Much has happened over the past few days and getting settled in to my new home and life has been such a whirlwind that I have had no time to sit down and write about my experiences. I decided a few days ago that I could quite easily pick up and make a semi-permanent home here in Buenos Aires. I say semi-permanent because I’m still not sure I ever see myself staying anywhere for more than a few years at a time. There’s too much of this world to see and experience!
The transition from life in the States to life here in BsAs has been as easy as it has been difficult. Foremost, obviously the language barrier is the most frustrating aspect. It’s hard to put into words how it feels to want to say something to someone and not be able to find words. Or not even just not be able to find the words, but to not even know the words to express a sentiment. I’m surprised by how many people know at least a little bit of English. Most–generally not well enough to speak it, but they are able to pepper their speech with words if you don’t know the Spanish equivalent. I have met a handful who have studied or are studying English in university though and that’s an incredible relief when you’re trying to get a cellphone with prepaid service. Sometimes when people see you struggling with Spanish they’ll automatically switch to English and we have to ask them to continue in Spanish as that’s why we’re here!
We take colectivos (buses) everywhere here and sometimes the subte (subway). I’ve only taken the subte once because I’m more at ease with the colectivos since I can actually see where I’m going. The second day we were here we had a class where we had to learn how to use the Guía “T,” which is basically a little book with pages of maps of all the different barrios (neighborhoods) and the facing page has a table with coordinates to the maps and which colectivos run through that specific area. I was so overwhelmed at first, but once you realize that you have to take a minimum of two buses a day (often more depending on where all you want to go) you pick it up quickly. Aislinn (prounounced similar to Ashley, a girl on the program with me who lives in my building) and I got incredibly lost the second day we were here because they made us find our own way home using the Guía “T.” The following day I got on the right bus but going the wrong direction and ended up at the bus station, but a really nice guy helped me out and then walked me all the way to the gate of my building to make sure I got in okay.
To get on the bus you have to put a one peso moneda (coin) into a machine and it issues you a ticket. However, the thing about these monedas is that they’re somewhat rare. As in, people don’t really deal with change here as you would in the States. Everything has whole pesos prices and the (21%!) tax is already factored into the price on the menu so all you have to add is the 10% tip which is probably almost always given in biletas (bills). Therefore, these monedas are hard to get your hands on and cashiers are reluctant to give you any monedas if you ask for a few in your change. The catch is that to get on the bus you have to have monedas–one peso, the equivalent of about $0.34 US. The bus driver does not have change and will often want to see your moneda before you put it in the machine to get your ticket. The other day I needed monedas for the bus so I went into a little convenience store and asked as politely as I know how for 2 pesos in monedas in exchange for my 2 peso bileta. The man hesitated, explained to me the rarity of monedas and then insisted on me purchasing something in order to get a moneda. Irritated, I looked around at the candy and gum in front of me and not seeing anything for less than $2 A I let out a loud sigh. After about 30 seconds of frantically looking around me he pointed to a basket of chocolate bonbons for $1 A and made me purchase it in order to receive the one peso I needed for the bus. I was so irrate by the end of this encounter, convinced that Argentineans hate Americans (and they do hate Bush), and angry that I didn’t know enough Spanish to say something to him that I just wanted to throw the bonbon in his face. Of course, I have manners so I didn’t do that, but I sure wanted to.
There’s also the problem of traveler’s cheques. No one will cash them. You go to a bank, they’ll tell you that you must be a member. If they don’t tell you that, they’ll tell you that they only place you will get it cashed is at American Express. In my case, this meant finding out where an American Express was located, getting some form of a location (the man was only able to tell me that it was “near” Plaza San Martin, but that if I took a bus there and asked, anyone could tell me where it is), asking at least 4 people before someone was able to even give me a general direction, and then asking a few more people until I finally arrived. In summary, I don’t recommend getting traveler’s cheques. Sure, they’re more secure than cash, but they’re almost so secure that even you can’t cash them and that sort of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? They may be easier in places like the States and Europe (and possibly Canada), but if you’re making any trips to a place even remotely less developed, I promise, you’ll be fine taking cash, a credit, and debit card. Speaking of cards, not many people take those either and American Express is more widely accepted than Visa or Mastercard, and those two more than Discover. I’ve also learned than Citibank has ATMs pretty much all over the world, so if you want to save yourself withdrawel fees, that’s the way to go. Even when a store has a sign that says they take Visa or any other card, you will have people tell you, on more than one occasion, that that sign? It only applies to Argentine cards. I haven’t yet decided if that means it must be from a national bank, or if it’s a minor form of discrimination against Americans, as everyone hates Bush here.
Lastly, I don’t have many pictures yet because I’ve been too busy soaking all this in myself, but I promise to have tons soon. The architecture here is probably the most gorgeous I have ever seen and it gives this city a very quaint, old-world charm despite the fact that the areas we’ve been spending most of our time in for orientation–Recoleta and Retiro–are very much 21st century.