Sunday, June 29, 2008

Stay up until 6am? Sure!

I realized that I haven't put up too many things about the unique pieces of Argentinean culture that I've discovered over the past week and a half. This post will attempt to make amends of this.

We'll start with food (what, did you expect anything different? Of course not). The first edible commodity which I haven't talked about is my favorite. It's called Dulce de Leche (Literally translated, Sweet of Milk). Essentially, it's very similar to caramel...except better. It's creamier than caramel, and they use it on a whole bunch of stuff here. Toast, fruit, desserts, ice cream, whatever you might choose. It is multi-purposed and has become a large part of daily eating here. Mom and dad...this will be one of things I bring home with me to the US. Complete with written instructions on how to make it :)

Don't worry, mom; I'll be helping in the creation process.

Argentineans really enjoy their meat here. Therefore, I've had many foods such as milonaysa (I am pretty sure I wrote that down correctly but I'm not entirely sure...), which is made out of cow meat and is essentially filleted and then deep fried. They love their deep frying here. It's good; but then again, most deep-fried foods are. As well, a food I've gotten to know are called empanadas. These are essentially bread covering different types of vegetables, meat, and whatever else you might put into the middle. They aren't too big, about the size of a medium croissants, but are quite delectable.

Another cultural difference is something I suggested in the title of this blog: the night starts LATE here. When you go out, you leave at midnight, and if you want to go to a bar, many OPEN around 1 or 2 am. If you want to go anywhere before midnight, you're gonna be waiting to enter for a long time. And, if you just get going around 2am, that means you're not going to bed until LATE. I have had a couple very late nights, and all you do is sleep in the next day until 2 or 3pm and you're set. I don't think I could do that for a long period of time, but its not too bad once a week. Especially when all I have is a bit of homework, and not a whole lot of responsibilities. Of course, I can be responsible even when I don't have responsibilities, as those have two entirely different meanings here, but I think that'd be a bit boring to go over :)

Another difference is the atmosphere of collegiate sports. Many people here really don't have a concept of college sports. Heck, their concept of sports is lightyears away from our concept in the US. We have a bevy of sports from which to choose teams, but here their choices are more limited. It's soccer or rugby, really. There is some basketball, polo or golf, but those are pretty scattered. And no one really seems to root for a college team. I have shown pictures of Husky Stadium to Tomas and other people around here and they are blown away by the size of American collegiate stadiums. They have stadiums that big, but that's only for big-time professional teams. To have a 75,000 person stadium solely used by a university is unheard of.

That's all for the cultural differences that I can think of right now; I'll write up more later on when they come to mind. This past Friday my UW group went to an estancia (essentially, a ranch), but really it ended up being kinda touristy. The ride there was supposed to be 1 1/2 hours, but it ended up being 3+ due to a nasty fog that caused many road closures here (apparently fog is so rare here that they feel the need to close down highways...?). There were a whole bunch of English-speaking tourists there along with us, and it kinda felt like an act to me. At the least, it was interesting watching an old gaucho game where they take this little mini stick and try to ride a horse and put the stick through a ring dangling over the track. You can see a picture of that below. Along with it is just a picture of the landscape. We also got to ride horses that day, so that was fun. But, again, I came away from it feeling like it was a little touristy and that it was more act than anything.

Friday night was my late night; I went to a concert with some UW friends and friends of Tomas, and then to a bar where we just sat and talked and danced and had a great hang-out night. The funniest part about that night was that we were the only ones who knew some of the English-language songs, so when we'd do something the song said (for those of you who know the applebottom jeans song, there's that low part), and everyone would kinda look at us funny. Of course, then the Spanish-language hip hop song would come on and we'd have no idea what you were supposed to do. We had to act like unknowledgeable americans when that happened and follow everyone else as best we could.

