Musings: You know You Are Fluent When....

image from does it mean to be fluent in another language?  Many people think it means to be able to speak as well in your second language as you do in your first.  Maybe.  I consider myself fluent in Spanish.  Is my grammar perfect?  No. I read in Spanish at the same level as I do in English (novels by Perez-Reverte, Maria Dueñas, Julia Navarro as well as newspapers- La Nacion, Clarin, Perfil) I go to movies that are in Spanish, the doctor, lawyer, government offices.  My students on Facebook tell me that my written Spanish has greatly improved over the years.  I am contemplating writing this blog in both languages. Eeek.

There are those who confuse pronunciation with intonation. (You can't possibly be fluent, you don't sound like a -take a pick-Argentine, Mexican, Chilean..etc.)  It is one thing to pronounce the words properly, and another to have the cadence, pitch, and tone of a second language.  The first is learned.  The second is not as easily acquired.  Children, actors, and some mimics are able to achieve good intonation, others, myself included still have the tone of their native language. More often than not, people think I was raised in a family where Spanish was spoken.

Not all second language speakers understand the concept of fluency.  I used to be one.  Before I moved to Argentina, I thought that I was fluent in Spanish.  It was a whole different ballgame to have to converse with a doctor, ask for things in a store, and go to government offices.  It was not the same as ordering food in a restaurant, asking where the bathroom was, and carrying on a non-intelligible conversation with a kindly soul who just nodded and smiled at you, or a milonguero with alternative motives.  I found myself frustrated, and many times blaming the Argentines and not looking at myself.  After all, I was fluent.  Right.

Fourteen years later I look back at those times and wonder how anyone ever understood me. My Spanish regardless of what I thought at the time was horrible. Baño-Cerveza Spanish. (Where's the bathroom, I want another beer)   Once I realized the issue was mine, I did something about it.  I don't like other people talking for me.  I could not live in a country where I could not communicate and become a part of the society. There are lots of people like me, who learned their second language out of necessity and because they wanted to, and then there are others who are happy to plod along in their first language and mangle the second.

 I now find myself in the crossfire of second language English speakers and second language Spanish speakers who do not speak their second language well at all, but will fight to the death to prove they do (or tongue in cheek don't.)

The second language Spanish speakers always have this excuse: "I speak Castellano, you speak Español." The English second language speakers proudly announce "You speak American English, and I speak British English."  OK, let's shout your language ignorance even louder by using these excuses.  What do these idiots think?  That as an American I cannot understand people from England?  What about people from Australia?  New Zealand? Canada?  Do they speak a different English?  Do they think people from Chile, Colombia, and Mexico do not understand each other? I am always amazed when someone throws this at me.

I cannot tell you how many times someone who has no clue how to speak Spanish (they speak baño-cerveza Spanish) is indignant because they are not understood.  Recently in the hotel I was staying in, in Casablanca, the man in reception asked me how to say ice cream in Spanish. (He was telling me in Arabic)  I told him "helado" (ā-lah-doh)A few seats away, a fellow piped up with "No, that's not correct. It's HELado."  This was not a native speaker of Spanish.  He was an English speaker. "You don't pronounce the H." I told him.  The response? "I speak Castellano, you speak Español."  Can we have an eye roll please?  

What is the difference between Castellano and Español?  Nothing.  The word Castellano comes from the province of Castile in Spain.  Castellano is the original name given to Spanish.  In the early days, each of the provinces had its own language. (Catalan, Basque, Aragonese, Galician to name a few)  Through wars and marriage came a unified Spain and Castellano became the default language.  There you have it.  In some countries it is referred to as Castellano and others as Spanish.  Native speakers never say "Hablo Castellano, tu hablas Español" (I speak Castellano and you speak Spanish) only the ignorant who do not really speak the language use that as their defense.  

That is not to say that accents are not different or even words and slang.  This is true not only by country, but by regions as well. (New York vs Texas, Cordoba vs Madrid, Manchester vs London) When I travel the Spanish speaking world they immediately know that I come from Argentina by my pronunciation and use of words.  I was in Spain recently and not once did anyone say to me "Oh you speak Español, we speak Castellano here."  More often than not they would say "Oh you are from Argentina"  Was there a difference?  Yes, the accents in different parts of Spain and words. They say zumo for juice and everywhere else it is usually jugo, they say bocadillo for sandwich and depending on your country it could be torta (Mexico) sánguche, or even just sandwich. Regional differences not a different language.

The same sort of ignorance is found with the second language speakers of English, not just here in Argentina, but anywhere.  I have had second language English speakers challenge my corrections regardless of where they are from.  Once a student used an English word incorrectly and when I corrected him, he told me that he did not agree with my correction.  He was adamant. I showed him the actual definition in and he insisted it was wrong and that he was right.  "That is an American dictionary and you are American."  OK, so I went to the Macmillan dictionary to show him that the word means the same regardless of the accent or pronunciation.  The issue was a "false friend".  He was confusing a Spanish word that was written similar to be the same in English. (Just like people think embarazada is embarrassed and not aware it is pregnant or dirección is direction and it is actually address in Spanish) 

When  I was in Miami last month an American man who spoke no Spanish, informed me that the best Spanish was spoken in Spain. "I see," I said to him, "So does that mean the best English is spoken in England?"  An educated person regardless of where they are from or what language they speak..speak a language well whether it be the king's English or Spanish.

