Hola a todos!
So, I have been in Argentina for almost a month now. It is becoming somewhat difficult to conceptualize life in the United States, although I have moments every once in a while where something random like hearing Rihanna or The Beatles on the colectivo (bus) on the way to school or trying to teach my host family how to say the work “sweep” will make me feel very sentimental. But, the United States is (somewhat regrettably) never too far away here. Yesterday, I ate lunch at a restaurant called “Johnny B. Good’s” with two of my friends where they serve comida estadounidense. Judging from the menu, comida estadounidense is essentially fried food. We shared the “American Mix” which was a big plate of mozzarella sticks, chicken nuggets, onion rings, and fried calamari with BBQ sauce and salsa. The menu even had a “Tex Mex” section and a dessert called “Britney’s Pears.” I have learned, however, that speaking English does NOT give you an advantage when ordering things with English names. It is actually more difficult for people to understand than when I speak in Spanish. No one understands you unless you say the words with an Argentinean accent. For example, when ordering a Cookie Sundae at an ice cream store, you need to say something more like “Sun-die Kook-y.” Also, the directors of our program warned us today that some restaurants like to give foreigners menus in English that have higher prices than their menus written in Spanish. Sneaky. Buying things here is getting easier, in that I have to repeat myself less frequently. If I can order everything I want at a restaurant or buy tokens at a kiosk without having to repeat myself at all I feel really good about myself.
So, I think I left on talking about Che’s house. I still feel somewhat ignorant about the history of Che, so I can’t yet give my opinion on him. At this point, it seems to me like he had a lot of goods ideas and didn’t always execute them in the best way. Anyway, in Alta Gracia (a town about 45 mins from here) the house he lived in for 11 years with his family is now a museum (not so sure how he would feel about a Che Guevara gift shop… smells like capitalism to me). There you can see a bunch of pictures of him and friends, the motorcycle he road on around Latinoamérica and (what I found most intersting) letters that he wrote to his family and to Fidel Castro. His family chose to live in Alta Gracia because the area has very clear air which helped to stabilize Che’s ashtma (is that spelled right? What a strange word). A quote that I especially liked that was featured in the museum is:
“…sean siempre capaces de sentir en lo más hondo cualquier injusticia cometida contra cualquiera en cualquier parte del mundo. Es la cualidad más linda de un revolucionario” …which translates as: “They are always capable of feeling in the deepest sense any injustice committed against any person in any part of the world. This is the most wonderful/beautiful quality of a revolutionary.” I can agree with you on that one, Che.
To save myself (and you all) time, I am not going to try to recount everything that has happened in the past week, I will just mention what sticks out most in my mind.
Last Thursday we (everyone on my program) met our “speaking partners” which, again, is pronounced more like “eh-speek-een pah-rt-ners.” Mine is a girl named Ana, who prefers to be called Anenka because Ana is a name that is “recomún” (re is a prefix added to nearly every word by young people here which means really). She also has changed her last name on Facebook to Allen due to her love for Woody Allen so I am not sure what her real last name is. Needless to say, she has a lot of personality. She is 23 and studying film and library sciences at the Univeristy here. She’s had a bunch of espeekeen pahrtners in the past and tiene ganas (tener ganas=to want to) to do a lot of things together…she wants to teach me to make empanadas, play pictionary, drink mate (mah-tay) in various plazas and travel around Argentina. Sounds good to me. Also, she kind of reminds me of América Ferrera, if you know who that is.
I feel like I am really settling in with my family here. Sol is away now for a few weeks visiting her family before the semester starts the second week of March which has given me more of a chance to get to know my familia. The kids fight over who gets to be my “hermana” (sister) in games and they are mystified by my card shuffling, drawing and gymnastics abilities. I am lucky in that my host mom seems to be a very liberal and accepting person. Although same-sex marriage is legal here, it is still not very socially accepted. For example, last week two men who kissed in a public space were escourted off the premises by security. However, my host mom has a pin hanging in her room which reads: “Sé una cura para la heterosexualidad” (I know a cure for heterosexuality) and has some close friends who are lesbians. She says that although GBLT marriage is legal here, a lot of people are still against GBLT couples adopting children. She says she is working hard to teach her children to be tolerant/accepting of other people in general. As a single mom, I can see that a lot of the time she feels overwhelmed/frustrated and her life can be exhausting, but at the same time she is full of life, always having friends around, singing along to music, and a very good dancer. People here in general seem to be better at dancing than estadounidenses… it is more natural and done with less shame (and alcohol is not a prerequisite).
On the topic of minority populations, there are essentially no African-Americans here. It is rare enough to see an African American that when I passed two African American men walking down the street a few weeks ago with Sol she pointed and said to me “Black people!” It seems that simply due to the fact that most people here do not really ever come into contact with black people that they have a skewed/ignorant conception of them as an exotic/strange (at worst, monstrous) species of human being. Whenever I show people here pictures of my friends, they always point to my black friends and ask what their names are and other info about them. It is unsettling and essentially a question of lack of exposure/ignorance.
Some linguistic differences I have noticed which may have cultural implications as well:
In the U.S. you pay others attention, here attention is “borrowed.” (Prestáme atención por favor).
In the U.S., hungry, tired, etc. are things that you are, here they are things that you have. (Yo tengo hambre, yo tengo sueño), emphasizing the fact that they are temporary states?
In Spanish, there are two ways to say I love you: Te quiero and Te amo. Te quiero is the less profound of the two which is generally said to friends and in less serious relationships. Te amo is in general reserved for family, very close friends, and very serious relationships. My professor today told us that if we don’t want to get ourselves in trouble, we should only say Te quiero to people here jaja.
Well, I should probably start studying for my final exam tomorrow. Thursday is the examen (test) CELU (equivalent of the TOEFL test for Spanish, if you know what that is) which will officially determine whether my level of Spanish is basic, intermediate, or advanced. Even more specifically, whether I am an advanced intermediate or low advanced, etc. Then, we go for the weekend to Buenos Aires!
Some more info for ustedes (you all):
1) There is no such thing as tailgating here; It’s just the way that everyone drives. Also, most people don’t wear their seatbelts and the backseats of most taxis don’t even have seatbelts. Almost all the cars here are stick shift. Automatic cars are expensive.
2) In public bathrooms, a lot of the time there is no toilet paper.. or if there is you have to pay for it!
3) Public universities here are FREE and there are NO entrance exams. There is no equivalent to the SAT. It just doesn’t exist. Consequences of this: Universities have a much lower graduation rate because people go to school for a really long time (often because they are working at the same time so gathering credits is very slow) or drop out. Also, the facilities are very outdated/shabby. Students can decide between three different tracks: a) “Promotional”: show up to class most all the time, take all the midterms, and if you get a good enough grade on the midterms the final is just a short oral interview and is not intensive/cumulative, b) “Regular”: show up to class pretty frequently, take all the midterms, do all right on them and take a harder final exam, c) “Free”: only show up for the final exam and be tested on all of the material covered for the entire course. Grades here are 1-10. No one ever expects to get a 10, and a 5 is considered perfectly decent. Imagine that.