Today, I attempted to go to a church service (in spanish this time!), but it turns out that the service was at 730, not at 600 like I was told last week, and I had promised Tomas and others that I'd go to a Catholic mass with them at the cathedral near my house. That started at 830, so I had to skip the church service to go to the mass. I had never been to a mass before, and it was interesting attending one in Spanish, in a gigantic cathedral. The setting inside was gorgeous, and the cathedral is wonderful looking. I'll show you pictures of it when I get around to it. I live maybe 2 minutes walking away from it, so it's definitely close. I just followed everyone when they sat and stood, stood and sat, and then sat and stood some more.

I apologize for the length of this post - there was just alot to say! For now, I gotta wrap up some homework and head off to class at 900. I am looking at a weather report which says its 89 degrees in Seattle (at 7pm?!), and I am just slightly jealous of that. Although- it's been upper 60s here for the last few days, so I'm not getting terrible weather. Still, I'd kill for a few more hours of daylight and 10-15 more degrees of warmth. Send some my way next time you get a chance.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Hey, you gotta be a tourist sometime, right?

While one of my goals here certainly was to be part of the Argentinian culture and not be a permanent tourist, I of course have had a few times of going out and being touristy. Today, that involved going to downtown Buenos Aires in order to see the march of the "Madres de la Plaza de Mayo", in, of course, La Plaza de Mayo. These are the mothers of what are called the Desaparecidos (Disappeared), people who were never heard of again during the Argentinian Dirty War in the late 70s-early 80s. Without going into too many details, there was a military-run government during this time, and in order to quell subversion, there were 30,000 people or so who "disappeared", never to be heard of again. Here is a picture of some of these moms of the desaparecidos, who march every Thursday in the Plaza de Mayo, as you can see, still holding a picture of their missing loved one. The women are symbolized by the white scarf you can see some of them wearing on their head.

Yesterday we went on a little touristy boat ride into the delta of the Rio de la Plata (the huge wide river they have here in Buenos Aires). We had an hour-long boat ride through this really cool neighborhood where, in parts, there are no roads to any of the houses; they are all little islands and everyone has to get to their houses by boat. There is no potable water, so they have to bring water in from the mainland to drink/cook. It's essentially a summer house/weekend house place, and since we were here on a wednesday evening, there was no one at the houses. Discovery while riding this boat: Nothing in argentina is free. We took for granted that the water/cokes they handed out to us were free. Newsflash: They're not. My table (4 of us) ended up with a bill of roughly 68 pesos (22-23 USD). No fun. We're learning all sorts of things about how cultures work....and sometimes our pocketbook teaches us that lesson. The picture you see here is from our boat trip down this Delta.

I've also just finished my first week of classes - we don't have classes on friday! Hah! I am in a class studying Argentinian literature, and a class studying poetry, and it is NOT easy. I have a hard enough time figuring out symbolism in English poems and stories. Our class is either from 9 or 9:30 to 12:30. So, we have 3 straight hours of studying heavy duty literature in Spanish only. It's very hard to concentrate for that long; the positive thing is that I'll improve my vocabulary by having to look up every. other. word.

Right now I'm still trying to figure out my weekend plans; for now we have a group trip to an estancia (essentially a ranch?) tomorrow morning. We get to ride horses, see what life is like outside of the city...the downside? We have to wake up early on a day when we don't have school (d'oh!). It'll be fine, but a few of us were definitely looking forward to sleeping in on friday, only to find out we have a group trip.

That's all for now - I'll write in a couple days about my second weekend here in Buenos Aires...I definitely am enjoying myself, to say the least!

Monday, June 23, 2008

The first day of June?

Hey everyone!

I haven't written in a couple days but here's a little update on the (what I believe are) interesting things which have happened! I wanted to go to church on Sunday morning, so Marta called up an old friend who goes to a non-Catholic church (I wanted to attend a protestant church), and got the directions and time for it. I went and it was fine - except it was in English. I swear I happened upon the only English-speaking church in this entire city. I asked around and the good thing is that they have a service in Spanish at 6pm, so I'm gonna head off to that next sunday!

