybe a project or position you have dreamed about opened. It meant you had put effort in learning new techniques. Maybe a sport or play guitar. Discovering and developing talents you never imagined about yourself will give you meaning from within. We all have unique strengths, if we listen, really listen to our conscience, we will become aware of the contributions we can make. It is our responsibility to implement them. Luxury is not always a good thing. I remember reading that luxury is a way to stay ignorant comfortably… Looking forward to your insights!