After a day of running all over the city, dealing with the tallers who make my clothes, buying fabrics, and figuring out costs, I was on my way home. I decided to stop off and by a roll of white paper and some tape so I could take pictures of my clothes. Sheets were not cutting it. The wrinkles were showing, and I just don't have the time for lots of Photoshop.
On Santa Fe in my barrio is a large office supply store. They usually have everything. I remembered when I first discovered the place, I was elated. Somewhere where I go could in and find everything I needed and just buy it without talking to anyone. That was 5 or more years ago when my Spanish was not so great. Now language is not the issue. Finding what I need is. With Argentina all but banning imports, the issues with foreign currency, and inflation, goods are disappearing from the shelves.
I make it to the store and go upstairs to where the art supplies are. I see they no longer have the rolls of paper jammed together in buckets. They are in cubbyholes neatly labeled. I decide to look at the tape first.
A young man with rolls paper under his arm approaches me and asks if I need any help. I ask his advice. I tell him I am going to be hanging paper on the wall and which tape does he recommend. He eyes me and then rather than speak clearly as he did before, he starts to run his words together. Rather than ask me what kind of paper, he asks me what I am doing. I tell him I am going to use roll paper like he has under his arm as a backdrop for photographs. He says he doesn't understand me. So I repeat myself. Then he asks me why. Again he says he doesn't understand me. This is annoying. All I want to do is buy some tape. He insists on knowing what I am doing. I don't understand why this is so important.
I decide to ignore him and ask him again to please recommend a tape for me. "You don't live here." he says to me. "So why are you doing this? I wonder if I have to show my DNI (Documento Nacional) to buy tape. "First of all I do live here," I tell him. "I design clothing. Now can you please tell me which tape to buy?" He tells me he doesn't understand me. I shoot him a look.
He then tells me the paper tape is the best. "Which?" I ask him. There are 2 with brands and a non-branded. I already know the non-branded is worthless. I tried it last time. He mumbles. We both know what he is doing. He is trying to make this difficult for me.
Finally he recommends one of the brands. As an afterthought he asks me if I need the tape hidden. I tell him no, it is not important. I figure he wants to recommend the double stick but the one he has is too narrow. He then starts to lecture me that if I am taking pictures, it is important. I look at him and say one word "Photoshop." He looks at me and says he doesn't understand. "Voy usar Photoshop." He insists he still doesn't understand. "No importa." I tell him and I walk towards the paper. He follows me.
Now you would think this would be easy. Shelves all with tags describing the paper and with prices. I pick up a roll that is priced at 59 pesos. My new friend tells me that paper is not the paper that goes in that shelf. It actually belongs 1 shelf up at 249 pesos. There is another roll on the same shelf. "This one?" I ask. He shakes his head. "No, that goes here." "Do you have this paper?" I ask. He tells me no. "OK," I ask him, "What do you have that comes in a roll that does not cost a fortune?" I am forced to buy paper that is 67 pesos a roll. Not a big difference. But still..
I go to the checkout. Empty. The two cashiers, young kids are hanging out talking. Finally one comes over to check me out. First he tries to sell me everything on his checkout stand. I keep telling him I am not interested. He ignores me. Then he tells me cannot understand me.
So I ask him, "Why is it I have no problems communicating anywhere else today? I was in 2 tallers, buying materials for my business. Yet I come here and you all cannot understand me." His response "Well you are a foreigner. Maybe you had someone with you to translate and now you are alone." I want to slap him. I decide to pursue this.
"In the 7 years I have lived here," I tell him, "I have never had a translator." He doesn't believe me. "Maybe you should," he tells me. "It would be easier for you." I tell him that I don't find things all that difficult except when I meet people like him. "But really," he says to me. "You don't understand what people say to you."
I reach in my bag and pull out the book I am reading. It is Cien Años de Soledad by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. His eyes open wide. "Do you think a person who doesn't understand Spanish could read this book?" I ask him. He changes the subject. "What are you doing with all this paper? Drawing? You need pencils."
It will be the backdrop for the photos I am taking. I design clothing and I need to take pictures, I tell him. He thinks about this. "For there." I tell him I don't understand. "You work there." I tell him "I work here. I live here." I think I am a l ittle crazy to have this conversation, but I am. He laughs at me. "No." "Yes, more than 7 years. I pay taxes, I have a driver's license, a business, and an Argentine dog and cat." (We cannot forget them.)
And now the truth comes out. "It's not the same." "Excuse me?" I say to him. "You are not the same. You were not born here.." "I see," I say to him. "and what is the significance of this?" I ask him. "You are a foreigner. You will never be the same." I look at his face, he is proud of what he has just said.
"Tell me," I ask him, "Where were your grandparents from, Italy or Spain?" His eyes open alertly at the question. "How do you think they would feel if they heard you say what you just said to me?" I pick up my packages and walk away. As I walk down the stairs I hear him call to me "Hablas muy bien in Castellano, Señora, disculpame." (You speak very well in Spanish, I am sorry.)