I also went downtown with a few people from the group and a couple host brothers, and took a few pictures. Here are some various pictures I took throughout the day:

This is a photo of part of the downtown skyline as
seen from a boardwalk in downtown Buenos Aires

This is called "La Casa Rosada" (The Pink House)
and is exactly like the White House in the U.S.,
except it's pink. Go figure.

A photo of that same clock tower that I took a
picture of a few days ago, except this is at night
and I just think it looks cooler :)

Fast-forward to this morning...and school started. That's right. In June, I have to face that word that children everywhere dread: school (Or, if you're might dread escuela...?). Anyway, I take the train to class, and the ride is only one stop, about 5 min once the train actually gets to my stop. I waited for I believe 30 min for the train before it finally came this morning, but hey that's ok. I'll start timing things better the longer I study here. We didn't really do much, we just had a little introduction to the university, a safety talk, campus tour and placement test in order to see which Spanish-level class we'd be placed in. Classes formally start tomorrow, so I'll see how that ends up going. Should be fun, I am really looking forward to having some other spanish stuff to fill the parts of the day when I'm not actually speaking it.

Interesting piece of information for the day: Tomas is a bartender on the weekends, for a company that goes to big weddings or fancy parties and does the bar. This coming weekend is a big wedding (only really rich people apparently can afford to hire the company Tomas works for), and I'm going to go help out! That is, yours truly, Nate Sooter, is going to be a bartender at an Argentinian wedding. And I am pretty excited to do so - it's more Spanish practice (in a super crowded environment...mixing drinks which I have never tried in my entire life seeing how I've only ever been to two bars), and I get to see what a wedding in Argentina is like. The main difference is that my job starts at And ends around 7am. Soooooo, we're gonna see how that goes. that's how they do weddings here - when i mention that weddings in the US start in the afternoon and end usually by 10-11-12, they were appalled, since that's when things are just getting going in Argentina.

I have tea and dinner left tonight, followed by getting coffee with some friends here in San Isidro....there are always things to eat here! Hope all of you are having a wonderful summer, wherever you might be at this moment!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

It's like Thanksgiving...every single Saturday

As I mentioned in my previous post, every single Saturday there is a gathering in Marta's house with all her children and grandchildren, and I got to be part of it today. I believe that about 30 people came, everyone ranging from probably their mid-50s to newly born. The closest thing I can compare it to is Thanksgiving, and yet they have this every single Saturday. It really was fun to be part of. I definitely had to work hard to hold my own among all the conversations, but after so much practice day after day I feel like I'm able to understand more than when I arrived, for certain. They explained to me that Argentinian family get togethers consist of "two hours at the table eating, two hours away from the table talking, two more hours at the table eating, etc, etc...". In my opinion, there's no better way to run a family function. Everyone's always happy when there's food on the table and conversations all around. I felt very welcomed by everyone and I was comfortable sitting in on conversations and joining in where I could. In the end, I probably spoke or listened to Spanish for 5 hours, and learned way more than one would get in a week of spanish class at UW. Like I tell all of them: Speaking Spanish around the dinnertable with everyone is my classroom, and who doesn't want to eat homemade breads and meats and salad and desserts while in class?! This is the MUCH better way to go about learning the language.

I am definitely running into trouble when trying to talk about politics or about religion or about economics..there are so many terms that are complicated that conversation soon gets lost in translation, so to speak. Those sorts of conversations will come easier in the future.

I had a very unique experience with languages today that I'd never had before. There are a couple women staying at the house tonight who are from Italy and just needed a place to stay tonight. The thing is, they don't speak English, and I don't speak Italian, and yet both of us speak Spanish, so we can communicate with each other through a secondary language. I think that is just so...for a lack of a better word....awesome. To be able to talk with someone from Italy about their country and customs through the medium of a shared language like Spanish was surreal. I definitely enjoyed that conversation.

