Running errands in Buenos Aires

In my last post, I mentioned that I need a blender because buying groceries has been a disaster.

I’ll start by saying that the trend of putting your business into Google Maps hasn’t quite reached the tipping point yet in Argentina, so I have to rely on a combination of word-of-mouth referrals and wandering around aimlessly. Although my Spanish has improved since the blender blunder, the latter is actually quite a bit more productive at the moment. Verbal communication is still difficult, as I haven’t been able to hear out of my right ear since I fell asleep on the beach in Pinamar and woke up to a plane with a loudspeaker strapped to the bottom screaming at me about a “Motoshow MAS IMPORTANTE.” I don’t know what they were yelling about but it sounded like a mix between an American monster truck commercial and an episode of Sabado Gigante (Pinamar is a beach town about four hours away from here – picture a swimsuit contest, a Sweet 16 party, and every NASCAR sponsor, shaken up and dumped onto a beach at the Jersey Shore. And I mean that in the best way possible).

I’ve been wrestling with my busted ear since Monday. It’s incredibly annoying and it makes me look stupid for a variety of reasons:

  • In the off chance that the speakerplane didn’t blow out my ear drum, the next likely culprit is water from swimming in Pinamar. I’ve spent enough time in the water to know that the best (really, in my opinion, the only) remedy for this is hopping on one foot with your head turned to the side. This is best done in the privacy of your own home, but you’ll have to trust me that you can resort to doing it on the street if it gets bad enough.
  • I signed up for an “intensive Spanish class” at a school here. I walked into the school, introduced myself, and the Program Director told the receptionist (full volume in Spanish): “If you speak to him slowly, he can probably understand you.” Though I was tempted to thank her for her candor and express my gratitude for lowering their standards to allow vegetables to enroll, I instead silently reflected that it has to get better from here, since this is the dumbest I’ve ever felt in my life (I don’t say this lightly – I once looked at a photo and said, “some idiot took this picture upside down”).  Anyways, she proceeded to say a basic phrase in Spanish (something along the lines of “hi”), and I couldn’t hear her because of my ear injury (earjury?). I responded, “what?” in English; the director looked on in disbelief and the receptionist dug through her drawer for a box of crayons and a coloring book.
Despite the problems that my ear was causing, I did a quick pro/con list with my new crayons and decided that it wasn’t worth going to the doctor and getting my head amputated due to a verb misconjugation. Besides, I had an ambitious to-do list for the day and couldn’t afford to wait in the inevitable line at the clinic.
My To Do List
  • Buy a coffee
  • Do laundry
  • Get supplies for making a pizza

I live in Palermo Soho, which turns out to be the most touristy spot in BsAs, and I’m starting to think I’m the only person who actually lives here. The cafe on the corner of my street is like a UN summit. At any given point, the tables in my neighborhood are packed with tourists representing half of Europe and most of South America. This is great for meeting a wide variety of people that won’t be here next week, but it makes getting directions fairly difficult (unless you want to get to La Cabrera or Sugar, which all tourists seem to know).

It can get claustrophobic when you can’t understand the background noise, but if I’m really in a bind, I can always find another American by closing my eyes and listening for someone shouting a question in English. Most Americans know that Spanglish is passé – you can’t just add an “o” onto the end of your English word, imbecile-o. If someone doesn’t understand English, 21st-century Americans know that it’s best to repeat yourself MUCH MORE LOUDLY in the chance that comprehension is correlated with decibel level. Plus, there’s a good shot that some helpful European will overhear and take pity on you. They can serve as your translator from English to Spanish, or, for good measure, French, German, “a little bit of Portuguese, and Latin, but Latin doesn’t really count because it’s a dead language” (which makes me want to puke, since I actually took a course in middle school called “Giants/Jets Review/Preview,” and all I learned in high school was how to sleep sitting up).

Coffee was the first thing on the list and I have to say that I was relieved as it was likely to be the easiest – there’s actually a Starbucks a couple blocks away from my apartment. I made sure to get a good nights sleep and woke up at 7:00 for an early start. Alarm clocks aren’t really necessary here because people leave the boliche (club) at about this hour and head to a cafe to get pizza and beer for breakfast. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Murphy’s Law, it more or less states that the thinner your window panes are, the more likely it is that a popular cafe is located outside your apartment.

