At the time of this writing, I will have been in Buenos Aires for a week. Now, this may sound very strange, but I think I went through the worst of my culture shock on the first day. I started crying and thinking that I'd never know enough Spanish, that I was ruining my relationships, and that I would never make friends. However, all of those things have turned out not to be true. My host mom cheers me up a lot, so that, the awesome people of ISA, and talking to friends back home has helped a lot. Sometimes I still get confused as to where I am, especially after I've been dreaming, because they usually take place in the US. When I wake up then, I have no idea where I am. But I suppose all travelers feel like that at some point. I seriously thought I had swine flu last week because it's advertised here so much, but thankfully it turned out just to be a cold (that I probably got from the airport).
Anyway, before I tell you what I've done, I must aquaint you with some Argentine customs. First and foremost, you must know that if you are introduced to someone, or you see a friend or family member, you MUST kiss them (in the air) with your right cheek when saying hello AND goodbye. You must always say and do these things. And this isn't just for women; men do it too. The fashionable thing to say is "chau," when leaving, which, as you note, is not written in the French "ciao" way, but "chau."
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I've noticed that it's not really necessary to say "excuse me." Even in the US, people usually say something to the effect that they're sorry if they bumped into someone or they made them go out of their way. But that's definitely not the case here, and I don't think it's being mean; they just don't do it. Also, and this is very peculiar: no one looks left or right when crossing the road. The first rule that we learned growing up, "look left and right before crossing," doesn't apply here. Granted, most streets in Belgrano are one-way so it's necessary to just look one way, but that even seems to be too confounding. People will only stop if the car is literally about to hit them, and sometimes they still don't stop walking. I would hate to drive around here; the road definitely belongs to pedestrians.
I should also remark about a misconception of Latin Americans. While it is true that many of them are people of color, many of them aren't. Especially in Buenos Aires, the people's Western European heritage definitely shows, and I honestly feel like I'm in the US sometimes. With that said, people also seem to forget that people of other continents are here, like Asians and Africans. Indeed, one of the largest Jewish populations outside of Israel resides in Buenos Aires. It is also worth noting that when someone asks where I am from, I cannot say America, as all North and South Americans are indeed Americans. Instead I must say that I am from the US. I think we sometimes forget that we don't own both continents.
Speaking of American things, it's really nice because whenever I want to feel like I'm at home, I only have to turn on the TV to find like 20 channels that show movies in English. One of the reasons is definitely that Hollywood owns most of the movie-making world, but also that it helps people learn English. It also doesn't take any time to dub (I watched a bit of Hannah Montana (or something similiar) dubbed and it was really weird). Things are very similar here (from toilets to trash cans to drying hands). The major difference, of course, is the language spoken. Most of my friends here want to come back fluent, and I'm not even taking a Spanish class, so the fact that I can understand a lot of what they're saying is rather amazing. We'll see how well I can keep up though.
I really love all the people on the ISA (International Studies Abroad) program, or at least the 15-20 people I know. ^_^' Everything is much, much slower than anything you would encounter in the US, likes meals or even just tea time. However, I can kind of see why, because in Argentina, it's seen as rude if the waiter interrupts you for anything. So, they don't ask you for your order, and they definitely don't just leave your check on the table. You must ask them (staring intently in their eyes is the only way I've found to attract their attention) for these things. Another strange thing is that water here is not free, and if you order it, they will automatically give you carbonated water. It's basically water that's fizzy, but I really don't like it. Because of that, people really don't drink water here, so it seems like I'm always thirsty.
Anyway, my friends and I went to the Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires a few days ago, and it was awesome. They had all sorts of Spanish art, Argentine art, and native art. Christianity definitely played a role in the former two and when you're trained to look for it, you notice all the subtle ways the painters portrayed the Romans (aka the Pagans) as barbaric, rapists, pillagers, etc. I have to say though, at least the women seemed to have some sexual role; later on women were only allowed to be mothers in the paintings. Anyway, enough of my art history rambling!