One interesting thing that I haven't mentioned is that, in Argentina, you don't greet people with a handshake - you greet them with a kiss on the cheek. Now, like most Americans, I was taken aback by that at first. For instance, if you enter a room with 30 people, you don't just say "hi" and sit down. You go around to each person and say hello and kiss them on the cheek. It might be odd at first, but I think it's a very welcoming gesture. The people here are very friendly.

As a final point, as some people have asked me about it (in a joking fashion), no I do not drink very much down here (what a surprise!). I am on a completely "taste-only" regimen. That is to say, when I went to the bar and someone would offer me a drink, I'd taste it but I certainly do not drink a whole bunch, and I never drink enough to ever feel it. Tomas' friends have told me multiple times that "we will break you by the end of this, yankee" (they seem to enjoy calling me yankee...except they pronounce it yang-kee. it's kinda humorous), but do not fear. I don't really have a problem with peer pressure and I'm going to stick to my guns on this one. Drinking until one is drunk isn't attractive to me whatsoever.

The interesting thing about drinking in Argentina, as many people have told me, is that you're allowed to drink at a younger age (18), and so people have the whole "let's go get drunk with all our friends because now it's legal" experience at an earlier age. Therefore, when people get together to drink that are 20-21-22, it's not too big of a deal. There isn't really excessive alcohol consumption at this age, because they all did that when they were younger and it's lost its luster.

Take that for what it is, I thought that was an interesting point of conversation to come out of talking with some people I've met here who are my age.

And the weekend begins

The only event which is actually worth talking about yesterday is that I went to a birthday party for one of Tomas' friends at his house in a (very) nice neighborhood in Buenos Aires that's called Tigre. The houses there were definitely very, very fancy. I was able to spend a second night speaking and listening to Spanish from different people, which was great. I now have set some certain goals out for myself for what I want to specifically do, and rolling my r's is one of them. Everyone here can roll their r's with ease, and I have trouble remembering to do it. I know I can do it, it's just difficult to think about it before the word is out of my mouth. As well there are some common words that I learned in high school that are not used here.

For instance, you say acá, instead of aquí, when you wish to say "here", and I'm terrible at that one. I have it so engrained to say aquí that it's really hard to switch over.

As well, in Argentina they speak with a different word for "you" than in any other country. Instead of addressing you with "tú", they say "vos". It's a 1-for-1 switch, and it includes a couple different spellings of words that I'm not used to. For instance, when you want to say "How are you?" everyone learns in Spanish class to say "Cómo estás tú?" (that is, if you even want to say the tú), but here you would hear, instead, "Cómo estás vos?". Or instead of "tú quieres" (which means you want), you say "vos querés". It's definitely distracting to near this word in a sentence where I am used to hearing another.

For those of you who speak Spanish, you might know why this is more confusing, because in Spain the word for "you all" or "all of you", which we do not have in English, is Vosotros. And, since vos is so close to vosotros, I continually think that the people here are referring to a plural "you", when in fact it means just me.

I apologize if that was confusing, but perhaps if it was confusing that's an even better way of showing that there are little complicated idiosyncrasies in any language based on where you speak it.

That's all for now - there's a big lunch starting soon with 30 people from Marta's family that come here every Saturday for lunch, so it's time to try and hold my own with a dozen conversations in Spanish from family members who speak very loudly and quickly to each other. I'll let you know if I survive....

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A little walking, a pinch of speaking Spanish, and a torrential downpour

It's the end of my second day here and I am definitely starting to get the hang of life here in Argentina. Life is definitely on a different schedule, espeically with regards to food. They think it's the weirdest thing ever that dinner in America is around 5-6 pm. Here is a typical food schedule for Argentinians:

Breakfast around 10
Lunch around 2
Tea around 4-5 (yes you eat food during tea)
Dinner around 11

They all wonder what I do between 5pm and bedtime with regards to food, and I actually question that very thing...this schedule seems to make more sense to me, in terms of breaking up the major meals. I definitely still snack, though, of course. There's a store for food about a block from this house which is great.

