24 May 2009

Signs you have been Spending Too Much Time in Buenos Aires

In the present moment, May 2009

A couple of months ago I was talking with a girlfriend, another foreigner who moved to Argentina for tango. While chatting in Spanish, I suddenly realise I don’t know what is the castellano word for “honest”. I realise I hardly had the need to use the word in the 2 years I have been here! Then the revelation come to me with a slight sense of shock - to describe someone as “honest” here seem to carry a slight derisive ring, almost akin to saying the person is Not the sharpest crayon in the box. You know...a fool.

What is happening to my value system??

Perhaps I have been staying too long in Buenos Aires...

So I have put together below a compilation based on my own experience. For those of you tango long-stayers in town, any of the following sounds familiar? ^_^

Signs You Have Been Spending Too Much Time in Buenos Aires

Lifestyle, habits and local customs
~ There is a queue in front of you. The customer being served at the cashier/ticket booth starts to chat leisurely with the cashier for a couple of minutes. You mentally resign yourself to the wait without fretting incessantly or calling the person impolite names in your head.

~ You develop an ability to 1) scrutinise the pavement for uneven or missing tiles, wet patches on the ground, dripping water from air-conditioners overhead in summertime and of course the ubiquitous dog poo, 2) scan shop windows for interesting items, 3) keep aware of the mood of your general surroundings for safety reasons as well as demonstrations in the distance which will necessitate a rapid route change, 4) avoid collisions with pedestrians, since there are always a few in a mad rush... doing so all at the same time while walking down the street at top speed yourself.

~ When walking 4 blocks becomes a piece of cake. Walking 8 blocks is no big deal either. When you first arrived in town you looked for a bus to bring you 4 blocks. I am from a tiny tropical country where its hot and humid, nobody walks.

~ You start to hoard coins. You learn to lie saying “No, I don’t have 50 cents” smoothly, without a guilty conscience. Why? Because NO HAY MONEDAS (There Is No Change), a sign frequently displayed at shops’ cashiers. Due to a black market cartel on coinage, nobody wants to give each other small change in coins.

~ Mentiroso, Mentiroso (Liar, Liar). You are no longer THAT indignant by being lied to, in particular by public service personnel such as the call centre of Telefonica and certain employees of the Consulate of Uruguay. Those said-employees please feel free to contact me.

~ By default you take nothing for granted – you will believe it when you see it happen with your own eyes.

~ You are rather suspicious of any Argentine member of the opposite gender who tries to start a conversation with you, regardless if they are 17 or 70.

~ You can’t see a guy and a girl together without automatically assuming that they are a couple, especially if they are Argentine. Double ditto in a milonga.

~ From time to time, the guy in front of you gets up the bus instead of letting you board first, or takes that seat you were secretly eyeing. You feel somewhat miffed by what you now consider a breech of good manners. In the immortal words of my Italian girlfriend, “Hey, but he is a MAN”. Implying that a real MAN would lay down his life for a lady, what’s a seat or so.

~ Instead of maintaining a discreet and polite blank stare on the train/bus/street, you ignore the dictates of good manners and take a good looooonng look at anything or anyone that catches your interest without embarrassment. The adage “Mind Your Own Business” is on very rocky local grounds, so as to speak.

~ With some contextual help, after 10 minutes of careful listening you actually have some understanding of the Brazilians when they talk. When they are speaking Portuguese. Which is a different language from Spanish.

~ Your overseas tango friends are visiting Buenos Aires again. You are meeting them for a meal and you are running late. Your mobile rings. You know it is them calling you because you still have their mobile numbers stored on your mobile from their previous visit.

~ You have the numbers of various milonga organisers and milonga venues stored in your mobile phone. But you can’t find the mobile number of your real estate guy when the toilet plumbing runs into trouble.

In the Milongas
~ An undesirable guy comes over to your table trying to chat you up in a milonga. You keep him talking on his feet for >20 mins by NOT saying the words “please take a seat”, in hopes that he would go away. And you feel offended when he finally invites himself to sit down without your invitation to do so.

~ In a traditional milonga, you feel it is rude for a woman to reject a guy even though he was uncouth enough to approach and issue a verbal invitation.

~ To avoid giving the impression that you are both leaving the milonga at the same time, you tell your friend, an Argentine guy who is a familiar face on the tango scene, that you will leave first and to come meet you outside in 5 minutes.

~ You didn’t change shoes at the milonga because you are just there to enjoy your friends’ company/you don’t feel like dancing/your feet hurts. You automatically expect that guys should have observed that you are not in your dancing shoes.

~ You went to a practica with an overseas guy friend. You are chatting with each other. You feel insulted on the behalf of your guy friend's male honour when an Argentine guy approaches you to ask you to dance without acknowledging your friend.

~ You finally bought yourself a pair of jeans in the “chupin” style. You have always been a devotee of the straight-leg look, and had long ago swear to run a mile from the former style in question. Chupin style – tight fitting, almost sprayed-on look for jeans & pants adopted as the fashionable norm for women.

~ While going shopping, grannies in their advanced 70s next to you ruffle through clothes in colours (bubble-gum pink) and styles more befitting teenagers from the rack that you just skipped over. Your boyfriend’s 60+ year old mother is more fashionably dressed and better maintained than you.

~ 80s music comes on over the radio or telly and you start to enjoy it. Ehmm..that period wasn’t really that bad, was it?

~ You start to think that the mullet hair style actually doesn’t look half-bad for Argentine guys. In general guys would risk looking like a joke spotting a mullet cut...but somehow the look does sorta suits some Argentine ones.

~ You are up-to-date on the current month prices of the various tango shoemakers in town, but you have no idea how your financial investments are doing.

~ It is that tax time of the year again. An ad from the Argentine government comes on the telly extolling the establishment of the Ministry of Science & Technology - allegedly made possible because the citizens pay their taxes. The tagline goes “Help Your Country Help You” - and you roll your eyes in rabid disbelief. I was a government servant for 8 years in the biomedical sector, and I did believe I have a responsibility to tax payer's money.

~ The government of Buenos Aires embarks on road works and other infrastructural improvements. Instead of thinking “Good job, the government is trying to stimulate the local economy by injecting money into the system to create a multiplier effect”, you think to yourself “So which snout is getting fat at the trough now?”. Line item in budget balance sheet = 20,000 pesos for a signboard, 50,000 pesos for 5 metres of pavement etc.

~ You stocked up >10 different types of chillies/chilli sauces/spicy pastes in your fridge. You are inordinately amused at the locals’ inability to eat anything remotely approaching picante (spicy). You add repeated hyperboles when ordering local version of "spicy" food. This only applies to people from food cultures who like to eat fire ^_^

~ You consider it acceptable that pizzas and empanadas constitute food items to be consumed on a daily basis.

~ You no longer feel guilty about not eating your veggies. For (a) month(s) at a time.

When you return to your home country for visits
~ On the 29-hour plane ride home & for the first week after leaving Buenos Aires, you create confusion by saying “Gracias” instead of “Thank you”. You keep wanting to sprout Spanish in response when people talk to you. In fact, often a Spanish word feels the most appropriate when you want to describe something. No words in your other 2 languages feels exactly right. And that’s quite a lot of words.

~ When you are back home for a visit, you automatically lean in for mutual pecks on the cheek when you see your friends. You are slightly taken aback and feel strangely hurt when they don’t kiss you in greeting.

~ And you just can't wait to return to BA...

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