I am not Argentine. I am an American. I live in Argentina. I have lived here for almost five years. I feel disconnected from American life, and in many ways from Americans. I feel much closer to Argentines, but I am not Argentine, and culturally we are very different. In most ways I have adapted. There are some things I cannot change about me. Those things can make it a challenge, at times, to live here.
Yesterday I had lunch with an Argentine male friend. He recently came back to Buenos Aires to live after being gone for 40 years. During the course of our lunch he said to me, “I am Argentine, but I haven't lived here for 40 years. I don’t feel like I really fit in here. Yet I am from here. I lived in the US 30 years, but I never felt like I fit in there either. I guess I am just weird.” I looked at him and said, “Entiendo, yo también.” (I understand, me too.)
It’s not easy to change your country. With all the times I had come here, it still was not the same as living here. I was a business analyst. I was used to planning everything down to the last detail. There are just some things that don’t go on a spreadsheet. Adapting to a new culture is one of them.
I was lucky, when I came here; I had a foundation in Spanish – but not Porteño Spanish (Porteño is what the people of Buenos Aires are called), which is a completely different language. The Spanish language is difficult enough with its 14 tenses and irregular verbs, not to mention nouns that have to be masculine and feminine. Now all of a sudden the tu form goes out the window and I am saying vos. Mujer is no longer woman, that is the wife, and women are minas. Chicos are pibes. The future tense is not used, most likely because Argentines figure they have no future.
Don’t even start on the accent. In the entire Spanish speaking world the LL and the Y are pronounced the same. Not here in the Capital Federal. While every country has a unique accent, no Spanish dialect comes close to the Porteño accent. As soon as a Porteño speaks, every Spanish speaker in the world knows exactly where they are from. What I soon found out is that if you don’t sound like them, they don’t listen. Patience is not high on the list of Porteño priorities.
I was naïve. I never thought to think about prejudice. I am embarrassed to admit this. Me, who lived in Oakland, California, next to the People’s Republic of Berkeley. I am blond with green eyes. Silly me. Prejudice runs in many shades. I was “una norteamericana” and for some that was more than enough reason to hate me. I came from that imperialistic country up north. The one where Bush was president. There was usually a whole list of grievances thrown at me, as if I were personally responsible for the screwed up foreign and domestic policies of the USA.
I am not talking about the overcharging that sometimes happens to foreigners. I am talking about prejudice, plain and simple. Discrimination. Once in a taxi with a friend on the way to dance tango, we picked up another of her friends. Introductions were made. The friend started to make comments about Americans. I kept my mouth closed. I wanted to hear what she had to say. My friend stopped her and told her that I understood Spanish. Her friend responded with “But not our Spanish.” To which my friend replied, “Oh yes she does, because I taught her, and I am a very good teacher.”