Musings: Time Marches On

In my last blog post I mentioned that I like the self checkouts.  The ones in Target and Walmart.  I received several comments about how "bad" they are because they take jobs away from people. Let's talk about this.

Jobs and technology have been a topic of conversation for the last 10 years or longer.  I have consistently maintained that jobs are being lost (and replaced) by a technological revolution.  Just like the industrial revolution replaced repetitive tasks with machines the same is now happening with robots, artificial intelligence, and yes..automated checkouts. 

The industrial revolution allowed machines to make hundreds of an item that before was made one at a time.  Those same people who made things one at a time from start to finish...were displaced by machines.  No amount of complaining stopped the advent of the machines.

When I was in Europe, Portugal, this concept really hit me.  Portugal is known for its gorgeous and intricate tile work.  You see it in palaces, churches, walls, and many other historical buildings.  In Sintra, outside of Lisbon there is a palace that was once a church and monastery.  The Pena Palace was transformed between 1842-1854 by King Ferdinand.

The palace is gorgeous, the view spectacular.  What was interesting was along with information about the rooms, was how the palace was transformed.  There were several rooms that had floor to ceiling tile work that was intricate and beautiful.  In those days, there was a master tile architect.  This person would design the tiles to be placed in each room.  He would create the intricate designs as well as where they would go.  Next in line were managers or foremen who would oversee the drawing of the design onto the tiles. The craftsmen would paint the design on the tiles and then they would be fired.  The foremen would make sure that all the tiles were uniform, the colors were the same, that they still fit together and were the right colors.  How many times did they have to be redone?  Next the tiles would be laid.  

When you are inside this huge palace you realize that this took many people to create these masterpieces, perhaps thousands. This craftsmanship no longer exists. It's been replaced.  First by automation, and now by technology.  What a thousand people once did, is replaced by a 3D printer and a few people.  I have bathroom tiles that look like a wood floor.  Designs created by a 3D printer.

What to do about it?  I remember years ago I read an article about how an outplaced autoworker who retrained.  His job along with others were downsized and eventually replaced by robots.  The robots do the painting and welding - repetitive tasks.  To date they cannot replace human workers that do the finished and more detailed work...yet. "So yes, there are many manufacturing jobs that have been eliminated, and many more that will be eliminated, by our accelerating advances in robot technology."

This man took advantage of job retraining and ended up working in the chemical industry and was hired by Dow Chemical. He loves his new work.  Gerald Crouterfield had worked in the automotive industry 19 years.  “At first, when I lost my job, I was upset because I had worked in the auto industry for 19 years, but when I got into the training I saw a brighter future,” Crouterfield said.

Obviously for every Gerald Crouterfield there are people who refuse to be retrained or cannot be retrained.  There are the coal miners who truly believe that coal will make a comeback.  Workers are offered federal job retraining programs but in areas like Pennsylvania less than 20% have signed up.  

3D printers, self driving cars, trucks, and buses, robot caregivers all will eventually replace employed people. There will come a day, when self checkouts are the norm.  Jobs will change.  Someone has to build those checkouts, maintain them, load the pricing, and make sure that everything gets charged properly.  While 6 self checkouts take a job from 6 checkers, other jobs are created in the process. Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing says, “Manufacturing is going through an evolution that people call 'Industry 4.0,' and that’s going to take a different set of skills and training.”   I agree.  This applies to work in general, not just manufacturing.  The way we work is changing.

Time marches on. Yet people only seem to be talking about the self checkouts.  A small example of a much larger issue.

Hanging in the USA: My Big Mouth

I once had a boyfriend who told me that one day my big mouth was going to get me in trouble.  Well, that was more than 20 years ago, and I am still here.  I stand up for myself, and sometimes I defend others who can't or won't.  

Americans as a rule, do not like confrontation.  They prefer to intellectualize or rationalize or ignore. When I had my own business, I learned that I had to stand up for myself, or clients (especially male clients) would try to walk all over me.  Argentines, on the other hand make confrontation a national sport along with complaining. I learned real fast the only way to deal with a rock head was to have a harder head.

I have been traveling for over a month.  Spain, Portugal, Morocco, and now the USA.  Yesterday I went to Walmart.  I love the self checkouts, almost no one uses them, so there is never a line, even when there is you don't have to wait long.  There was a family ahead of me and two ladies behind me.  One woman was Latina, the other was black.

When the family moved to go to a register, out of nowhere came Father Time from Hell.  He cut in front of me as though there was no line. "Hey!" I said to him, "There's a line."  This guy with his frizzy long white hair and unkempt beard with a huge potbelly turns to me,"You're not in line, I am first."  He says it with a violent smirking twist that is supposed to have little blondie me, shaking. Not me. 

I turn to see the reaction of the ladies behind me.  They smile at me, they know we were here first, but they are afraid of the potbelly pig.  "Do you feel like a man?"  I ask him.  "Does it make you feel good to cut in front of 3 women?"  He is clearly shocked.  He never expected anyone to call his shit.  Especially women.

He tries again, "You don't know what you are talking about.  There was no one here.  I was first."  I suppose I should just leave it alone, but the truth is..I can't.  I can't stand these kind of people.  So I do what I do best.  I humiliate him with humor.

"Oh,wait,"  I say.  "You should be first.  Sorry."  He gets that macho idiot smirk on his face that he won.  "You are obviously pregnant. Since you are pregnant you should be first."  I turn back to see the response.  People are snickering.  Father Time from Hell is horrified.  Not only did blondie not back down she humiliated him. and worse people are laughing at him.

