It’s always fun meeting fellow travelers who share similar outlooks on life, and it’s even better if they are from outside the US with lots of cultural values to exchange.
Unfortunately, most people have a negative attitude toward the US, and a few of these people have been condescending toward me because of it. You can harbor any opinion you want, but don’t be pompous about it. For example, a Canadian man I met explained how ignorant Americans are because we don’t know where Calgary, Canada is, and most of us are obnoxious and stupid. I should have told him it’s because he lives in a barren wasteland that no one cares about (kidding kind of), but instead I explained that we don’t teach geography in our school systems anymore. I got my revenge later when he tried to convince me that 1984 was written by Orson Wells (real author: George Orwell). I corrected him and insulted him then, explaining that my 14-year-old students knew that. Others around me agreed that he was an unpleasant man.
My British friends were more fun. They had their opinions about the US, but they weren’t mean and were more curious than anything. They’ve also traveled in the US, and explained that one time, they were driving through NJ and stopped for gas. John got out of the car and said that a man came running at him, and he was frightened. He didn’t realize you can’t pump your own gas in NJ. They also asked me why they have to tip so much at restaurants, and were appalled when I told them that waitstaff makes about $2.95 US an hour. Other people from outside the States didn’t know this either. We then talked about different words, like aluminum/aluminium (Yes, I would like to wrap my steak in aluminium foil) and pram/stroller. I enjoyed their company, and they were witty and hilarious and intelligent. We had a great convo about cockney rhyming slang, and John met Nick Frost!
One of my favorite characters was an Australian man who was a classic one-upper. We met him at the soccer game, and he spent the evening at the pub explaining basically how brilliant he is at everything, and as he got drunker, he told Cristian, our Argentine guide, how he almost beat up four Argentines for hitting on his friend. John, Sam, and I felt uncomfortable with Scott – the Aussie – insulting Cristian, but he was cool and cut Scott down quite nicely. When I met John and Sam for the televised game a few nights later, we had a blast joking about Scott, and Sam lived in Australia for two years and has the accent down perfectly. (Scott had told us earlier how he’d made it into the city in Brazil where that movie City of God was filmed. Because of gang violence, you have to roll the windows down in the bus so the gangs can see that you’re not of an opposing gang, and Scott had told us with a shrug how he felt okay, because he understood the gangs. Sam had a blast with this, and I was in stitches with tears in my eyes when he was done impersonating Scott’s story.)
My friend Lee, with whom I ventured into La Boca, introduced me via Facebook to a girl from Vienna, Austria who is living literally two blocks away from me. Moni speaks perfect English, German, and Spanish, which is so impressive. We went out for wine and empanadas, and swapped stories. The education system in Austria – and much of Europe, from what I’ve been told – is how it should be. Not everyone is expected to go to college, but if you get in and want to go, it’s about $20 US a semester. High school consisted of 14 classes, and sometimes you’d be there straight until 5 with no lunch. It was hard, she said, and you really needed to pass. If you did fail, you had to either go to summer school or take the class again in the upcoming year. Sounds about right. Then I asked her what happens when parents call in, angry that their child has failed. Can the child’s grade be changed? It could not, and I explained that sadly, this happens quite a bit in the States. The classes are actually a lot like our freshman academy, where the kids stay with the same students all day, but in one room. The teacher comes to the class. Also, you could get straight A’s all year and if you failed the final exam – which was not a stupid essay that homeless Joe from the street could stagger in and pass inebriated – you failed the course.
Moni lived in Michigan for a few months during high school for an exchange program, and she did like the States. She told me about a girl she met during a drive who somehow told Moni that in Italy, Spanish is spoken. When Moni told her that they speak Italian there, the girl stubbornly argued that there is no such thing as Italian. Horrified, I explained that things are slightly different in those parts of the States and how we distance ourselves from the middle and the deep south. Then I remembered our students asking if we’d had revolutions here in the States or if we’d had a Civil War, but I did not voice this revelation.
Last night, Moni invited me over to go out. It was her roommate’s birthday, and the apartment was packed. I met another guy from Vienna named David, and an Argentine whose name escapes me. David was fun to talk to, and the Argentine guy began chatting too, mainly about how TV makes Americans look. This seems to be a problem. The Argentine guy then told me how Americans are superficial and we all care about shopping malls and clothes. He told me that Europe is better, because you go to Europe, and there are museums and churches and lots of history. I told him that we’re a young country without the history Europe has, but we do have museums. People in California are superficial, I explained. (Kidding…) He also told me that he and his friends think American women are very easy to win over. “Here, we spend a lot of time talking to a woman. American women, you don’t even have to say anything.” Again, he cited TV for this misconception.
I learned a lot from them about Argentine culture though. I tried Fernet, which is a popular liquor drink here in Argentina, but it originated, I believe, in Italy. It’s also popular in San Francisco, according to Wikipedia. You pour 30% Fernet and 70% Coke, and it tastes, eh. Wikipedia informed me that Fernet is comprised of many spices, and is rumored to contain absinthe and wormwood, among other things.
The nightlife here is totally different, and Argentines are known for their nightlife. Clubs close at 5 or 6 in the morning, and it’s customary to go to dinner – with anyone, from your young friends to your arthritic great aunt – around 10pm. You don’t arrive at a club before 2. What’s funny about this is that the subte closes at 10, which I find difficult to understand.
I got to her apartment at 11, and we stayed there talking and eating and drinking until probably 2, when we went downstairs and walked around the corner to my first club here. It was okay. We danced and walked home together, and I rolled in around 5:30. Very different from the States, where our night might consist of us going out around 10, staying at the bar for a while and then either going to the diner or someone’s house – and by someone, I mean Shar.
Tomorrow, Moni and I are going to check out one of the really cool markets that happen here on weekends. Pictures to come!