Monday, June 15, 2009

The last abnormal ramble

After enough time abroad, you're not really abroad anymore. Most of my friends who preceded me in a move to a random foreign country were very connected to their home life for the first six months. I was the same. Look at how the postings have dwindled lately. In my case, the job is playing a large role. June is the busy season around here, something nobody really told me about ahead of time. But more than that, the difficult thing is that your life abroad just becomes your life. You don't remember what's different about the new country you're living in - and probably things back home would seem strange if you went back to face them again. So this may be my last post in a long time about "those wacky South American things." Because after this, I can't tell the difference anyway. So without further ado, here are some quick hitters...

I've gotten pretty good at closing doors to taxis. This would seem like a simple process, but I was universally hollered at every time I got out of a cab for the first six months or so. It took me a while to even figure out why. The thing is, these cab doors are always really flimsy. They don't make the big gas guzzlers like we have in the states. They might as well be adobes. Plus, since I'm a big strong dude (at least by Argentine standards), I couldn't help it. Finally, I've managed to find my touch with the doors and have learned how to cierre suave. In fact, sometimes I start so weak I have to close it again. Yay me.

I had been seeing these signs all over town and had no idea what they were:
Clarence Beeks is running!

Apparently they're school crossings, but it's a bit goofy, no? I suppose the kid has a briefcase in his hand, but do you know any kids who take their briefcase with them to school? It could also be a boombox or perhaps a really big sandwich. Anyway I don't exactly see the drivers slowing down when they encounter one of these.

For the first time in my life, I have a maid who comes to clean my house. While I'm sure my mom would not approve (because these are things I should be able to do myself), the fact that she comes once a week, spends five or six hours in the apartment, and only costs 50 pesos per visit (current street value: 13 bucks), it's hard to pass the opportunity up. The thing is, both the maid at my house and the people who handle cleaning at work don't exactly do a phenomenal job. The bathroom and kitchen are relatively clean, but it's not exactly the overhaul I would like (yes, 13 bucks - I'm not complaining). The biggest thing is that they tend to rearrange things that don't need rearranging. OK, in my house maybe that makes sense. She's paid to clean the place, and if she has the urge to move one set of T-shirts to some other random drawer, who am I to complain? But at the office, the cleaners are constantly moving papers into different piles and onto different desks. In Schaumburg, the papers (those who've worked with me know there are always some piles) were always untouched, but not here. I find this more strange than unnerving, but shouldn't they be cleaning up the medialuna crumbs instead of trying to help me with my filing system?

A friend recently had a new daughter and immediately had her ears pierced. I knew they did this in India, but didn't know that it was common in any Western cultures, but here pretty much everyone does it. Also, they frequently shave the newborn baby's head because it's a "cleaner look." This is something I'm not close to getting used to.

There are a lot of US shows and movies that are very popular here. That's probably no surprise. The Simpsons trumps everything, although Friends is quite close - especially with the women. That said, I was very, very surprised to find the following array of DVD packs together on the shelf in a local bookstore:
Did you know there were four Critters movies? Did you also know that I'd rather watch them than the OC?

Any and all public construction projects take forever here. Yet it is not uncommon to see people working well into Saturday night on a new sidewalk or underground pipes. The most egregious example I saw was when they repaved the street around the corner from me. We had similar problems in Chicago. My friend Steve used to say that it appeared that the guy who comes to strip away the old street always forgets to tell the guy who's supposed to come and put down the new street that he's done his job. But here, it's like they don't even know that each other exist. I think it took over three months to get the new street put down. Yet the new high-rise next door to my apartment is going up in a real hurry. I hope it's structurally sound.

I haven't talked much in this space about mate because until recently I didn't drink it much. Thanks to the visit to Villa General Belgrano and under Belu's tutelige, I've become a fan. Mate is an herbal tea that is generally served in a hollowed out gourd and sucked down with a metal straw called a bombilla. It has a slightly bitter, but very natural flavor. The cool thing about mate is that it is meant to be shared amongst friends. The mate is filled with the herbs first (yerba) and then with hot water. Once a person has finished the water contained therein they pass the mate to the next person. It's got quite a kick and once you develop a taste for it, coffee seems less appealing. Here's a guy talking about his way of preparing mate:

Everyone here uses graph paper. I have yet to see a notebook with standard lined paper. And I'm totally used to that now. Also, they have been taught here that there are only six continents. North and South America are part of a joined big one. Doesn't that kind of blow your mind? Kind of like this

"Where's Waldo" is called "Donde está Wally?"

My team recently moved from the extremely posh office (universally believed to be the nicest office building in Buenos Aires) to the main Nielsen office. That was obviously a bummer for us, but the company is going to save a ton of money thanks to the move. There is one thing, however, I will not miss form that place. The stall door in the bathroom in the old office wouldn't just creak, it sounded like a train wreck that could be heard across the entire floor. It was pretty much like you were declaring: "Hey everybody! I'm gonna take a dump now!" Then, when you finished your business and opened the door again, the same screeching noise: "Hey everybody! I'm finished with my dump!" Also, it nearly locked you in there every time. So your post-dump announcement could come pretty late. The move-out day was really surreal. People came to buy all the furniture that hadn't already been moved out. It was a ghost-town of an office, only we were still working in it. I can't imagine what that must feel like for people when their business actually shuts down. Anyway, the new place is not nearly as nice, but at least you can use the bathroom without such a public declaration of your activities.

Last but not least, here's an ad from a publication we saw in Villa General Belgrano. I think it speaks for itself.
Translation: You find quality in Dick House


iMac said...

Very interesting small things about everyday life.
Nice writing!

steve said...

huh, you found somewhere with worse road construction than chicago.

Kozy said...

You'd rather watch 4 Critter's "films" then the OC? I think you need to spend more time away from the US. You are not ready yet for re-entry!

Reed said...

I'd rather watch four Critters films twice each than sit through an episode of the OC, actually. But that has always been the case. (Actually, the first Critters isn't even half bad!).

Thanks for the comments, y'all!

topher g said...

the first critters is great! also, the third one stars a young leo dicaprio. not that i've watched all of them . . .

David said...

"While I'm sure my mom would not approve (because these are things I should be able to do myself),"

I am not sure that is why she would disapprove. She would say, "When is that guy going to get a wife?"

Julia said...

we always used to get yelled at for slamming doors!! It never occured to me that it is rude to slam someone else's car car door. I was just trying to make sure it was shut! Now I too often get stuck with the second attempt. We'll get there...Also, loved the mate video, I didnt' know that's why we shake it! I'll make more of an effort on the part now.

PMaz said...

It really is about time they rearrange the continents.

Greg said...

i know where you're coming from. i kept a notebook to write down all of the weird oddities of hong kong living. the first few months, i couldn't write fast enough to keep up with my observations. after nine months or so, i realized that i rarely ever wrote in the notebook and that i had gotten used to all of the weird things.

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