He sputters "You have blue in your hair, your brains are spilling out." I laugh at him. "Blue hair is a sign of great intelligence."  The people behind were laughing.  Game over. 

Living In Argentina: Why Are You Here

This is not going to be a post about my personal trials and tribulations in Argentina.  It is a translation of something I posted to Facebook in Spanish.  Thing is, in Spanish it was very funny, I am not sure about the translation in English.  It seems that these days I am funnier in Spanish that I am in English. Imagine that.

I am sick and tired of people who come to Argentina ; Buenos Aires, and do nothing but complain.  There is always the comparison of here, to where they came from.  I get it,  Your home country is your reference point.  However, if you are traveling, whether it be for a short time or extended time,the idea should be to broaden your horizons, to learn about a new culture, to experience the people, the food, the music. I know there are some people who travel to check a box to say they have been there.  Maybe they have different criteria.  People, can you please stop saying that pizza, ice cream, shampoo, toilet paper and whatever other stupid insignificant thing is better in the USA, Europe, Asia, Australia, or wherever it is you come from.  I don't want to hear it, and neither does anyone else.

Then there are the people who move. People have many reasons for changing their country.  Some are economic, people who think they will have more opportunities if they change their country. Others leave because of political or natural disaster like in Venezuela, Haiti, or Syria. Here you also find people who fell in love when they were on vacation, so they are here for a person. Others because they are digital nomads or retired and they believe that their money will go further. 

Sometimes you don't have a choice, but when you do, you should choose somewhere to live that you like. When you change your country, you must change your mindset.  You should forget everything you knew, in order to accept your new culture. If you don't and you are always comparing, or looking for things that you had or used from your home country, guaranteed, you will be miserable. Unfortunately these people make everyone around them miserable.  It's a good thing misery loves company because these people will hopefully find each other.

My neighbor is a perfect example of this.  He is in Argentina because his girlfriend is Argentine.  She is lovely.  He is a jerk. Until yesterday I bit my tongue and did not say much to his constant tirades of how Europe is better than Argentina. (It takes great effort for me to keep my mouth shut) Dude have you heard about Brexit? The Yellow Vests in France? Italy on the verge of a financial meltdown? 

Yesterday we crossed paths and he went into one of his long speeches lambasting Argentina. He was angry about rising prices.  (He actually lives in Euros not pesos, so he should not be complaining as much as those of us who have to live in pesos)  We have over 40% inflation in Argentina. You need to be prudent and look for good prices.  They exist, but you have to find them. He was complaining about the prices in Coto. (Coto is one of the large supermarket chains here)

"No, no, no," I told him. "Coto is super expensive. You should shop in the smaller stores." He glared at me.  "On Calasanz there is small store that sells cheeses, ham, and other cold cuts for cheap prices." Instead of listening to me he continues ranting how Coto raised the price of pategras 4 times in 2 months. "This place where I shop is the cheapest in the barrio. This guy has actually lowered his prices on some items."  Instead of listening to me he continues ranting about Coto and his fucking pategras cheese.

"Look," I say to him, You should buy your cheese and ham from the guy on Calasanz near Rivadavia. "Is it Chinese?" he asks?  "I won't shop where the Chinese are owners, they are dirty."  I ignore this and continue on. "Supermercado Dia is good for things like yogurt, milk, queso blanco (it is kind of like sour cream) "Oh Dia, I don't like that place.  They are horrible in Spain. People in Spain hate them." he says.  "BTW", I tell him, "The Chinos (it is what people here call the supermarkets owned by the Chinese) are the best place to buy cleaning and paper products."  "No, no, no.  didn't you listen to me?  I won't shop in a Chino.  I don't want to support people who are trying to take over the world.  They are buying everyone and everything." 

"In Spain and Europe people shop in the big chains.  They are the best.  They have the lowest prices." I respond to him, "Not here. The big chains are the most expensive. Everyone knows that.  The few times I go to Coto or Disco I am shocked at how expensive they are." "Well not in Europe." he responds. "In Europe they are the best places to shop, and the cheapest."

That's is, I have lost my patience. "Listen you shithead, you are not in Europe,  you are in Argentina.  In Argentina the big chains are the most expensive, but you can shop there and complain." The idiot completely ignores me to continue complaining.  I want to slap him. Now he starts on the tourism. "There is no tourism in Argentina, Barcelona has more tourists than all of Argentina." "Fair enough" I start to explain to him that before the current government there was the problem with exchanging money, there were few planes. These things have been corrected and tourism is now up."  "It will never be as good as Spain.  No one wants to come to Argentina."

That does it. "You are such an asshole, why are you here? Why don't you just go back to Europe if it is so horrible here?" He is shocked. "You called me an asshole?" he asks.  "Yes I did.  Get the fuck out of here. No one wants to hear your constant complaining. If  Europe or Spain or wherever is better, then go. Good Riddance."  Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

*Original Post in Spanish

Estoy harto de gente viene para pasear, vivir y siempre todo esta mejor en EEUU o Europa o cualquier país. Hoy mi vecino (de Europa) estaba quejando sobre los precios en Coto. Explique es mejor a comprar quesos en la quesería sobre Calasanz, los lácteos en Dia, los productos de limpieza en el chino..y no. Me dijo no va a Dia, porque odio en España. No va al Chino porque ellos están comprando el mundo. Me informó como en España las cadenas grandes son mejores a comprar. Yo explique acá no, son mas caro. Siguió peleando como mejor es España hasta yo como Argentina adaptada dije "Andate de España boludo, porque acá no es España, es Argentina. Si no te gusta y todo esta mejor en España, andate." Que se yo...


