Month: September 2013

10 weeks: Supermarkets in Buenos Aires

supermercado

[Photo courtesy of Google Images]

Today’s blog post is a short one.  Here’s one cultural difference that I noticed and wanted to share.

“Chau, hasta luego” in stores

Whenever I am leaving the supermarket, a small shop, or anywhere, I always say, “Chau, hasta luego” which means, “Bye, see you later.” At first, I didn’t think much of it. However, just a few days ago, I realized in Arizona, I don’t say, “Bye, see you later” when I’m leaving Fry’s or a clothing store in the mall. Instead, people usually say something along the lines of “Thanks. Have a good night.”

Every once in a while though, I’ll buy something at a small shop and the owner uses the same expression that we do in Arizona. I think this relates back to the observation I wrote about in another post about Americans being “overly polite” at times. This is simply one aspect that’s different about the two cultures that caught my attention. Obviously some stores owners will be more polite than others in both places.

All in all, I’ve enjoyed the 10 weeks that I’ve been here and I look forwarding to learning more about the Argentine culture as time goes on.  Feel free to share any thoughts or comments below 🙂

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Thoughts on language skills after two months in Buenos Aires

DSC_1278

So this week marks two months right on the dot(60 days or so) and I’ve decided to dedicate this week’s post to what has helped my Spanish language skills and what I need to work on.

What has helped

Meeting people before coming here and meeting more people through the internet

Before I came here, I knew more or less 10 people. Those are the people who I’ve been able to practice my Spanish with and who I’ve learned the most from. It’s seems easier to meet people on the internet or at an event than at the university(opposite of what I expected).

Watching movies, TV shows, and listening to the radio in Spanish

Even after practicing with an Argentinian for eight months before arriving here, I still have had trouble in these first two months with listening and understanding everyone that speaks to me. However, I’ve watched a few Argentine movies and a few episodes of a TV show called Solamente Vos, which have both helped A LOT. I also try and listen to the radio every day and either listen to music or talk shows. Both also have helped a lot.

Dedicating one day a week to English

I think before I came here I was expecting everything to immediately translate/change into Spanish. Obviously, that’s not the case! My parents and friends still speak to me in English, my Facebook feed is still mostly English, etc. etc. But, I’ve empirically learned that if I dedicate one day to English-phone calls to friends and family, writing on my blog, reading in English-it’s easier for me to focus on and think in Spanish.

Living with a host family as oppose to by myself

I hadn’t thought much about this before hand but I’m really glad I found a family to rent a room from off Craigslist. I am forced to speak Spanish whenever I’m at home which has had positive effects on my speaking skills.

Trying to only speak in Spanish with my American friends

This has been a challenge since I’ve been here. It’s hard because when I’m with a group of Americans, the majority of the time I’m speaking English. What has helped though is speaking to any Americans I meet in Spanish and giving off the vibe that, “Hey, I only want to speak in Spanish.” Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t but at least trying to do it has helped me improve my language skills.

What I need to work on

A system for learning new words and phrases

I’m still trying to find a system that will serve me best to learn new words and phrases. Everyday, there is a word that I don’t know in Spanish but need during a conversation. The one idea I came up with just recently is to write down the words that I want to know in Spanish in my journal before  I go to bed and then look them up the next night and study them before I write my next journal entry. I don’t know if it will work but I’m willing to give it a shot.

Speaking more with locals

Like I mentioned above, it’s easiest to meet Argentinians on the internet for me. I’ve been searching for more events such as concerts or festivals and meetups to meet more people but I have yet to actually go. I need more practice with natives because it’s the best way to improve my speaking skills.

Reading and pronunciation

I should be reading a little bit everyday because it’s a great exercise for learning new vocabulary and phrases and recognizing grammar structures. I also need to work on my pronunciation because I still have difficulty with some sounds in particular.

