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The Last Vestige of My California Life

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I am schizophrenic. Not in the mental sense of the word, but in the Ex-Pat sense of the word. I moved to Argentina almost five years ago from California. Slowly I have become a part of the society here. I am not an Argentine, but I am not culturally very American anymore either. I am somewhere in the middle, slanted more towards Argentina.

I remember when I first moved to California from the Midwest I was so proud and happy to be there. I will never forget crossing the Bay Bridge for the first time. There was an immediate sense of coming home. It was the early 70s. I was a hippie. San Francisco was the embodiment of everything I believed in. People were free in San Francisco. They could be themselves.

I lived in California 33 years before my move to Argentina. I was proud to be from the Golden State. There was a certain mystique to saying that you were from California, especially San Francisco.

When I moved to Buenos Aires and people would ask me where I was from, I always replied "The US," and always added "California." I didn't want to be lumped in with the people from anywhere else. We Californians were different.

When I moved to Argentina I sold everything. During the first year I had to go back to finish up some of my client contracts. I had kept my car and my Oakland mailbox. My Vonage phone moved with me to Buenos Aires with the same phone number I had had for 20 years. I still had that California identity going.

When 2006 rolled around and the last of my contracts was complete, it was time to sell the car and change my mailbox. Selling the car was more painful than selling my house. It really meant I had nothing physical left in California.

I searched through Google to find a mail service that would forward my mail to Argentina so that I could still have a California mailing address. It seemed the best solution was located in Miami. It was distressful to say the least. I was not a Miami kind of girl. I was from California.

For a time I had one of my friends do my mail. Anything to keep that California tie. It was not working out. Finally, after months of no mail, and the realization that I needed something more stable, I opted for the Miami mailbox service. To this day I still have not memorized my mailing address. I felt disloyal. Miami! Please!

I still had my Oakland phone number and my California driver's license. I could still technically call myself a Caliporteña. (Porteños are what the people in Buenos Aires are called.) Then Vonage started to raise their rates. I didn't really make enough calls to justify paying so much money for something I didn't use that much. I looked around at other services – Skype, Yahoo. I made excuses. The reality was I didn't want to give up the phone number that I had had since 1984.

Then one of my friends told me about Magic Jack. You have no idea how many times I went to that stupid website. "This is MAGIC, THIS IS JACK" How annoying. I could never buy that product, simply because of how annoying their website was. Famous last words.

Business analyst that I am, was, and will be for the rest of my life, I began to investigate it. I could have five years of calls and the unit for less than Vonage cost for one year. It didn't make sense. Especially when I thought in pesos. "But," I would tell myself, "I would have to give up my phone number and how would people find me?" Totally stupid. About the only people who call me are "CALL INDIA" and telemarketers for all kinds of junk.

Finally I told myself to stop being stupid. The cost-benefit ratio of keeping Vonage sucks. Inflation is worse everyday in Argentina. A phone number is no justification. Besides, I could get another California number. In Oakland even.

I made the plunge. I bought a Magic Jack and 5 years of service. Then came the day of reckoning. I had to register and select my phone number. I immediately selected the 510 area code. I hated all the prefixes. I went to 415. I tried a couple and they were not available.

"This is stupid," I said to myself. I brought up area code 305 and selected a prefix that seemed easy to remember. Painless. In one mouse click I lost another piece of my California identity and I haven't looked back. It was just a phone number. Now I am studying for my Argentine driver's license.

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  • A great story. I can relate to your sense of loss, but things must be going well in Argentina or you wouldn’t still be there?

    (Really… how is it? Because I’m shopping around for a new location in an alternative existence.)

  • Hi Joanne,

    I love it here. Changing your country is not easy no matter where you decide to live. Argentina can be difficult, especially now with all the inflation. You should come here for a visit and check it out. Then if you like it, spend 3 months here and see if you still like it. You should check out my blog and maybe some of the others here in Argentina.

  • Hi Deby!

    When my American passport expired was when my last real tie to the States expired also. I haven’t renewed the passport and don’t really intend to. The American State Department was always against the existence of a Jewish Entity, and I’ll be damned if I pay them a dime.

    I remember my phone number of my childhood, but not the phone number of the house I left in Minnesota. I still remember my Social Security number, but no longer have a drivers’ license in Minnesota. I no longer have an American bank account. Maybe I should apply for a Bank of America credit card, eh?

    In Israel, they say the last things to go are the food cravings. I drink Tasters’ Choice coffee because it is so much better tasting than Turkish coffee. I still eat American cereals (all cereals here are called “cornflakes”), but since the Brits decided to boycott us, I’ll drop the Kelloggs Cornflakes (made in the UK). It’s kinda hard boycotting everyody who wants to boycott us, though. Maybe I’ll start buying the Israeli made bran flakes….

  • Ruvy, you should chill a bit. I have no problem with my passport. I don’t remember them ever asking for my religion. I have people bring me Peets Coffee from the US. I just do my thing and I don’t worry about political implications. I live in Argentina where everything goes…Besos

  • Joanne,

    If you want to leave the States, you really do need a compelling reason to leave. And Deby’s words should not be taken lightly. Leaving your home country for another one is very hard, no matter what your motivations are.

