So it's been a little over a month since I first came down to South America and I can say that I've experienced something new each and every day thus far. Whether it be trying a new food, meeting an interesting person, or doing something cool that I would not be able to do in the US, everything has opened my eyes into how great of a country this is (regardless of their economic woes and the complexities of going to an international school).
Since nothing major has gone on between now and my last blog post, I figured I would write about some of the interesting differences between the US and Argentina that took some getting used to. Even after a month, many things still seem rather foreign, but my friends and I are definitely making the most of it.
To begin, with the ailing economy of Argentina and several other South American countries, money is always an issue down here. Currently, the official rate of exchange between USDs and ARG Pesos is 8.30 ARG Pesos per $1 USD. However, there also is the Blue Market rate (similar to a "Black Market" in the US). The Blue Market Rate varies by the day (just like the official rate) but it is much better in a foreigner's favor. Today, the Blue Market rate is about 13 ARG Pesos per $1 USD. That is a significant difference for any country so everyone just exchanges money at that rate at certain locations offered all throughout the city. Technically it is illegal, but it is not enforced whatsoever.
Continuing with the Argentine economic issues, everywhere you go and try to pay for something, the cashiers ALWAYS ask if you have smaller bills to pay with so they do not have to give you as much change. The idea is that people and businesses want to keep their smaller bills because if the value of the ARG Peso dramatically changed, then they would have less cold, hard cash to deal with. So every time that I buy something, I have to ask the cashier if they have small change to give me otherwise I won't get the right change at all. Granted it is not a huge difference, but the concept got annoying after 2 days in BA because of their weak currency compared to the rest of the world.
Something random that I'm sure my parents would appreciate is me wondering where all of the green vegetables are in the Argentine diet? In reality, Argentines are addicted to their carbs: including bread, steak, and potatoes at most meals. Their idea of a salad is literally a mixture of potatoes, carrots, and diced hardboiled eggs. NO GREENS. So on the occasion that my host family has tomatoes, avocados, or lettuce, I am in heaven. Its a strange thing considering most families have a real salad at least once or twice a week, but I had just managed to buy my own salads to change it up a bit. Argentina does, however, have great ice cream. I've only had it twice since being down here, but I posted a picture of it below. It was Dulce de Leche and Chocolate Italiano flavored. Dulce de Leche is the iconic dessert condiment that is in and on everything. Basically it's a sweeter caramel type of flavor.
Kentucky Pizza Kitchen. I'm sure none of you have ever heard of it, but its a relatively famous chain of pizza and empanada restaurants throughout Buenos Aires. It sounds strange considering I'm sure the state of Kentucky knows nothing about how to make a good pizza, but they do it well enough at this chain in Argentina. Aside from the fact that you can get 2 slices of pizza and a beer or soda for 35 Pesos, or about $3.50 USD, its the perfect place to go on a budget and if you want the closest thing to a real slice of pizza. Since Argentina is similar to the US in the aspect that it was a melting pot of foreigners after World War II because the country offered religious tolerance for everyone, there is a lot of European influence down here. A lot of the buildings have an Italian or French feel to them, and there are plenty of nice Italian and French restaurants and places to visit. Side note: a lot of Hitler's Nazi Party also fled Europe after WWII and came to Argentina, so I occasionally see a painted Swastika on the side of some old buildings.
As much as Argentines love their food, they do not work out as much as people do in the US. Probably because people are not so obsessed with their image here as much as they are at home. Luckily they do go running here so I've adapted my workouts to do that in preparation for the Turkey Trot with friends in November. (Shout out to Kaitlyn Stanford for making the dream team for the Turkey Trot happen!)
In the US, when you haven't seen someone for an extended period of time and you are at least friends with them, what do you normally do to greet them? Either shake their hand, give them a hug, and maybe a kiss on the cheek. The cheek kiss is the real deal in Argentina. Whether you saw the person 3 weeks ago or 20 minutes ago, they do the cheek kiss like clockwork here. And it is EVERYONE that does it. For instance, as I am writing this blog post in the lounge of my school, three other students (all Argentine and 2 guys and one girl) just came into the lounge and met their other guy friend sitting across the room. They all kissed the guy on the cheek and vice versa. Other cultures are much more adapted to things like this, or maybe Americans are just "Tinmen", so to speak. Either way, guys, girls, teenagers, children, adults.. they all do it. In the words of my program director, Gaby, she said on our first day in Argentina "Oh yeah, everyone does the cheek kiss here in Argentina. Even guys with other guys, and no it is not gay." She's been doing this long enough to know how Americans think, so hearing her explanation of that was hilarious. After over a month in BA, I am used to their obsession with the cheek kiss, even though it still confuses me.
Now just some things about my school that I think are very different and kind of interesting. To start, my textbooks are all plastic-bound sheets of photo-copied pages of another textbook. Sounds illegal? It definitely would be in the US considering it cost me a total of $35 USD for all of my books (as opposed to at least $500 back at Delaware). Copyright laws and patents are not exactly enforced here either, so it worked out better for my wallet. Since my school is just one tall building with 19 floors, there are multiple elevators in the building. The weird part: there is one used solely by teachers and employees. The sign above the elevator clearly says that students cannot use it. The ones that we use only stop at certain floors. They stop at the ground floor, Floor 7, 12, and 17. Makes zero sense whatsoever. And finally, the University of Belgrano has a lounge area on the ground floor in the middle of the entrance. As many international students have found out, the couches are only able to be used by professors. School security will make you get up if they see students sitting on them.. strange. Maybe if this country worried about real problems and not students sitting on couches, their economy would not be in the toilet.
As expected, driving in the city of Buenos Aires is basically a death wish. The median lines mean nothing and they are not afraid to nearly strike a pedestrian that made the bold move to cross the street when they shouldn't have. Okay, that is an embellishment, but you get the point. Since I am also one of maybe 100 people with red hair in this entire country, it does get tiring when people just stare at you like you have 6 heads. It almost makes it like a game every day, counting how many people do a double-take and see that there are other people in the world that weren't "blessed" with dark hair. I enjoy it, so seeing other people take notice of it makes it interesting for me.
All in all, those are the major rarities that I have seen thus far. And if those are the only things that really stand out, then there's no reason why I wouldn't enjoy my time here. The people are somewhat friendlier, everyone is not always in the same hustle-and-bustle mentality where they have to be everywhere on time, and people seem much more relaxed. I have come to realize that I am spoiled in the US with the ease of access to things, how stable our money is, and how I have the genuine freedom to do what I want. Argentines really do not have that freedom, as it is relatively difficult for them to leave the country, for example, because it is so expensive.
Hope you all enjoyed this post, and I'll write again soon. Be great.
"Travel is the one thing you buy that makes you richer."