Living in Argentina: Not Dead Yet

Social media is amazing.  I recently learned that I moved back to the USA and that I am dead. I wonder what I died of?  I find it humorous that people still find me newsworthy.  I had my 15 minutes of fame, and now I have crawled back into my hole...more or less. I can tell you unequivocally, the rumors of my demise are false (the dog and cat are not writing this post) and I have not moved back to the USA.  I only go back once a year to get my Old Navy wardrobe, Costco vitamins, and my contact lenses.  Otherwise, I would most likely never go back, although never is a strong word.

Argentines never fail to mention my American intonation when I speak (intonation is not the same as pronunciation), however, I feel more Argentine than American. Most bicultural people will tell you that it is like having a split personality.  You are but you aren't.  You don't really fit in anywhere. You love your adopted country, but it is not always easy.

Fifteen  years is a long time to live somewhere, anywhere.  You adapt. I now think eating dinner at 9:00 or 10:00 pm is normal.  I cannot eat dinner at 6:00 pm or 7pm.  That is merienda here. (Some kind of snack)  Things not being straightforward are now normal to me.  I now am an ace at figuring out the subtext. My favorite are the men who are bigger than me, look at me menacingly, and try to convince me I am wrong.  People like building administrators.  They don't scare me.  I just stretch and look up at them and give them shit right back.  Which shocks them.  I have the 3 strikes; woman, foreigner, blond.  

I learned how to get what I need or want.  You need "friends," and you need the Internet... and Facebook. (ugh)  I could never live without the Internet.  The Internet is my friend.  As a former business analyst it is easy to figure out what is fact and what is fiction.  Facebook needs no explanation.

So what exactly am I doing with my life?  I am teaching China..on a virtual platform.  I love it. I have learned so much about Chinese culture.  I work for a great company.  What I don't like is getting up at 5:00 AM to start teaching at 6:00 AM.  I have never been a morning person so it has been a cultural revolution to be peppy and bright eyed so early in the morning.

I am traveling.  Last year this time I was in India.  That was a wonderful experience.  I had no culture shock.  After living here, nothing really bothers me.  I can imagine coming from the 1st world it could shocking.  I went to the USA, Iguazu Falls, and of course Chile.  Next year 2019, I will be traveling quite a bit.  It's either now or never.  Never is not an option.

Do I still dance?  Yes, but not so much.  Maybe once a week.  Sometimes twice.  Tango is not the same as it was when I first came here 18 years ago.  Most of the milongueros and milongueras have died.  The level of dance has suffered.  People either shuffle around the dance floor, or they do steps.  I try to go to places where there are few or no tourists.  Sorry guys.  I know this is your grown up Disneyland dance vacation, but I can't bear to listen to:

  1. You are the best dancer in  your community and there is no one  else for you to dance with (I would hate to see how they dance in your community ...if you are the best)
  2. How you bought 400 new pair of shoes 
  3. Who you know, like I care, I live here.
  4. How you are being way overcharged to take lessons from name brands who don't know how to teach
  5. What countries you go to to dance (You know, I stopped taking my shoes when I travel, that is yet another blog post)
  6. My absolute favorite - how you know more about what it is like to live here and dance here, than people who actually live here and dance here.
  7. There is no good food here...wrong wrong wrong

Now that I have nothing to sell, I can be my normal snarky self.  Maybe you don't like it. That's OK.  You can call me names,  I don't care.  Gigi (AKA Louise) understands.  She is my partner in snark. I am back, and not from the dead. From the bowels of Caballito where I reside with JerryBrown and Maxi. Hasta la próxima...



On The Road Again: Hello India

If you follow me on Facebook, then you know that I have been in India for 5 days. I have another 10 days to go. I like to travel alone and independently. Normally I don't make many plans, I just sort of wing it. My friends who have been to India, told me that India, for a woman alone, is not a good idea. I am not a tour person,and in a place like India, I really did not want to deal with other people´s culture shock. I checked out lots of options before choosing Namaste India Tours. They arranged the hotels, the car, and driver. They also provided an agenda. I pay for monument entrances, any guides, food.  This is close to perfect for me, although I feel a little bit like "Driving Miss Daisy."

India is not an easy place to move around in, at least this part. There are so many men in India, sometimes you don´t even see women. Women do not go out alone. It is uncomfortable at times so I am glad to have the driver and the car. I am usually mobbed inside the monuments, I just talk Spanish to them and eventually they go away. The funny thing is that everyone wants a picture with me. I think that I have had my foto taken over 100 times. I am probably trending on Instagram India. However, don't let any of this keep you from coming here. I love India. It is a beautiful country and I am happy to be here.

I have met so many kind and lovely people. In the airport in Doha I met several people, all who were eager to talk to me. Everyone on my plane was Indian, and being blond I really stuck out. People were very friendly,all wanting to give me advice. An ode to things to come.