Starbucks opens at 9am (seriously) and it’s about 100 degrees Fahrenheit by then. Although I’ve figured out meters vs. feet, I think Celsius involves long division or square root-ing, the knowledge of which escaped me somewhere between Theater Appreciation class at Rutgers and watching Starsky & Hutch on repeat for the better part of a summer vacation. In any case, it was way too hot for a hot coffee, so I opted for a “cafe fria” (that’s “cold coffee,” in case you aren’t an ace linguist like me). What I got was more or less a coffee milkshake and a sugar crash wasn’t going to cut it if I wanted to make it through to the supermarket. Take 2: “cafe con hielo y leche” (coffee with ice and milk). I looked on with a growing sense of helplessness as they filled a cup with hot coffee, steamed milk, and topped it off with a few ice cubes. I don’t think that my Lukewarm Latte is going to make it onto the official menu anytime soon.

Travel tip: Despite being assured by my favorite US-based barista that my Rewards Card would work in BsAs (“Starbucks is a global company – of course it will work!”), it turns out that they don’t take it here. That’s because Starbucks – along with Domino’s, Burger King, and Chili’s – has elected to let a local company manage the operations because the business climate is…difficult to navigate…in case you didn’t pick that up.

I used to have to do laundry whenever I ran out of clean underwear, which kept me on a pretty regular wash schedule. Before I moved here, I bought these great ExOfficio-brand antimicrobial boxers – their tagline is “17 countries. 6 weeks. And one pair of underwear,” which is really awesome/gross but also means that, since I’m not longer underwear-limited, I use up every piece of clothing I have before heading to the lavandería (laundromat). The good news is that I bought this really amazing, professional-grade backpacking backpack, and though I haven’t gone on any excursions, it lets me transport my dirty laundry with a safe degree of stealthiness (don’t laugh. Every piece of clothing I own is in this backpack, and I’d really be pissed off if it got stolen. On a side note, whenever I’m walking to do laundry, I have a weird recurring daydream where I’m walking with my dirty laundry pack and a mugger walks up and demands that I hand it over. I reply in perfect Spanish, “all that’s in there is my dirty laundry, idiot!” and then I do a sweet jump-kick to his chest and continue walking).

I strapped on my pack and set out of find a lavandería. I’ve found that old people here are exceedingly nice, so I scanned the block for some white hair and quickly spotted a friendly-looking lady having breakfast. I asked her if she knew of one close by, and she replied in Spanish and pointed at a blue apartment halfway down the block. I swore that she said to ring the doorbell because the lady inside would know. She confirmed in English that I should walk up, ring the doorbell, and ask where I can find a laundromat. At this point, you’re probably impressed that I knew the phrase tocar el timbre (ring the doorbell). After you tell a musician that “yo toco el timbre hace 8 años” (I have rang the doorbell for 8 years), while motioning that you play the drums (tambores), you won’t forget it, either. Anyways, I splashed some lukewarm coffee on my face to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, cautiously strolled towards the apartment, and hoped to have a stroke of genius to get me out of this impending awkward interchange. Luckily, someone walked out of the apartment next door and told me that there was a laundromat a few blocks away.

I’m planning a Vegas Vacation-style trip to Fremont Street to search out a casino that lets you bet on charades. I’m getting pretty awesome at it and was able to painlessly explain to my audience of three workers that I needed my t-shirts dried on the cooler setting to avoid shrinkage. This proved to be the easiest task of the day and I pressed on to tackle the grocery store.

After a lengthy “conversation” with a storekeeper, I bought baking powder, corn meal, and yeast, only to return home to Google Translate and discover that I was the proud new owner of baking soda, corn starch, and…real yeast – a little cube of weird-looking, weird-smelling grey stuff. It turns out that all yeast is not instant yeast, and, to my surprise, it doesn’t grow in packets on yeast bushes next to a grove of Velveeta trees. Also, I mentioned before that there is conspiracy in the US to convince people that milk and eggs must be refrigerated in the supermarket. Both can be found – room-temperature – next to lamb-flavored potato chips and other local delicacies. Yeast, on the other hand, DOES need to be refrigerated. I’m pretty sure that this refrigeration switcharoo is an overlooked carryover from Enron’s energy market manipulation campaign (milk and eggs take up substantially more space than yeast…larger fridges = more energy demand…higher demand = higher prices. Do I have to spell everything out for you, sheep?). That being said, the toilets do flush counterclockwise here, so I guess it could all be a result of being on the other side of the equator.

Well, this brings us to the conclusion for today. Winston Churchill said that “[s]uccess consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Alas, the pizza was a failure but I had another day under my belt. The events in this post actually took place a week ago and I’m proud to say that, since then, I’ve successfully navigated an array of new challenges – including finding peanut butter. I love this city, the people, and the friends I’ve made. I’ve even made some great business contacts and will most likely be having my next website built by a big design firm here.

My next post will be taking a turn for the semi-serious – I’ll be answering the #1 question I get from people I know and new people I meet: “how exactly do you make money?” I’ll answer it by laying out the anatomy of my new kettlebell company that I launched late last year.

Until then, friends, un abrazo fuerte.