Thursday, October 29, 2009

An Interview with Jill Greenberg

Jill writes the blog First World White Girl and lives in
Buenos Aires.

How did you decide to come to Buenos Aires?

I ended up here by accident. In 2008, I quit my job and decided to take a three-month sabbatical and travel in South America. I decided to start here in BsAs and lived here for about a month and a half before traveling around. I returned a few months later, lived her for six months and jut got back a couple of weeks ago after spending the North American summer traveling in the US and in Colombia.

How long do you plan on staying?
I’ve become sort of a snowbird, so probably until it gets cold.

How is your Spanish? How important do you think it is to learn Spanish here? And how did you go about it?

I didn’t speak really speak Spanish when I first came to Latin America a year and a half ago, but now my Spanish is pretty solid. I am working on my second magazine piece where I have conducted all the interviews in Spanish, which was not easy but it gives me the feeling like, yeah… I finally speak Spanish. Or at least totally understand it.

I love language in general and was super motivated, so I didn’t have too hard of a time picking it up. Since I have been in BsAs, I have lived in houses where I had to speak Spanish and I make it a point to have friends who don’t really speak English or are willing to speak Spanish with me, which is key. I took classes for a while here and will probably get back to it eventually. When I am in the U.S., I always have a Spanish tutor and keep up by reading books or the papers in Spanish. Even watching telenovelas while doing the elliptical helps.

I think it makes a huge difference if you speak the language. There are more things and people accessible to you and nuances that you just can’t catch without it. My Spanish is stronger than when I lived here earlier in the year (because I spent about two and a half months in Colombia) and I feel like I am experiencing and seeing things more deeply because of it.

You write a lot about the cultural differences between North and South America as they affect women. What do you think are the biggest cultural differences in how women are treated here vs. the States?

Men here do lovely things, like open doors for you. Men here also do sketchy things, like ask you to go out with them even if they are married or have a girlfriend. I used to get annoyed about men saying random things to me on the street about how I look, but now I sort of find it charming. I don’t think it comes from a place of something demeaning; in this culture it is a compliment of sorts. Or maybe that’s my coping mechanism talking.

Have you been treated differently? Or does your status as a foreigner leave you somewhat immune from cultural expectations?

I think generally people are more forgiving to a foreigner. If I say or do something that is unusual, they just think, “Oh, she’s a foreigner.” I tried to think of something specific that I have done, but I can’t. BsAs is a pretty cosmopolitan city, so it’s not such a big deal here – people are used to foreigners, particularly North Americans since there are so many of us living here.

All cultural differences have trade-offs. There are things about South America that irk me, but some traditions or cultural norms that have a positive influence. What customs or norms do you find positive?

I love that people kiss hello and goodbye. Just love it. I find myself doing this everywhere and people think I am nuts. Also, people are loud here and as a loud person, it’s nice to be in similar company.

What misconceptions do you think North Americans have about Buenos Aires? About South America in general?

I think most Americans lump it all together. They think it’s all unsafe, dirty and scary. I’ve blogged about this before – there are plenty of cities in the US that are sketchier than many here in South America.

When I went to Colombia, everyone I know was freaked out. They were like, Colombia, really? But I didn’t have any problems at all there and found that people went out of their way to show me how hospitable and safe it was. The same when I was in Cuba – people were incredibly friendly and open.

Does the city get to you sometimes? If so, what keeps you going?

Oh yeah. I am city girl through and through, but sometimes it is too loud, too crowded and too dirty. I try to get out every couple of months by traveling. On a more regular basis, I ride my bike everywhere and if you avoid rush hour and stay to the northern parts of the city, it is quite lovely. I also love to swim and go swimming on a regular basis – the pool is a great place for some peace and quiet.

I see from your blog that you are a HUGE Mets fan. Have you become a fan of any Argentine sports teams?

Nah. I occasionally watch soccer when everyone else is, but baseball is my one and only sport. I sadly had to give up my baseball blog when I began traveling because I didn’t have time to write my traveling blog and my baseball blog. Plus, the Mets totally melted down this season so I am probably better off.

I read that you recently went back on a trip to the States. what did you bring back with you in your suitcase?

Electronics for my Argentine friends, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Yogi Bedtime Tea, Orbit Gum, new running shoes, tons of beauty products, and a Star Wars ship replica for an Argentine friend.

This post was written, in part, for where Julia writes about her expat adventures, as well as on this blog. You can follow her in both places.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Titles and cards

So I finally had personal cards made up. I've been wanting to do this for sometime, so when I go to a social function, I have a card with my phone number and email on it. It is very common here for people to exchange cards.

So when I asked an Argentina friend what I should put on my card, she said that I must decide what title I wanted before my name: SeƱora (Mrs.), or Licenciada (a degreed person- equivalent in the U.S. to putting B.A., or M.A., etc.).

In the U.S. I wouldn't put any title on a personal card: not even a "Mrs." I would just put my name, and maybe something funky or funny below it, or a picture, and my phone number/email.
It seems a little arrogant to me to put a title on a card of you don't need it. But here, titles carry more importance. Just to make sure, I asked the guy at the printing store of it's customary to put a title, and he said, "If you have one, it's best to put it." So, I decided to go with the academic title instead of Mrs.- because I'm always looking for job opportunities anyway, and it will help people remember me.

Then the question is: English, or Spanish? Lic. is a Spanish title, but should I translate my degree into Spanish? I decided on a compromise-- since my degree was from an American university, I put it in English, but put the title Lic. before my name:

(Of course, it has my email and phone # on it, too, but I didn't want to post that on my blog. )

They will do, but I'm still thinking they are a little stuffy for me. The next batch might be more creative with a made up title. Next time, I might go with: Boolean Goddess, Master of Organizing Shit, or Semantic Ninja.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Back in BsAs


We finally made it back to BsAs. Four months was quite a long time, but it went by pretty fast. I am slowly getting adjusted to being back. It has taken me about a week for me to realize completely where I am.

Rob, on the other hand, adjusted much more quickly than I. I think visiting the States made him realize that it is not really home, that we will be here at least for the forseeable future, and we might as well make ourselves comfortable. So he hit the ground running, and bought a bunch of things to redecorate the living room. I'm grateful for that. One of us needs to have an aesthetic sense. (I'll post some pictures once the living room is finished.)

There are a few things that we want to take advantage of that we didn't do enough of before:
  • Travel: We are committed to seeing more of the country, so that I get to see some scenery every once in a while. I'm not used to living somewhere without hills. We will be going to Bariloche at Christmastime, and I hope to go see more of the north of the country as well.
  • Culture: I want to see more ballet, theatre, music. We did some of that before, but I really need to take more advantage of it since there is so much of it so close. Food for the soul.
  • Socializing: Working from home is great, and I enjoy my alone time, but I need to force myself to socialize more, or I become a melancholy hermit.
  • Spanish: My Spanish definitely improved since I moved here, but I slacked off quite a bit before we left. It's easy to surround myself in an English bubble since I work in English all day. Both Rob and I are scheduled for some classes to brush up. He has been trying to incorporate a lot of Spanish into his conversation lately, which I am really proud of.
So we are both glad to be back, and the trip away has motivated us to try and soak up as much of the place as we can. Remind me to go back and read this post the next time I spend three days inside the apartment working without seeing the sun.

This post was written, in part, for where Julia writes about her expat adventures, as well as on this blog. You can follow her in both places.