On Facebook, friends keep asking me if I am suffering from culture shock. Absolutely not. Perhaps it is all the years in Argentina. It could also be my extensive travels through Mexico. Or other parts of Latin America.Yes, there is poverty in India, but Argentina has had as much as 42% poverty while I have lived there. Yes, at times it is not clean, but unlike Argentina, all the toilets have flushed without having to put the toilet paper in a basket. At one road stop, the toilet was close to being a hole in the ground, but I experienced that, years ago in Mexico. So no big issues here, although I am sure for others, this place might be a horror story

I love the food. I have had some amazing hot and spicy dishes. My driver thinks I am crazy. He had to give me his lunch one day, because it was too spicy for him. Being a celiac is hard here. I have pretty much given up trying to explain. The poor vili in my intestines probably miss Argentina. I am usually very strict with my diet, but here there are not many options. I have not gotten sick either. I am eating in restaurants and dabas,

So what stands out so far? In Delhi, I arrived very early in the morning. The hotel offered me a temporary room to shower, relax, and change my clothes. After 27 hours of travel, you can only imagine how that felt. In all the years I have been traveling, I have never had a hotel do this. That and they were insistent that I do it, and also made sure that I understood that this was just a transitory room, that my room would be much nicer.

On my second day, we stopped so I could see a temple on the way to Mandawa. It had rained, and you cannot wear shoes in the temples. It was cold and icky. Out of nowhere a beautiful woman came up to me with her family and asked to take my picture with them. Her dress was magnificent. A beautiful purple, gold, and green, with a matching scarf. She draped the scarf around my neck, and insisted that I keep it. I was very touched. I tried to give it back, but even her husband insisted I keep it. 10 pictures and 1 scarf later, I was on my way.

I love the old and graceful buildings and temples. Many are 400 years or more. Mandawa is a city with many heritage properties. I had a local guide take me through several of the Havelis. He was smoking beedees, the Indian clove cigarette. He was surprised that I knew what they were and offered me one. I used to smoke beedies when I was a teenager. I don't even remember where we bought them, but I used to love them. In those days I smoked cigarettes. I smoked a little bit of the beedee. It wasn't like when I was 17, but is anything? I am going to buy some, so when Gigi and Jane come back to Buenos Aires, we can smoke them!

After Mandawa I went to Bikaner.  A hotel with no hot water my first day.  They changed my room.  My 20 something Bollywood wannabe bell boy brought my luggage to the new room, and then showed me how there was hot water.  As the water was streaming out of the faucet, he turned to me and said "It's hot like you!" Queee??? I laughed it off and then he asked me how old I was.  India is definitely not the land of the political correct.  I think he expected me to say something like 40, but I told him my real age, which elicited "You are like my grandm0ther...but my grandmother is not like you." OK. Rolling eyes. Youth, Bollywood or not.






Living In Argentina: Catcalls and Piropos

In light of the sexual harassment scandals, I am weighing in with my dos centavos.  I don't think that there is a woman who has not suffered sexual harassment.  It comes in many forms; from the co-worker or boss propositioning you, the date who makes it easier to say yes than no, and sexual innuendos that are not welcome.

The first time someone catcalled me I was 17 years old and walking home from school.  I had to walk by a construction site to get home.  It had been raining and the area was muddy.  I remember one of the men calling out to me "Hey, do you want to come play in the mud with me?"  I was speechless.  I put my head down and continued walking.  I felt embarrassed and maybe a little scared.

7 years later on a trip to New York with a boyfriend it happened again.  Another construction worker.  I was walking to get to the Guggenheim.  In those days I was a super fashionista.  I remember I was wearing my red Fiorucci jeans and cowboy boots.  Funny the things we remember. When I walked by the construction site a guy yelled "Hey!  You got a great ass."  I remembered looking around.  He could not be possibly talking to me.  I have had body dysmorphia since I was born.  "Yeah, you!" he called.  I remember smiling and waving.  Obviously it made such an impact that I still remember it 40 years later.

Flash forward.  The first time I went to Argentina, I was overwhelmed.  Men had no problems telling me that I was "hermosa" or that I had beautiful eyes, coming from politically correct California, I was tongue tied.  This did not happen.  Men did not dare do this.  

Then on my third trip, I experienced my first of many "piropos."  I was walking out of the apartment building where I was staying.  A man stopped in front of me and clutched his chest. "I'm dying." he said. I was alarmed. I asked him if he was OK.  "I'm dying, I know that I am dying because an angel with golden hair just dropped out of the sky." he chanted, then laughed, and continued walking, leaving me perplexed.  

The piropo has its beginning in Spain, 17th, 18th century Spain. (Some say Italy too, but I am not going to write the eternal history in this blog post.) It started with the aristocracy.  In those days a man could not go up to a woman and say "Hey, you're hot, let's go get a drink."  People needed to be introduced. When a man wanted to show his interest in a woman, he would give her a piropo which was a piece of poetry, with the intention of capturing her interest.  Along with that came the laying down of the cloak for a lady to cross the street so as not to muddy her dainty little feet, and the serenading with music.  After all this gallantry, he might be able to find out her name, in order to speak with her father.  These customs carried themselves to Latin America where the Spanish were settling (and trying to conquer).  The custom eventually spread to all the classes.

When I first moved to Argentina, I was unnerved by men constantly telling me that I was beautiful.   It is kind of a lift to your day to hear "rubia hermosa" (beautiful blond ) "lindos ojos", (pretty eyes) and even the ones by the older gents who spun poetry.  Seriously at my age, it feels good. Most of the time I don't even notice, I have gotten so used to it.

Then in 2010 I went back to the Bay Area for a visit.  That was when I realized I had been Argentinizied.  For many reasons.  I had been so used to the men in our milongas here commenting on my hair, or my dress or my perfume, that it seemed weird not to have someone say anything to me.  Very boring and safe small talk. I mentioned it to a few of my women friends, and the reaction was very strong. "Why do you need to be validated by a man?" was the most common response.  Validation had absolutely nothing to do with it.  Anyone who knows me, knows that I am very independent and do not need anyone or anything to validate me.  It is nice to hear that you look good, smell good, and are attractive.  Funny thing, those are the same women who literally throw themselves at the Argentine men in our milongas when they are here in Buenos Aires.