I won't bore you with the specifics, but most of this day involved walking. and walking. and walking. I went with Christy al Centro (downtown) in order to walk around, but basically it was raining way, way too hard. It rained all day. We just walked around for a bit and gave up. This is one of the only pictures that I took from that little adventure, of a gigantic clock near the main train station - I'll take more when there is sun.

After getting lost going home (i walked around for probably a good 45 minutes before finding the house), I was invited to go to a bar for dinner with Tomás (the 20 year old grandson that lives here) and his friends. So, we went to a bar in downtown Buenos Aires in order to eat, and I had so, so much fun. It was a little intimidating going to a noisy place with several people who speak Spanish quickly and try and hold a conversation, but eventually I got into the flow of it and really, really enjoyed myself. We stayed there for several hours talking about this and that, with me helping a couple of Tomás' friends with English and talking about sports and music and movies and the like. I really am feeling better about my Spanish-speaking abilities. Most people I have talked to say I speak very well for only being here two days, which is good for my confidence. It's tough to speak another language when you don't have confidence, and it's definitely nice to have native Spanish speakers affirming me when I speak.

I'll finish this off with a couple pictures from inside my house here, of my bedroom and the kitchen we have here:

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I have arrived!

Hello everyone!

I'm writing this from my house here in Buenos Aires, and I have been here for maybe 12 hours and yet am having an absolute blast. I won't bore you with the plane ride stories, but let's just say that no news is good news (as you can see in the was actually ON TIME. Miraculous).

Once I arrived in Buenos Aires, the most interesting thing which happened was that the car which picked me up broke down in the middle of their highway, and wouldn't start again. So I had to help push it through the toll booth (which you can see in the photo), and then another car came and picked me up, the one carrying Christy, who I travelled with the past day with down here to Argentina. Nothing like an introduction to Argentina like a broken car! The driver was very apologetic but I mostly just found it humorous and tried to help him where I could. I mostly felt bad that his car wasn't working anymore.

The rest of my day has been spending time at my new home with my host mother, who is absolutely fantastic. It's hit or miss when you're doing a homestay in another country, and I definitely think that I'll fit in here. She's very gracious and speaks slowly (thankfully!) and is very attentive to whatever needs I might have. We'll get along famously. This house is in a very fancier neighborhood here in Argentina, about 10-15 blocks from the Universidad, and there is a train station very close. I'll have some pictures of the area after I wake up and go for a walk tomorrow morning.

For now, I just really, really have to concentrate on every single conversation. I can't skate by in a conversation by half-listening in Spanish, so this trip will be a lesson in concentration, for certain. I'll have more to say tomorrow!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

T-minus 3 days and counting

Hello everyone! Welcome to my blog for the next 6 months or so, as I'll be posting pictures/stories while I study in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Cádiz, Spain. Thank you so much for taking the time to come and read this, I appreciate it so very much! It may not be too exciting sometimes but I'll do my best to make it interesting for you, a clearly committed friend, family member, acquaintaince or stalker of mine (I know you're out there....). I'd love to hear from any of you over the next six months, so feel free to comment here or send me an email or message on Facebook any time.

I'll be flying down to Argentina on this upcoming Tuesday (June 17), and will start attending classes at la Universidad de San Andrés (emblem shown above) and living with an Argentinian family on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. I don't know a whole bunch about the family, save some information from a couple emails we've sent...what I do know is that I am living with an older couple and their grandson, Tomás, who is also my age (20).

That's really all for now until I actually arrive in Buenos Aires, but be prepared for little anecdotes and stories about life in Argentina for the next 5 1/2 weeks. I come back to Seattle on July 28, and then sub sequentially leave to Spain on August 20th.

Adios for now!