I am on the bus. The couple standing next to me appear to be tourists. American tourists. They don't understand why they got 10 centavos back. You would think it was one of the great mysteries of life. It is only 10 centavos, less than 1 cent. Finally I tell them "The fare is only 90 centavos, not 1 peso." Their heads snap around towards me and the husband says to me "You speak very good English." I laugh, "I am American." I say to him.
This starts a conversation. "We are too." He says to me. "From New York. We love Buenos Aires. We come here every year." he says to me. I smile back. "I am learning Spanish, but it is hard. How long have you been here?" he asks me. "4 years." I tell him. "You have an accent to your English." he says. I tell him that I am a mimic. That I pick up accents easily. When I speak more Spanish than English, my English becomes accented.
"Where are you from?" he asks. "I used to live in California, Oakland - San Francisco." I tell him. "San Francisco?" he says. "You left San Francisco? That is one of the most beautiful places in the world." He is incredulous. "No one leaves San Francisco. Our daughter went there on vacation and never came back." he tells me shaking his head. "Yes" I agree with him, "The Bay Area in my opinion is the best place to live in the U.S., but I like it here better."
"Why did you come here?" he asks. "Because I love it here. I love the culture. I love the people. The lifestyle is more suited to me." I tell him. "I would move here in a minute." the husband says. The wife is looking out the window. "But my wife won't do it." He looks over at her. "We live very well when we come here." I don't have any comments. I don't want to go where I know this conversation will go.
"We are retired." he tells me. "With our retirement, we can live very well here. We can do things here we can't do in NY. You know how it is." he smiles at me. I smile back, "You have American dollars," I say to him, "I live in pesos. For me, for us, it is very hard, the inflation is terrible." He doesn't get it.
He continues. "Last night we went to a restaurant. We had a great dinner. It was spectacular. Really great. Then the check came." he laughs. "You couldn't get a bowl of soup for what that dinner costs in NY." "Yes" I tell him "and I can't take taxis anymore." "Yeah, sure." he says and continues, "life is good for us here." "Yes, because you are living with your dollars." I remind him. "For Argentines and for people like me who live here, it is not so easy. Inflation is terrible. For us it is difficult."
He doesn't care. He continues "Life is difficult everywhere. The US is a mess. Why shouldn't we come somewhere where we can live better?" he says to me. "The Europeans are doing it. They come to the US on shopping trips and then go home." I want to tell him it is an attitude more than anything, but I don't think he will understand this. Europeans come here too. But they don't see Argentina as a giant Wal-Mart. I am not sure what to say to him, but I can see he is getting angry. I am a little embarrassed. I hope that there are few Argentines on this bus who understand English.
"You need to understand" he says to me, "the US is a mess. It is expensive. People are rude. No one cares about anything but their selves. We come here and people are nice to us." "Sure I tell him. Because you are spending money. You don't live here. Things are always different when you live somewhere. You don't speak the language and you are here on vacation. So you should just enjoy yourself." I am hoping this shuts him up. I see that we are at Callao and I am going to get off at Rodriguez Peña. I stand up. "Enjoy your vacation." I say to him. He is frowning. As I get off I say to his wife, "Don't take all your husband's money." She laughs.
I get off the bus and cross the street. I come to the corner and wait for the light to change. There are two Americans in front of me talking loudly as Americans tend to do. Why do we do that? I always have to ask my American guests to lower their voices. Funny what are cultural norms. When the light changes the young american woman crumbles a piece of paper and lets it fall to the sidewalk as she crosses the street.
The Argentine woman next to me comments "Did you see that? It is bad enough Argentines are disrepectful of their city, but they are not even from here!" I say to her sadly "They are from my country, the US." She looks at me "¡Sos extranjera!" "Si, pero vivo aca." I tell her. She smiles at me and pats me on the arm. She walks on. I am behind the young American woman and her Young American male friend.
I listen to their conversation. They are talking about partying. That is probably their main reason for being here. They can party all night and day. She is complaining because they went to an open air concert and there was no beer. "How stupid of the Argentines. Who has a concert with no beer?" she complains. I want to tell her with her body, beer is one of the last things she needs, but of course I say nothing. I also want to tell her, maybe the Argentines A) don't think of booze going with concerts (hasn't she noticed this is not a bar culture?) B) maybe they know what happens when people drink too much in a crowd.
She continues to tell her friend that they called another friend who hid two joints in her bra and poured whiskey into her contact lense bottle. They were really proud of being able to get smashed and avoid the security in the concert. "I need to party when I go to a concert like that. They just don't get it here." she tells her friend. No she doesn't get it along with her shorts and chubby cellulite legs.
I have a doctor's appointment, but I am early. I decide to shop a little bit. I go into a store, sort of a Victoria Secret type of store. I ask to see something. The clerk pulls out some items. They are beautiful. I look at them. I ask her how much. "$40 pesos." she tells me. This is almost a joke. I do not want to offend her, so I say to her, "Son lindas, pero tienes algo mas económica?" I know that I can buy what I want for around 16 pesos. She looks at her shelves and pulls down a box and presents me with another item. I inspect it. "¿Cuanto sale?" I ask. "$34 pesos." she tells me.
This is very rediculous. "Señora, son lindas, pero son caras, no tienes algos cerca de 16?" I ask her. She stares at me like I just asked her if there is pizza in Buenos Aires. I continue. "Vivo aca, como vos, en pesos.° She smiles, now she gets it, "Ahhh, hablas muy bien castellano, pero pense que estas paseando." (You speak very good Spanish, but I thought that you are on vacation)With that, she turned around and pulled down 3 boxes.