Of course there are other aspects I need to work on regarding my Spanish but these are the ones I believe I should focus on to achieve fluency the fastest. If you have any tips or thoughts, feel free to share them! 🙂

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P.S.- For fun and to see my progress with the language, I’ve recorded videos of me speaking in Spanish and plan to record more throughout the remainder of my study abroad.

20 weeks ago- http://youtu.be/9WXYFaCdgHc

8 weeks ago- http://youtu.be/uGHpFKGajVk

5 weeks ago- http://youtu.be/CVHvfydx5CA

8 weeks in Buenos Aires: Americans are overly polite

buenos aires y lluvia

Wow! The time really flies here. I can’t believe it’s been eight weeks. Here are a few new things I’ve noticed since I’ve been here. Hope you enjoy! 🙂 Free free to share any thoughts below!

Buying groceries means 3 trips instead of just one

Back home in Arizona, I’m used to making only one trip for all my groceries. However, here in Buenos Aires, I make three! Obliviously, not everyone does this but I find it to be more cost-effective to purchase meat from the butcher shop, bread from the bakery, and the rest of my groceries at the supermarket.

Americans are overly polite

Not everyone has said this but a few people I’ve met here have said that the Americans they know are overly polite and always saying “thank you” and apologizing too often. I think the difference may be that Americans tend to be more courtesy in their words and Argentinians with their actions. I am not saying this applies to everyone but this is my hypothesis for now.

Washing dishes by hands

I almost completely forgot that dishwashers exist til I thought about this the other day! In my homestay, and other Argentine homes I’ve visited here, you wash the dishes by hand and then dry them. I think it keeps the kitchen cleaner than having a dishwasher because you simply wash each dish after you use it(for me at least).

Bus lines are run by private companies?

I researched this on a superficial level and couldn’t find much  but I believe private companies operate the bus lines. If you look closely on the inside of the bus, usually you’ll see the name of a company such as Empresa Tandilense S.A., which owns and operates line 152. However, the government subsidizes the fares.

Pursued in Buenos Aires after exchanging money

subte en buenos aires

Eyes fixed on the door, I walked out the exchange market and turned right, followed by another right into a small, clothing store just to get off the streets and situate the folds of 100-bill pesos sitting in the pocket of my tan corduroys.

Thankfully, the owner of the clothing store was busily chatting away with a friend as I pretended to look for a jacket and figure out where to put my money. I pulled out the pesos and decided to keep 400 in my pocket, 300 in my jacket and the rest hidden in my money-belt underneath my clothes.

“Alright, I’m good. Nothing’s going happen,” I told myself as I walked out of the store and headed towards the bus stop.

Crossing Santa Fe street, I noticed a line 152 bus to the right of the crosswalk, and thought, “Perfect! I’ll get on right here and no one will even have the chance to follow me!”

Hoping it was my lucky day, I pointed to the doors asking permission to board only to be shot down by disappointment to see the bus driver respond with a, “Sorry pal, you can’t board here. You have to go to the bus stop and wait for the next one.”

I finished crossing the street and headed towards the bus stop to wait for the next bus. I happened to notice a man who seemed to be following me to the bus stop. He had brown hair and a brown mustache and looked to be in his forties. Unfortunately, I couldn’t tell if he was watching me because of his sunglasses.

Without hesitating, I saw people boarding another bus and I jumped on seconds before the conductor closed the doors.

“Phew. I’m safe. I don’t know where this bus goes but they can no longer follow me” I thought to myself as I pressed my Sube card to the reader and paid for my fare.

Out of the corner of my eye, I happened to see the same suspicious man walking faster than normal in the same direction as the bus while talking on his phone. The fear jumped right back into me and I had to stop and tell myself that they were actually following me.

Less than three stops later, a man wearing typical business attire carrying a briefcase boarded on the bus. We made eye contact as soon as he paid his fare. I knew immediately that he was given a description of what I was wearing-grey Nike shoes with copper-tan corduroy pants and a black windbreaker. He then pulled out his phone, I assume to send a text message to the rest of the guys working with him, letting them know our direction and location.

