What is it about my culture, American culture, that we always feel the great need to make something better? Or to change it? I am curious why Americans more than any other culture think that everything American is the right way to do things.
There are two lists that I subscribe to. One is the BAnewcomers on Yahoo, and the other is Tango-L. The BAnewcomers list is for people who are new to Buenos Aires. Most people who write to the list are entertaining the idea of coming here to live. Others, like myself are living here, and we try to answer the questions people have.
The Tango-L list is about tango. (Duh) People post their ideas, attitudes, and recommendations about everything tango. The list is mostly Americans, but there are people from all over the world. There is a German woman who lives in Japan, several from the UK.
The lists are completely different, but in many ways the attitude is the same. In this post I am going to talk about the Newcomers. In the next post I will talk about Tango-L. For example in the Newcomers group, people constantly complain about the food here. They can't find cheddar cheese or butter that tastes like what they had in the U.S. There are long exhausting posts about this. People go on and on about how their life is completely ruined by not having the very best chocolate in the entire world at their disposal. They bash the quality of Argentine chocolate, even when Argentines recommend chocolate that is excellent. Nothing will compare to that product they had in the U.S.
I find the quality of the food here excellent. It is fresh and well prepared. It is very difficult to find a restaurant here that is bad. Most have great food and good service. There is no server trying to make you order more food than you want (appetizers, salad, more expensive wine, dessert) nor are they waving the check in your face the second your entree is set before you.
True, the spiciest thing you can find here is chimichurri sauce. There are no purple Peruvian potatoes sauteed in baby garlic with an onion salsa. (An Argentine would not undertand why you would want to mask the taste of the potato.) True, ethnic food here is a disaster, but I didn't move here for the food. I moved here to have a life that was more for me. I don't really care about the food that I can't have. What is the point? Besides, tastes change.
When I was leaving the Bay Area to move here, it hit me that for many years my breakfast was an english muffin with Trader Joe's peanut butter, MorningStar Farms sausage patty, and Peets coffee. English muffins do not exist here. There is nothing like them. MorningStar Farms along with Bocca (not to be confused with the local football team) make incredible soy products. For over 35 years I ate no meat products, only a little seafood or shellfish from time to time. I was also crazy for quality canned salmon.
My tastes have changed. If you look in my cupboard, I have 8 cans of salmon and 2 jars of Trade Joe´s peanunt butter. I still love the stuff, but I forget to eat them. In place, I now love queso blanco. This is a cheese that is sort of like sour cream and sort of like plain yogourt. I am mad for it. I slather it on the this cardboard looking cracker or tostados which are like little rounds of toast somewhere between a large crouton and melba toast. On my salads I am crazy for beets, beans, and shredded carrots.
I do miss my MorningStar products from time to time, but not enough
to complain. There is a brand here of rubber hot dogs and spongy soy
burgers that I have substituted. Maybe they are not MorningStar, but I
live here. Do I love those rubber hot dogs and spongy soy burgers like
I liked my MorningStar Farms Buffalo Wings? Oh nooooo, but complaing
about it to anyone who will listen is pointless. Besides after 35+
years I have discovered that Argentine chicken is delicious.
I started to think about why food is so important in the US as opposed to here. You don't have to read much to know that obesity is a huge (no pun intended) problem in the U.S. Why? Because food has become a reward. It is a way to make yourself feel good. We eat more than we need, we eat in a way that is not healthy. Food relieves stress.
Because lives are so demanding in the US, food becomes the reward. How many times did I say to myself in the past, if I do this, I will have some chocolate, or ice cream, or go eat Indian food? I always had this problem with food. I could never just eat one. Now I have bags of chocolate and cookies in my apartment, that stay around. I don´t have the need to eat them all at once.
I guess what I am trying to say, is that this is Argentina. It is not the US. The Newcomers list is full of people that CHOSE to come here. If you chose to come here, then you know what it was like before you came. Unless you were one of those stupid people who came here one or two times on vacation and decided to live here. (Oh yes, people really do this...)
Yet, they want it to be like the US. Yes, there is dog crap on the sidewalks here. People go on and on about how in California it is a law to pick it up. I don't like dog crap on the sidewalk either, so I make sure that Roxie doesn´t contribute. I cannot be responsible for the other dog owners, but I can be responsible for me. I knew about the dog crap before I came to live here, it was no big surprise, nor was the noise, the bad driving, or in general the life here.
There are long emails for proposals for what the government should or should not do. Every proposal reflects American life, not Argentine life. I for one have never once thought to complain about bad chocolate and some of the other things. Life was not perfect in California, and it is not perfect here.
I detest the idea of the beautiful buildings being knocked down to build these ugly tower apartments. In my old neighborhood in Oakland, we would have been collecting signatures, protesting, calling the news media. I tell this to my Argentine neighbors. It is an interesting concept to them. Then I remember how long it took the neighborhood to get to that point. Inter-mixed with the old style homes are 60s ugly apartment buildings. Life progresses at its own pace.
Beyond the Newcomers list the attitude still prevails. When people come here they are surprised that not everyone speaks English. People come here to live and don't speak the language. They figure in 3 months they will be fluent. They are surprised to find that there is no "Press 1 for Espanol, Press 2 for English" on the telephones. In hospitals and HMOs there are no translators. It is a Bring Your Own situation. I have never felt the need to find English speakers to help me. I figured I live here and I need to adapt.
I spoke Spanish before I came here, and I found it very frustrating the first 9 months. My accent, my choice of words. I always thought it was because they did not like foreigners, now I know it was because they did not understand me. My dialect was mostly Mexican with a little Colombian thrown in. My accent was definitely Mexico City.
For me Mexican Spanish is still like English. However, here is where I live. I have adapted so well, that last week when my dear friend Lupita called me to wish me happy birthday, we both laughed at "our accents." It was so strange for me to hear a Mexican accent with my familiar old words. When I told her, she laughed and said I sounded so Argentine. At times in our conversation, I had to stop myself and use the Mexican word, not the Argentine word. I was proud that I now know there is a difference.
Many of my friends when they come here, develop grand plans to change everything here. To clean it up so to say. For example, when I explained to a friend how real estate worked here as compared to the US, she was shocked. There is no mulitple listing service like the US. But then here, real estate tends to be a family thing. You don't have large franchise operations controlling the market.
My friend got all excited. She weaved a verbal business plan at me. "With your computer skills you could create the multiple listing service." She went on to sell me on how much more "efficient" it would be. How agents would sell more properties. "You could easily show them how much time they are wasting and how unproductive they are now." I sat there listening.
When she finished, I told her that I have no desire to get back into any stress related job. That, and this is Argentina, it is not the US. I asked her who would pay for this system. She assumed that all the agents would be so thrilled to have it, that I would be able to get financial backing from them. Oh yeah right, most of these agents do not even have a computer in their office or know how to use one, or even want to know how to use one.
I explained to her how a system like this probably would not work here, not right now. The business is not organized to maximize sales for a conglomerate. Is it inefficient? Yes, I suppose so. Does real estate still get bought and sold here? Yes all the time. Did my friend accept this? No, she didn't, she thinks they need to change. "Just wait," she says, "One day someone like Prudential will come in and blow these people away." Ahhhh the American way to be.