From time to time I get email from people who want to live here. They want me to spend hours telling them how much butter costs, drycleaning, schools, etc. Eventually the conversation if it ever gets that far, comes to talk about getting a visa.
What I find so incredible is how Americans always think that simply by being American with money in the bank should qualify them for getting a visa in a foreign country. You almost wonder if they think in immigration that there are separate lines and windows, separate immigration laws for Americans.
Can you imagine? Going to immigration in a foreign country, seeing all the people from other countries in a line forever, but a special window - hey why not a special room desginated for Americans. The agents would all speak English and be well educated. They would offer you a cup of coffee and make sure you are comfortable.
Can you imagine? You are seated before the immigration agent and he or she pull out a form and then says to you "Sorry, the paperwork is just a formality. We need it to process your visa." Then after a nice chat they tell you "You should have your visa in a week. Thanks for coming down. We love having Americans apply for visas in our country. You are all so clean and have money."
I must admit, at first I thought the visa process would be easier than it was. My friends here all assured me that it would be easy to get a visa. Well intentioned I am sure, but there was no reality to their statements. Most Argentines have no idea that there is a visa process. Americans will tell you that is because no one wants to move there..not like the U.S.
When I went online to research the process, I found that getting a visa in Argentina was just as difficult as the U.S. The laws were basically the same. Imagine, that! Then for fun (I have a warped sense of fun) I checked out other countries as well...England, France, Spain. The only country I found that was easier was Australia. I guess they figure if you can get there you deserve something for your effort.
It seemed getting a permanent resident visa here was not easy - almost impossible. The majority of people who live here, do so illegaly. It means that every 3 months they leave the country to get a new immigration stamp. A real pain in the butt. It was the same in the U.S. until 9/11.
An Argentine friend of mine could not believe that it would be so difficult to receive a visa. He called the office of the minister of the interior to find out. He was surprised that although the Argentine consitituion is open to everyone, the immigration department says no. Gotta follow the rules. Imagine...rules in a third world country..what is this world comming to?
I was lucky, the government offered an amnesty program around the time I wanted to apply for a visa. I was able to qualify and get my visa. There were people from all over - mostly Chinese, Korean, and Peruvian. There was no special treatement for Americans. We got the same forms and the same treatment.
It isn't only with visas that Americans feel they deserve special treatment. They cannot believe that things are not in English. One friend was amazed that he could not find travel books in the bookstores in English. I was amazed that he was amazed.
I told him he was in Argentina, the national language is Spanish. His opinion was if the country wanted more tourism they needed to have books in English. I asked him if he found books on travel in the U.S. in Spanish or for that matter any other language in Barnes and Noble or Borders. He and another friend were sure there were. Uh huh, right. As a devout browser of travel books, I have yet to see any foreign language travel books at either store.
Others come here to live and constantly are amazed that doctors, dentists, and other healthcare facilities do not have people standing by to translate. In the U.S. we have a huge population of people from Spanish speaking countries. Here, in Argentina, the amount of people who do not speak Spanish is miniscule in comparison.
Beyond that group marketing like they do in the U.S. is essentially non-existent here. Shopping is a necessity here, in the U.S. it is an addiction. The thirst for bigger, better, and more, does not exist here. It only feeds into the same attitude.
It is funny, before I moved here, I was aware that Americans in general have a reputation for being arrogant. They think they are the best, they think that everyone wants to be like them. I could never understand it. I wasn't that way, and neither was anyone I knew. Must be those people that live in Iowa..you know the ones that vote Republican....
Now that I live here, I completely understand how we get that reputation. Even the more sensitive of Americans that I know, cannot understand why it just is not like where they came from. Not literally of course. I am constantly barraged with well intentioned but illplaced recommendations. I wish I could have a peso for every sentence that starts out "You know what they ought to do here..." or "If they would just..." When cultural faux pas are made, and I explain to the person what they have done, it is usually followed more often than not with "Well I am just a dumb tourist, so it is OK" or "Well I don't care, they know I am a tourist..." and sometimes with the arrogant "I don't care, I think it is stupid."
Are these the same people who in the U.S. say things like "Why don't they learn to speak English if they are going to live here..." or "Don't they realize they live in the U.S.?" Cultural sensitivity works both ways....imagine that...