First of all I want to thank you for all the greetings and beautiful messages I received on the news of the approval of my residency in the United States. They truly filled my heart with so much love.
If you know me and have spent time with me you know that I will tell you about the good things that happen to me but I also like to give some space to the not so good things. In this article I want to focus on those. Because life is a movie, but there’s a very wide variety of cinematographic styles 😉
Something that’s very interesting is that what you think of as normal, when you change your culture, whether it is because you travel or go to live somewhere else, can be not “so normal,” and it is at that moment that errors, misunderstandings and even funny things arise about cultural differences. I am convinced that there’s nothing better than laughing at yourself.
Here we go. I went to Portland three times before moving there. Those visits were in the summer, in which I relived the majestic skies, extra long days and walks through the forests.
But when we moved, we did it in January, that is, in winter, and I’ll tell you a secret … for these beautiful forests to exist, it takes a lot of rain … daily and constant rain during the months when it is not summer. But this isn’t the worst thing; the sky is constantly gray and the days are extra short (from 8 to 4). So the first weeks were tough; we still went out like always but the feeling of confinement became difficult. I know that some will understand perfectly what I’m talking about. In Buenos Aires (I take this city as an example because it is where I lived) it rains two days in a row and then everyone gets depressed on the third day and obviously everything is canceled until the rain passes. If you did that in Portland, you could never leave your home.
Another topic was English, although with Barnaby it is the language we use to communicate (often with a few words from “rioplatense”, the Spanish of Buenos Aires ¨¨¨¨:) , when you have to go shopping and understand people (rather than speaking because you can say whatever), it was not easy at beginning. At the same time I discovered that there are things that I cannot pronounce or what is worse: I say them wrong. For example, the word “sheet,” which is a sheet, I pronounce as though it were shit, that is, I say “shit.” It made you laugh, didn’t it? I am sure you can imagine the scared face of the sheet salesman when I said the magic word ¨ 🙂 but I found the way because now I use the word “linen;” it’s not as common but with my accent it’s exotic, someday I will be able to pronounce that other word correctly 😉
Another of my great surprises were the hours of the restaurants and the dinner time in general for everyone around here. With Barnaby, perhaps because we first lived in Buenos Aires, our dinner hours are between 8.30 and 9.30 at night, wherever we are. In the United States, dinners are between 6.30 to 7.30 at the latest, and although it may seem like a lie, it’s something I still can’t get used to. So the restaurants were closed at 9 or at 10 if it was a weekend. Very strange to me.
Another thing that I did wrong was to assume that many people spoke Spanish, and there I made two million mistakes, until I understood that the polite way of approaching the topic was to ask if the person spoke Spanish like I do, or “como yo” (“yo” is pronounced like “show” in Buenos Aires, rather than “yo”). Once a very nice young man from a burger place said to me in Spanish: “not like you ma’am, but I do speak Spanish.” I loved the answer and it made me die of laughter.
Let’s move on to the area of driving and traffic. Although I had driven for many years, to drive here was like a new beginning since the way one drives in Argentina, at times completely crazy, is not correct here, and if you were to drive that way here, you’d have a ticket as soon as you started the car. As an anecdote, the first time I drove and came to a STOP sign I asked Barnaby if you really had to stop (the answer is yes). Another new thing was making left turns from a two-way street without a traffic light; at first I was terrified and I just didn’t do it, but I came to understand that people wait their turn and everything flows OK. Once I was not sure whether I could turn, and I waited a few minutes trying to make a decision. There were a few cars behind me and none of those folks thought to honk their horn; it was a totally different experience 🙂 . The horn is used here only to give notice of something, although I am not a “honker” I learned that here it is not appropriate to honk at any time, nor to stick my head out the window to let an insult fly… Here’s another one: you have to yield to pedestrians ALWAYS, basically because if you don’t, you’re going to pay a huge fine.
And finally I’ll tell you two of the remaining differences in the way that Argentines greet one another (at least we had done so until now, I don’t know how it will be in the future). I realized that personal space here was very important, and as soon as someone was too close to you, they apologized. The first months I lived here I was always too close to everyone. Kissing acquaintances and strangers on the cheek, by way of greeting, was something I had to get out of my code of ceremony and protocol 😉 . I’ll tell you two anecdotes, starting with the bad one. Barnaby introduced me to his neighbor Barbara while she was in her car on her way out of the driveway; instead of shaking hands, which is the way to greet someone, I put my head in the window to kiss her on the cheek. I think the lady is still trembling with fear. A good way to start my socialization to the neighborhood.
The good anecdote is that during that time I got a small piercing, in my ear (I clarify so that you don’t think I would get a nose piercing or something strange) and the boy who did the work would not stop sweating although the place was super cold. I appreciated that I was in the United States so I did not have to kiss him goodbye 🙂
Thanks for joining me and having a laugh with (and at) me and of course thanks to Barnaby for helping me in the English version.