However, not all piropos are nice.  There are the ones where they talk about your body parts and what they want to do them.  Those are gross.  Disgusting. Sick.  Those are catcalls. One day when I was walking to the subte, I passed a group of construction workers.  They began to say disgusting things .  I had a Relato Salvaje moment.  I stomped over to them and got in their faces, "Do you have a sister?  Do you have a mother?  Do you have a daughter?"  I demanded.  "How would you like some guy to talk to them, like you just talked to me?"  Not a word.  They said nothing.  The next day when I walked by, none of them said anything.  I scared the hell out of them, I suppose.

 An Argentine woman who received one of the disgusting catcalls about her body, went to the police station and made a complaint.  There is now a law about sexual harassment by catcalls.  (Acoso Callejero)  This, is a good thing.   No one should be subjected to the disgusting comments by men  who have no concept of what is offensive.  Machismo is alive and well in Argentina.

I often see in the expat forums in Facebook how many of the foreign women are chagrined by the piropos on the street.  They hate them.  It doesn't matter if they are the spun poetry, or the random compliment, they hate them.  

There is a difference between an ugly cat call, and the poetry of a piropo.  The sad thing is the poetica piropo is disappearing.  The milonga is the exception, where men still practice this art, but on the street, it is unusual to hear this form of poetry in motion.


Dating With Deby: Strike3, You Are Out

It has been a week since I had my last date with the architect.  I know that I am supposed to call him, if I want to go out again.  I am not sure what to do.  I don't like all the conversation about the ex and the kids.  Argentines have this propensity to talk about the past.  Men always want to know about my exes.  I prefer not to talk about the past when you are trying to move forward.

My friends tell me that I should give him another chance.  Nice looking, educated, career oriented, etc.  OK, I send him a Whats App.  He asks if he can call.  Sure.   "I thought that I would never hear from you again." he says.  Well you almost didn't, I think to myself.  After some light bantering, he invites me to dinner.  He mentions Thursday.  I ask him "You aren't allowed out on Saturdays?"  "You want to go out with me on Saturday?" he asks.  I tell him "Yes, and you pick the place."  He tells me that he will call on Thursday to confirm.

Thursday comes and he confirms that he will pick me up at 8:30 and that we are going to a Russian restaurant.  He gives me the name so I can check it out.  I notice on their website that their menu is not  really good for celiacs.  I send him a message.  He tells me that he called the restaurant and they said they have food for celiacs.  Vamos a ver.

Saturday.  Of course comes the  call at 7:45 that he will be late. Obvio.  At almost 9 he comes to get me.  Small talk on the way to the restaurant.  It is a cute place.  Small but cute.  The waiter is anything but small and cute.  I notice nothing is marked for celiacs on the menu.  He offers me 1 dish that is made with meat.  I don't eat meat. The waiter then bellows that I am difficult.  I am a celiac and I don't eat meat.  He doesn't shut up. In my best Grandma Brown voice I tell him to lower his voice. That shuts him up.  Nobody messes with Grandma Brown.

The architect stays out of it.  Of course.  Finally I choose borscht and some pickled fish.  Food from my childhood.  I am OK with it.  The important thing is the company.  This place is also known for its many flavors and brands of vodka.  I don't really drink, but agree to have 1 shot.  

During dinner there is more conversation about his work.  It is up to me to change the conversation.  I ask him about growing up here.  He tells me several stories, all with him ending up as the victim. I see this as an emerging pattern. His cousins, his ex wife, his sons.  Uff.

When dinner is over he asks about dessert. (Again apologizing for the lack of food for me.)  I tell him I would prefer we go somewhere else.  I recommend ice cream.  I tell him Cremolatti, Daniel's, Terzo all have ice cream for celiacs.  He asks about Volta.  "They do,"  I tell him, but not that many flavors.  Besides the ice cream is much better at the other places.  He insists on Volta, because it is "pretty."  Whatever.

We arrive at Volta, which is an hour from closing.  I say nothing, because I  know the other places stay open later.  When we look at the menu, just as I said, they hardly have any flavors for celiacs, and they are out of most of the ones they do have.  This leaves me with 3 choices.  I don't want to be difficult so I select a flavor. We go to sit down.

 Half way through the ice cream, he starts to talk about his grandson.  He tells me that he hardly ever gets to see him.  His daughter-in-law lets him come by when his son is not there. Hmm.  He then whips out his cell phone to show me a message his son sent him.  I am horrified.  This message is terrible even if it was from a friend, let alone a son.  This kind of anger doesn't happen overnight.  I know.  I come from a family where I speak with almost no one.  Children who don't speak to their parents usually have reasons built up from more than just an incident or two.   I cannot believe that he shared this message with me.  This is not something you show someone on a third date.  My immediate thought, was what did he do to deserve this kind of wrath?  He saw it as a way to prove to me that he is the victim.  I am sure.

Then starts another diatribe about the ex wife, and how it is her fault.  I stop him.  "How long have you been divorced?"  I ask.  "5 years," he tells me, but we were together 30 years.  "5 years," I think to myself, "and you are still complaining about her?"  His kids were not children when they divorced.  They were adults.  He goes on his diatribe for 5 minutes.  Finally I stop him. "I don't want to talk about your ex wife or your sons anymore.  I am tired of hearing about them.  They have nothing to do with me."

