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 affordablecallingcards.net where Julia writes about her expat adventures, as well as on this blog. You can follow her in both places.