A bunch of us also went out to the bars the other night, which was a lot of fun. Now, I must explain something about Argentine nightlife. It is definitely not like in the US where people drink 5 shots in 20 minutes and get blacked out for the next few hours; here, you take a nap in the evening, get up around midnight to shower and meet your friends, and then go to the bars around 2. Four in the morning is considered the best time of the party. When they close around 7, it's traditional to go out and get breakfast with your friends. Finally, around 8 or 9, you go back to sleep. We definitely haven't adjusted to Argentine standards, but we're getting there! Anyway, at the bar we went to, they played American songs like "Hot N' Cold," "Just Dance," and "Cry For You." It was so much fun singing along to them, and after way too much wine, hard alcohol, and some Sex on the Beach, we, naturally being Americans, felt the need to get up and starting dancing in the middle of the third floor of the bar. Yes, every Argentine was looking at us, and yes, they were laughing, but we really wanted to dance, so I don't regret it at all.
Speaking of dance, as you must know, tango here is really huge. Even if you're walking down the street, you're likely to see street performers dancing tango; in one case, a man had created a doll that imitated a woman in tango. It was quite amusing. The university offers a few tango classes, and you can learn salsa in a lot of different venues as well, so we'll see if I'm able to dance as well as the natives when I get back. :)
We've been doing a lot of shopping lately as well. Cabildo Avenue is really near to my house, and it has lots of cafes, clothing shops, electronics stores, shoe stores, etc. Now I must remark on the last one. In most Argentine stores, the shop's wares (whether it's cell phones, shoes or clothes) are displayed in a glass case on both sides of the entrance way so, naturally, you can see their supplies, but you can see also the prices without going inside. And I swear, every day, every women is looking at leather boots. I don't know if they can't afford them (they are about $70-$120 USD) or are just dreaming about them or what, but seriously I felt like I would only fit in if I gazed at them as well. They're really popular here, but they kind of look like cowboy boots to me, and they only seem to work with jeans anyway (and we all know how much I hate those).
For the most part though, everything here is really cheap. I bought some really cute shirts and these beautifully intricate scarves for only FIVE DOLLARS EACH (yes, you heard me right).I was also forced to buy a few sweaters (one of which reminds me of what Little Red Riding Hood would wear, but in blue) by my host mom because she thinks I'm going to die of the cold or something. I admit, it has been cold here, about 30-40 degrees F every day, but she doesn't seem to understand that I'm from Minnesota and I literally have walked miles in -20 degree weather. Oh well. I also found this cute little shop that sells Asian-style things (I later found out the owner of the store is from Shanghai), and you will not believe this, but they had SAILOR MOON STICKERS. My mouth literally dropped open, because at least in the US, they lost the license to sell Sailor Moon things many years ago. I'm not sure if it was imported or bootlegged (some of the senshi's outfits were strange colors), but either way I bought them. Even better news is the fact that I found TWO Japanese restaurants and one Chinese restaurant just a few blocks from my apartment building. I'll have to go there soon because I'm kind of getting sick of Italian and French food. Also, my phone, after SIX DAYS of trying to activate it, was finally fixed by someone in the store. It was seriously a pain, and no one else had as much trouble with their phones as I did. Apparently there was something wrong with the chip, but I seriously don't think it could have been that easy. Either way, it's finally working and I'm glad. Most of the features are similar to American phones, but on mine at least, you can also connect to FM Radio and play games like Chicken and UFO. I have still not figured out what those are. The three main companies in Argentina are Claro, Personal, and MoviStar; unfortunately, touch phones and slide phones haven't really made it here yet.
Classes start on Monday, and there is a sort of "trial period" where you can see if you really want to take them. Some of them are really far away so I'll have to take the subte (subway). Hopefully I don't get lost again.
Sorry about not adding pictures by the way; the cord I actually brought with was the one chewed by me and Michael's rats. -_- Either way, I'll add more later. Chau for now!