This is our last full week in Buenos Aires. No one can really believe it. It seems like we have just finally started to know our bus route or the most secure way to affix our backpacks to our bodies to prevent thievery while on the subte.
Before leaving, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on some of the biggest culture shocks we experienced in Buenos Aires, things we weren’t used to in the States and which required a few weeks of adjusting.
The University of Palermo has been quite a change of pace from an academic life lived on a prairie. At the University of Palermo, just about everyone is a fashion design major and, as they will gladly tell you themselves, just way too cool.
The academic focus is different in that it doesn’t seem to be on academics. In fact, if you fail your classes one term, you just get to do them over and over until you pass. For those who fail first and succeed later, there is a ritual that takes place just outside the doors of the main academic building; friends of the finally passing student wait outside with raw eggs (and, occasionally, silly string) and when the student emerges, they get attacked, egged and even floured.
People carry mannequins around in the hallways and on the sidewalks from building to building. Not having a real campus is also a strange thing; no tree to laze under while reading Hemingway, no Frisbee field. Only taxis and buses to dodge from class to class.
“Every American I’ve ever talked to has been really weird,” said Laura Pittaluga, a student at the University of Palermo. While she has American friends, she said in some way they are just strange. “I think Latinos just enjoy life more,” she said. Maybe it’s because of the American obsession with bigger, faster technology, we speculated.
I’ve also noticed that I’ve not seen a single commercial for medication for depression during our dinnertime telenovelas in my host family’s house.
The intense sheltering that happens during high school in many parts of the United States hardly seems to happen here at all. It was interesting to adjust to the more laid-back style of a lot of our classmates or friends we made on the weekends. Even during their final exams, they hardly seem stressed.
“This is how we do things,” Pittaluga explained one day as I was panicking about a presentation she and I had to give for a class. “We wait until the time comes, then we throw something together.”
Sexism and chauvinism run rampant and, from the people I have talked to, are not fought except by a few activist groups I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, such as Las Rojas (a group that led part of an annual abortion march). At Knox, in my hometown, and even in Chicago, I have never felt afraid to walk around outside.
Here, though, I walk a little faster and try to look less friendly while walking down the street. Either way, the remarks are the same, whether it’s as simple as “Beautiful eyes,” or something that is so foul it doesn’t need to be repeated here.
“It’s just the way it is here,” said Alejandra Vassallo, the Knox-Buenos Aires program director, who studied Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Buenos Aires. “We remember, when we were girls, walking with our mothers as men yelled things at them,” she said, emphasizing that the “way it is” starts very young.
In the United States, if you go to a store and pay for something that costs $6.57, and you give them a 10-dollar bill, they give you your change. That is not the case here. In this country there is a shortage of monedas (coins).
“A woman at a kiosk made me cry because I didn’t have change,” said senior Colleen Larsen. “She yelled at me. All I wanted to do was buy nuts.” In one bakery I frequent in between classes, there is a sign that says “Call to solidarity” in regards to asking the customer to pay with some monedas when they can.
As there is a coin shortage, most retailers have to pay more than 95 pesos to get 85-95 pesos worth of coins, and therefore do not want to give them out.
You have to use your keys to get out of your apartment and the building you live in. That took some getting used to.
So, what now? As the program goes, we now have two weeks to travel around Latin America. Some of us are headed to Chile, others to Uruguay, some to the north of Argentina, and others (yours truly) are off to see Peru. It’s been a good run, I’d say, hiking on glaciers and scuba diving and all.
Oh, and the learning Spanish part, of course. I feel like now I could get on any bus and, aside from my extreme pallor, which has several times caused me to be mistaken as being from Ireland (and once from Russia), truly be mistaken for a porteña.
Coin facts from: