Living Abroad: Ahhh, Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires, fondly known as the Paris of South America, has been my home for a little more than one week. Now I’ve never been to Paris, but at this point in my South American journey, I am more willing to identify Paris as the Buenos Aires of Europe. Don’t judge me, I’ve fallen in love.
It’s been a whirlwind, this past week–saying goodbye to family, friends, my country. It still hasn’t totally hit that I am living in South America. But each day, there are little reminders that I am a guest, a extranjero, in this new world.
An act as simple as meeting someone marks me as a tourist. Shaking hands upon an introduction is not an Argentine custom–it’s a little kiss on the left check (don’t ask me how many awkward exchanges I’ve had because of this custom in the duration of one week, it’s embarrassing).
Even going out to eat, I scream foreigner. Last Sunday, I went with some friends to Cafe Tortoni, one of the oldest cafes in Buenos Aires. After enjoying this delicious meal, we waited an hour for the check. My knee-jerk American reaction was one of annoyance. Impatient, we finally asked for our check, now anxious that we wouldn’t make it back to Casa Holden in time for house church (#pepperdineproblems).
It was only later after Rafa, our program director, explained that we realized that the waiter at Cafe Tortoni was being polite by not bringing the check immediately. In restaurants back home, there is typically a “get in, get food, get out” mentality. Here in Buenos Aires, no establishment would rush you. Their attitude is if you are here, you are here. You aren’t just part of the business, you are a person. I love that Argentine trait, and I honestly wish the United States tried to emulate it more often.
What’s another quality I already love about Argentine culture? Their passion.
My favorite BA experience thus far was at a peaceful protest last Thursday night. All over Buenos Aires, Argentines were clanging pots, honking horns, and coming together in a chorus of their national anthem, simultaneously patriotic and anti-government. A friend and I decided to go straight the heart of the gathering, the Plaza de Mayo.
A little background: the Plaza de Mayo has been the political hub of Buenos Aires since it was first built in the 1500s. It’s rich history includes it’s declaration of independence from Spain, military bombings in the 1950s, and a massive protest in 2001 during an economic crisis, during which five protestors were killed. Recently, some Argentines have been displeased with their government, more specifically, their president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Curious to see a real protest, (why yes, I’m a product of the 1990s, and no, I did not participate in the Occupy Movement) my friend and I took the Subte all the way to the Plaza de Mayo. As soon as we stepped off the train, we could hear a loud, rhythmic clanging. Ascending from the subway and joining the crowd, we were surprised to see people from all age groups at the rally. Men, women, and even some children were present, crying out against their president. There were those holding candles, others with signs, flags, pots, bells, and whistles. They had created a coherent beat, to which they sang their national anthem. [Want to see a video of it? Click Here. Courtesy of Joe Wend]
Ever seen V for Vendetta? (If you haven’t, stop kidding yourself, it’s a must-see). There were at least two guys wearing Guy Fawkes masks, and a woman dressed like President Cristina. Sent chills up and down my spine, but I felt moved by the amount of passion these people had for their country.
According to Rafa, over 200,000 people were in that plaza and over 1 million people participated throughout Buenos Aires. They all came together on one night to protest something for which they strongly believed.
Bottom line of my first week in Argentina:
Argentines are a passionate people, and I hope that passion is contagious.
More to come on my pondered meanderings about this beautiful and diverse country. Ciao!