He stops, and then he says "But it is my life.  Don't you want to know about me?"  "I want to have a relationship with a man, not a man and his ex wife."  I tell him.  "I want to be with someone who wants something new. "  He doesn't get it.  "Well what about your exes?" He asks. "Not important."  I tell him.  "At least not now.  Besides I am friends with most of them."  He still doesn't get it.  I am  not interested in playing therapist. I don't want to be trapped in his nightmare. I am exhausted.  "Let's go," I say to him.

When we get to my apartment, he once again apologizes for both the restaurant and the ice cream.  At this point I don't care.  Seriously, if had not brought up his ex and family, the food would not have been an issue.  I am used to having to make do.  Sorry guy, 3 strikes, you are out.


Dating With Deby: Three Strikes And You Are Out, Strike 2

The architect calls me on Monday and asks me out for Thursday.  He invites me to dinner.  He tells me that he wants to go for Korean food.  He tells me to choose.  I think about it.  I love Korean food, but it is not exactly a place for a date.  The best Korean restaurants are the BBQs.  Places with communal tables, florescent lighting.  I don't need a 5 star restaurant, but something a little nicer.  Besides, there is so much food at these places, it is much better to go in a group.

We speak on Thursday afternoon, to solidify the details.  I tell him I prefer we go to another restaurant.  He tells me to choose and that he will pick me up at 8:00 pm.  I decide on the African restaurant, El Buen Sabor in Villa Crespo.  I like the food there, and the owners are super nice.

At 7:45 he calls to tell me that he will be late.  I can see that this is going to be a constant in this relationship.  Yes, people are always late here, but not like this, not on a first or second meeting.  Finally at almost 9:00 he comes to get me.  I tell him about the African restaurant.  He is disappointed, but says OK.

On the way to the restaurant he talks mostly about work.  Yeah, a guy thing here.  It is to show me how "important" he is.  The conversation is mostly 1 way, because that is also how it is.  I try to interject at times, but he keeps talking.  Sometimes I raise my hand and say "Permiso para hablar?" (Permission to speak)  It is the only way to make it a 2 way conversation.  Men here are not aware that they do this, in fact they deny it.  Ask any woman and they will laugh and tell you yes, that is how they are.  Beyond mansplaining.

We arrive at the restaurant.  The owner greets me.  I met them when they first opened the place.  I am always amazed that they still remember me.  I don't go often, but I guess the hair is a dead giveaway.  I introduce the architect and we sit at a table in the corner.

He wants no part in helping to decide what to eat. He is leaving this to me.  You can look at this two ways. 1, if the food is not good, then I can be blamed, or 2. He wants to be a nice guy.  Most likely a combination.  I choose several plates, he wants double appetizers.  No problem.

 The conversation is mostly nice, low key.  First date conversation.  I change the conversation from his work.  He is not interested in mine.  He doesn't speak English and says he cannot learn. It isn't like I am conducting a class, I like to talk about my students, or the challenges.  We talk about food.  We talk about our travels.  I tell him about Bali and what an effect it had on me.  He tells me that he went to Miami and is not interested in the USA.  I tell him the USA is more than Miami and New York. (Where 90% of Argentines travel to in the USA) He prefers Europe and he wants to go to Thailand.  A common ground.  Asia.

Then in the middle of this conversation he changes it.  He tells me that his son came to visit him today.  "Great."   I say.  I remember that he told me he doesn't have much of a relationship with his sons.  "No," he says.  "He only comes to see me when he wants money." I don't comment. "He wants to go on a trip to Mexico with his friends, and his mother told him to ask me for the money."

At this point, I am assuming the son is graduating high school and he and his friends are going on a trip to celebrate.  I mention this. He responds, "No, no, no.  He graduated from high school, this is just a trip with a group of his friends."  I ask him how old his son is. Before this point I was assuming that he was young. "23," he tells me. Before I can stop myself the words fall out of my mouth. "23?  Tell him to get a job.  He isn't exactly a child."  The architect tells me no. That is not how it is here.

"Excuse me,"  I tell him, "I don't want to get involved, but at 23, he should not be asking you for money."  He proceeds to tell me that is the only time he sees his son.  That he feels like his son is a prostitute and that he should just hand him the money in a white envelope. This is passive aggressive behavior.  "Why don't you just tell him how you feel?  I say.  "Maybe it will clear the air, rather than do something like handing him an envelope, which will solve nothing."

He doesn't get it.  Then he starts to blame his ex-wife. I stop the conversation here. "Look,"  I tell him, I don't want to be involved.  It has nothing to do with me."  I don't want to hear about his ex-wife.  It is like he doesn't hear me.  He is on a roll.  "It is because of her, I cannot see my grandson."  He catches the look on my face and stops. Thank God.

I turn the conversation back to something else.  Cooking is a much safer topic.  He tells me how he loves to cook.  I tell him I do too.  I tell him about my friends, and that we are a group of people that love to cook.  He says he will invite me to his place for dinner.  I tell him, that I don't have a kitchen table.