Panicking a little on the inside, I knew I should probably get off soon and take an alternate route home. Less than 5 minutes later, the big green circle indicating a subte(the subway) station for line D appeared and filled me with relief. I pressed the red button to alert the bus driver that I wanted to get off at the next stop, which happened to be on the same side of the street as the station.

The suspicious business man on the bus didn’t get off when I did but I was certain it was because there was someone nearby waiting for me. Trying to buy time and figure out what to do, I took refuge in an office supplies store and acted like I needed to find a notebook for the university. I was scared to take a taxi home because my girlfriend told me a taxi driver held a screwdriver to the leg of a boy in her program last week. The best option seemed to be taking the subte home and praying nothing would happen.

I walked out of the store and started to head towards the subte station until I noticed Farmacity, one of the main pharmacy stores here in Buenos Aires. “Hey. I actually need something here,” I laughed, remembering my throat had been hurting earlier that morning, and entered the store.

I purchased cough drops and descended the stairs into the subte station. Still unsure as to whether the men were still following me, I decided to wait in the middle of the platform and hide behind a newsstand, just in case.

Scanning the people around me, I noticed one man listening to his iPod. He was young, probably in his twenties, dressed like an average guy but seemed to stick out for some odd reason. Then I froze. Near the boltería, or ticket window, I saw the same man who was in front of me in Farmacity.

“I swear I saw him cross the street after I left Farmacity. He must be one of them.” I said to myself.

I broke eye contact with him as soon as I heard the sound of the subte for my side arriving. “Thank goodness,” I thought.

I boarded the subte and made sure to memorize the people who boarded at that station so I would know who might be working for the men following me. Then a light-bulb lite up. I knew exactly how I was going to lose them.

After about four stops, I quickly disembarked the subte at the Puerreydón station, and  hopped onto the subway heading in the opposite direction. I felt like I was in a James Bond movie, escaping the bad guys. Looking around for any of the suspicious men, I seated myself and took a deep breath. I lost them.

I got off on the next stop, crossed platforms and boarded the subte heading in the direction towards my house. I felt calm and collected thinking about the potentially dangerous situation I had just escaped when all of sudden the doors opened at the Puerreydón station and what happened sent chills down my spine.

The man from the very first subte station, who was listening to his iPod, boarded the subway and all of my hope in getting home safely vanished. I had no idea what I should do. I wanted to say something and let him know that I knew he was following me but I knew it was probably best that I didn’t.

He started to pull out his phone and I did the first thing that came to mind. I started to move closer towards him as if I were getting ready to disembark the subway. His eyes shot up at me and I thought he was going to grab me but he quickly looked back at his phone and slide it back into his pocket. I wasn’t sure if that meant I scared him, he already sent the message or if I was just overreacting at a random guy sending a text message to his girlfriend.

To my relief, he got off the subte before my stop and I felt 85% sure I was in the clear. I decided I would get off and go immediately home where I would be safe.

I left the subway station and made sure to walk along the busiest street just in case anyone were still following me.

Walking a little faster than the average pedestrian, I focused all of my attention on getting home. Only three blocks left until I arrived at my street.

Then without warning, a large masculine hand grabbed my shoulder from behind and a man yelled, “GIVE ME ALL YOUR MONEY!”

The blood and the adrenaline had never rushed so fast in my entire life than in that moment.  With the most petrified look on my face,  I turned to look the crook straight in the eyes only to realize it was my friend Miguel planning a joke on me.

The only thing I could do was laugh to myself knowing it was just a friend and no one was actually trying to rob me. After I finally arrived home, I felt relieved that nothing dangerous had happened to me and that I made it home alive and safe.

Since then, I haven’t had any similar situations(knock on wood), but boy did that startle me. Now, I try not to exchange as much money as I did my first time going alone for my own safety. Hope you enjoyed the story! Feel free to share any thoughts or comments below! 🙂