    I suspect that inflation is going to be a problem in lots of places in the world, what with Europeans and Americans issuing money based on thin air. The other thing you have to realize is that overseas, you will have to close your eyes to lots of things you find objectionable in the States. Not only do customs differ, but ideas of honesty and forthrightness do from border to border as well.

    In Israel, you cannot rely on anything happening according to plan or to schedule. Every last possible detail of what might go wrong has to be taken into consideration – and expected and planned for. I don’t know if this is true in Argentina or not, but I suspect it is also.

  • Hello, Deby.

    No hard feelings, I hope.

  • Deby,

    Israel is not Argentina. The American State Department has not been trying to weaken or destroy Argentina for the last 70 years or so. And even though you love being a Porteña, there is a lot more of the country should you absolutely have to move. Not only is this not a big country, but the American gov’t is doing everything it can to make it smaller.

    We didn’t move here to dance the hora (which nobody dances anymore, anyway), we moved here because we want Jewish grandkids who know who they are (not like in the States where they have a “Christmas bush” and think they are Jews and everything). In other words, our reasons re a whole lot more serious (though not less important) than yours.

    Finally, Israel is not a land where everything goes. Israel is the land where everybody has a critical opinion of everything you do.

  • Hi Roger,

    I am blond, I have a short attention span.

  • Same here, if I get your meaning right, which I think I do. But I’m not going to attribute this to your being “blond” but to your character.

    So there!

  • Ruvy,

    You might read up on the last dictatorship in Argentina and the assistance of the State Department. Whatever.

    Argentines are very critical. They have an opinion about everything and everyone. I guess for me at least, I have adapted to my culture and I accept the things I don’t like with the things I do. If the things I don’t like begin to exceed the things I do like list, then it is time to leave regardless of why I came here. I cannot see living my life in misery.

  • Deby,

    I remember the last dictatorship in Argentina. From the way you describe things we are of similar ages. I remember “the disappeared” and other things, in addition to being reminded of it from Argentines who have emigrated to Israel. The only good thing that Thatcher was good for was for kicking the butt of the Argentine military and effectively kicking them out of office.

    Anyway, the issue for me is not if I’m miserable in my life. This is where we differ. While movng here has been hard on me and my wife, it has benefitted our sons. And, if we live long enough, we will see the benefits of our investment – grandkids who are Jews and who understand that through and through.

    Some things are more important than day-to-day happiness.

    Blessings from Samaria,

  • I don’t really want to leave here, Ruvy. I’m second and third generation immigrant if you don’t count the Native American. Some days (like yesterday) the thought of a peaceful Nirvana on a desert island appeals to me. Other days I wonder what I would do without the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. So, yeah, that schizo thing is happening to me too.

  • Joanne, I grew up in Detroit. I left when I was 18 and never looked back. When I went back for my 20th reunion some of the guys divorced and ready for #2 asked me to stay and marry again. I would have rather died than move back there from California. The move to Buenos Aires from California was a big one. I loved California and I still do. Detroit for me was never really home, even when I lived there. Although the bagels were way better than anything I ever had on the west coast. (Here they don’t exist)

  • “Noah’s Bagels” are doing quite well in Northern California. And I think they’re quite comparable to what you find on the East Coast.

  • So Deby,

    I don’t know about the Americans, but I’m certain there is an extensive European community in Argentina, the Brits included.

  • You are correct Roger. The base here is Italian, Spanish, and then German, Polish. Now the new immigration wave is Russian, Korean, and Chinese. There are Americans, Irish, and British, but we are the minority. From time to time you can find bagels here, but they suck. Noahs Bagels are OK. There is nothing like a Detroit Bagel. They are much better. Noah’s are too doughy.

  • Well, that’s news to me. I lived in NY for seventeen years, and I thought that the NY deli was the top of the line.

    Live and learn.

  • Ahh yes, NY is great too!!! But the west coast is not as good. In LA on Fairfax there are a couple of places but they are second rate to NY, Chicago, or Detroit.

  • I don’t really want to leave here, Ruvy. I’m second and third generation immigrant if you don’t count the Native American.


    I didn’t want to leave the States either, Joanne. I had a decent job, my wife had a sinecure with the government; things were good for us. We had a house, a car, plans to renovate the house and stay through our retirement there, plans to buy a new car; a stable life, in other words.

    But a trip to the left coast, and realizing how thin the Jewish commitment of my cousins were in a community where there are plenty of Jews (the Bay area Deby moved from) drove home the point to me that if I wanted to avoid baptisms in my family in my lifetime and not drink the gall and wormwood of Jewish boys marrying out of the faith (I am very serious about those Jewish grandchildren), we had to do something. One thing led to another and we moved here to Israel. But it took three years to sell my wife on the idea, Joanne, and three years to sell me as well.

    We gave up the stability we had for something else – something we hadn’t bargained for – a life full of meaning.

    I’m not saying you should leave the States – though anyone who realizes what is coming there should think seriously about it – but every time I open up to Blogcritics, I see loads of reasons to be glad I live here, with all the insecurity, instead of there.