After dinner he takes me home.  The conversation is light, until we get to my apartment.  He puts the car in park and then leans over to grab me.  This is what I hate.  Nothing ever seems to be consensual. It is like being conquered.  Uff.  No.  Not at this age.  When I was lots younger, like most women, it was easier to say yes, then push someone away.  Now I don't care. One kiss.  Then he asks about coming upstairs.  I tell him no.  "How will I ever get to know you?" he asks.  What is this, the bible?  I make it clear that I am not looking for just sex.  Sex is a part of a relationship.  I don't hop beds anymore. (Especially here with the Madonna Whore complex alive and well.) I let him know that it isn't no for ever, but I want to know someone first.  "But sex is a way to know someone." he insists. I give him my bored look.  I know what comes next. "We are both adults," he says.  I hate when they say this.  I am supposed to be guilted into having sex.  I keep my mouth shut. I don't want to argue. I open the door to his car and prepare to get out.

"Hey," he says.  I will leave it up to you, if you want to go out again.  "How about Saturday?"  I ask. This is the way to find out if he is in another relationship.  "No, I can't this Saturday. Monday?  Tuesday?"  I tell him we will talk.  I shut the door of his car, and walk into my apartment building. I am not too sure about this guy. Vamos a ver.


Dating With Deby: Three Strikes And You Are Out, Strike 1

I don't want you to think that I spend my days working, going to the gym, and trying to make some order in my apartment.  In addition to all that, I am still finding time to swipe. Swipe means Tinder. It is easier than all the others. Left, left, left, and then once in awhile, right.  (Left means reject and right means OK)

I mostly swipe left.  Sometimes it is truly amazing what men have on their profiles.  Pictures of their dogs, pictures of a car, pictures of a sunset.  Those are usually married guys. Left. Blank pictures. Left.  Pictures of children. Left. Fake profiles with pictures of obscure politicians or movie stars. Left.  Pictures that are obviously 10, 15, 20, years old. Left.  Then are the no way for me guys, super overweight, and just plain ugh. Left.

Every once in awhile a profile pops up that is actually interesting. Someone that doesn't look like an axe murderer or an alien from another planet, and they can actually write better in Spanish than I can. Seriously.  Swipe right.  Then, by the grace of God, they are a match.  That means they saw my picture and swiped right.

Here is the crazy thing, 80% of the men who match with me, never respond.  I send them a message or sometimes I wait a bit to see if they send me one. Nothing.  Next.  Then there is the 20%.  Some are just too weird.  I can tell from a short chat. Unmatched.  Bye.  

Every once in awhile, there is someone who is attractive, employed, and seems normal. Really.  When I saw R's profile, he was very nice looking for late 50s. An architect.   He didn't look like he would be my grandfather.  He had nice pictures and a short but nice profile, which ended with "These are my real pictures, I hope yours are too." (Famous last words)

After a couple of back and forth messages, he sent me his phone number.  "I don't like extended chats," he wrote.  "I would rather just talk."  So I sent him a Whats App and he called me.  He sounded nice.  We made a date for Sunday close to where I live.

Sunday came.  As I was walking out my door towards the cafe, he sent me a text.  He was running late.  45 minutes late. Great.  I didn't want to go back home, so I decided to continue walking, and window shop. 45 minutes later I went to the cafe to wait.

He wasn't 45 minutes late, he was an hour late.  Nice looking.  Dressed more modern than most men his age. (I hate those pants that go up to the chin, what's with that?) However, the actual photos were maybe 10 pounds or about 4 kilos ago.  He wasn't fat, he just was heavier than his pictures.  I tell myself to not be so hypocritical.

I know, most men, do not think my age and my pictures go together.  I have to tell them 80 times they are all recent pictures with no Photoshop.  The more suspicious the worst they look when we finally meet. The architect made a point several times to tell me that "age doesn't matter" and that "I look really great for my age."  I want to tell him, "at least my pictures were actual pictures, so shut up." I don't.  I am trying really hard to be nice.  Snarky does not work in Argentina.

During the coffee, I asked him if he likes spicy foods.  Yes, he likes Korean. 5 points.  Does he like to travel? Yes, and he has. 5 points.  Does he like movies? Yes, 5 points.  So far, so good, until I ask if he has kids.  He looks sad. He tells me yes, but he doesn't get to see them.  He continues with the sad look.  He says that his ex-wife came between him and his kids.  At this point, I am assuming that his kids were young when they divorced.  I tell him that is sad.  I change the subject.  I don't want to talk about sad stuff on a first date.

I tell him how I am remodeling my apartment...without an architect.  He looks concerned.  "You poor thing." he says.  I am anything but a poor thing.    "I can help you, don't worry.  Whatever you need."  he says.  Men here love the damsel in distress.  "I don't need any help,"  I tell him, "but thanks."  He keeps pushing.  I guess he thinks I am embarrassed to admit my place is a mess, which it isn't.  I really hate this.  There are two things I do not like, when people think I am stupid or when they think I am helpless.  I am  neither.

I whip out my phone.  I show him the before pictures of my place, and then the after pictures.  He is shocked.  "You designed this?"  he asked.  "Yes, all of it." I tell him and then add, "without an architect."  I show him the kitchen, the bathroom, how I changed the circulation of the upstairs.  I know, in the dating world here, I am supposed to be more meek, but it is not my nature.  I am proud of my skills.  He looks at me, "Congratulations,"  he says, "Most people have nightmares with an architect, you are amazing."  I don't want to tell him that the biggest problems are the architects.  They do whatever they want and they don't care what the client wants.  Plus they charge a fortune to make a mess of your project.  

I decide this guy is not so bad.  I am going to make history and have accept a second meeting with him.  That almost never happens with me.  But you have to live dangerously once in awhile.