    You are one of few people who can comprehend how bad it can and probably will get. Google up Gerald Celente on YouTube and give the man a listen. Google up Steve Schiff on YouTube and give him a listen. They both know what they are talking about. The future for the States does not look good.

  • Oh yeah…

    Nothing beats bagel, bialy or corned beef in NY. Or cheesecake. Nothing, anywhere in the USA or Israel.

  • Wow! Ruvy! Finally we all agree on something!!! Buenissimo!

  • Noah’s bialy ain’t that bad.

    And when was the last time either of you had a tongue sandwich, close to two inches thick?

  • Or a good schmaltz herring?

  • Or smoked white fish?

  • I can get good schmaltz herring, smoked white fish, or Nova Scotia lox at any brit milá or kiddúsh for a bar mitzva I go to. If I want to spend a fortune of money, I can buy it too, but living here has made me something of a cheapskate.

    A good lox, cream cheese and bagel sandwich costs NIS 23 (about $6.15) in Jerusalem, and probably more in Tel Aviv. It would be better if I could get Philadelphia Cream Cheese, but the local stuff ain’t that bad at all. Café hafúkh, what you guys know as a latté, costs about 9 shekels. So a decent breakfast for two can be had at a cheap restaurant for a mere NIS 64 ($17.00).

  • Well, you’re not going to pay less than $4.00 for a bagel, cream cheese and lox, no matter where you go. I don’t care for lattes – the yuppies stuff. But seventeen buck for a breakfast for two is kind of steep.

    But one thing I couldn’t get in California – even from the Arabs. A good humus and a falafel. For some reason, I still carry the taste in my mouth from way back, when I was there.

  • Well, cafe con leche here is great..no complaints about the coffee. AND Philadelphia cream cheese is here in abundance. I eat mostly the Argentine Queso Blanco…AND we got lots of smoked fish too from Bariloche. BUT no bagels. No Bialys. I eat it on a baguette. What can I say? Here they would eat it on a medialuna which is like a small Argentine version of the croissant. Cafe con leche with 3 medialunas is around 10 pesos I think. That would be $2.63 USD. Cheap IF you have dollars.

  • Baguette is fine so long it’s the same quality that you get in Paris.

  • Even the best of San Francisco’s sour dough doesn’t compare.

    Do you remember Il Fornaio bakery chain when you were in California? Italians, too, can make great breads.

  • Bread is excellent here. No complaints. We get a bread that is a cross between French and Italian bread. Then we have arabic breads as well. Bread is great here. I can walk out my apartment building and a block in any direction there is a bakery or a fresh pasta shop or gelato or a butcher or a granja. (Chicken store)

  • I don’t care for lattes – the yuppies stuff.

    I understand. But, when the choice is Turkish coffee, which rots your stomach, American instant powdered coffee, which I wouldn’t give to a dog (except for Tasters’ Choice – and even not that at a restaurant), the best (and only) choice is café hafúkh. It doesn’t sound so yuppyish in the Hebrew. Even “café con leche” sounds better than latté, even though it is from the same root word….

    As for good humus and falafel, you’ll just have to come to the Middle East, Roger, or go to the Sabra ghetto in Boro Park, if it is still there…. Of course, I’m sure the Arabs in Buenos Aires make a good humus and falafel, too. Outside of the States, good food (instead of mcfood) seems to mean something.

  • Talking about coffee rotting your stomach. Try espresso as they serve in Italy. It’s as thick as molasses.

  • Hey!!! San Francisco has great food… Buenos Aires the food is well prepared but it is monotonous – meat, pasta, pizza, empanadas. The same. I have had to look hard for good ethnic resturants. It is not easy. Argentines hate spices. They prefer the natural flavor of the food. Variety for them is not the spice of life. Coffee in the cafes here is excellent. All of it. Coffee you buy for your home sucks. I have people bring me Peets from California. You get good middleastern food here. I have a lebanese restaurant that loves me and they put garlic and spices into the food for me.

  • Oh, so you know Peets. It puts Starbucks to shame. That’s one thing I’m really missing. But there’s no way I can make the kind of coffee they serve on the premises, even if I have their beans.

    Their roasting and brewing is an art form.

  • You are soooo correct about that. I come close, but it is still not the same. I am a definite Peetnik. (WHo would have thought a telephone number would become a forum for foodies?)

  • Oh man, I totally get how you feel about giving up California. I’ve lived here my entire life–the first seventeen years in LA, the rest in wine country north of SF–and while I do love traveling around the rest of the US and Canada, it’s tough to imagine actually residing anywhere else in the contiguous US/Canada area, much less Argentina! My boyfriend has started making noise about wanting to move to Long Island to be close to his extended family in the NYC area, and I’m so torn..I love the idea of uprooting and living near family, since we haven’t lived near our parents [mine in LA, his in San Diego] in years; at the same time it will be a real challenge for me to give up my 25-year identity as a California girl [though let’s get real, I’ll always be one, especially to East Coast and Midwestern people, haha]. I’ll probably be fine as long as I have access to one ocean or another, I guess. haha