Assimilation, Anxiety y Aguacates

Amanda Landaverde
February 28, 2017

Like every other student that decides to travel abroad, I am tasked with several missions: learning my surroundings, enhancing communication skills (whether this be elaborate hand gestures for some, or the actual local language for others), and assimilating. And, as I am sure is the same for all students abroad, I am having the most difficulties with the last goal: assimilation.

Some parts of cultural assimilation are easy. For instance, fashion in Buenos Aires is extremely comparable to that of the United States, minus the abundance of flatform shoes and the fact that almost everyone here is actually fashionable. A little intimidating, but it is a little harder to tell tourists apart solely based on clothing (unless, of course, you’re dressed a la 90’s tourist, complete with a fanny pack and visor).

The Argentine schedule, however, is a wildly different situation that requires some adaptation. Argentinians eat later (around 9 pm), they drink later (bars get busy around midnight), and party later (clubs don’t even open until 1 am). Argentinians take a much more relaxed approach to punctuality; in the United States we would say they are generally late. Adjusting to later meal times is easy; I am used to sometimes making myself a PB&J sandwich at 11 pm and calling that dinner. However, adjusting to nightlife has been tough. I am like a viejecita, by the time it is acceptable to go to the club I am already half asleep. Needless to say, I have not made it out much.

While there have been assimilation adjustments and faux pas that are humorous, I have definitely faced some more difficult cultural challenges that I am fighting to overcome.

I came to Argentina thinking that I had at least a decent grip on the Spanish language. My father is a native speaker, I’ve taken 6 years of Spanish, and I am a Spanish tutor at my college. My experience, however, has been very shocking and a huge blow to my ego.

As someone who can get very nervous and shy in unfamiliar settings, it can be difficult and very intimidating for me to speak up and interact with people. Add a language barrier and that effect is massively magnified. Then let’s add some other spices to the pot: dialects, accents, and slang. Often times my Spanish is not understood, or, even more often, it is met with antagonism and ends in humiliation.

Let’s start with simpler issues, like differences in names of produce. While I haven’t had horrifying experiences like when my father asked for a papaya in Cuba (a word that does not refer to a fruit in Cuban Spanish), I have had some difficult moments. Here are some words that I have learned for verduras y frutas in the past, either through other travels, school, or conversation:

Avocado = el aguacate

Peach = el melocotón

Green pepper = el chile verde

Here are those same words in Argentine Spanish:

Avocado = la palta

Peach = el durazno

Green pepper = el pimiento verde  el morrón verde (apparently labels at grocery stores are just messing with me at this point)

As someone who consumes a lot of fresh fruit and veggies, this is disconcerting and has led to some embarrassing moments in the small grocery store next door (i.e. the produce man staring at me after I have already tried to pick the produce myself, which is a faux pas, and then I can’t even the name the items I want… nice).  Maybe I should make some flashcards for anyone coming to Argentina who wants to avoid these social blunders.

Then there have been some more strange inexplicable patterns of behavior toward me that is not experienced by my colleagues, even when I am accompanied by them. I have experienced a lot of impatience from waiters and waitresses after witnessing the same waiters and waitresses calmly work with my friends’ broken Spanish and pointing at menus. The other night I asked the driver “¿cómo estás esta noche?” twice in a taxi. The first time she was silent, the second time she just laughed. Either I really need to speak up or just not talk at all, but I have been ignored a few times in taxis occupied by people other than myself. My friend suggested that I give off bad vibes, and at this point I am not even sure what else it could be besides just my face. Maybe I will have to get some aura work done in order to not anger every Argentinian just by existing. 

But despite the shady looks and rudeness, there is one upside: old Latina women, even in Argentina, always assume I know Spanish and come ask me for help. At least I know they will still love me if no one else in Argentina will. 

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Amanda Landaverde

<p>Amanda Landaverde is a 20 year-old Spanish and Psychology student at Gustavus Adolphus College who aims for a career in neuroscience studying generational trauma. In her free time, Amanda likes to creatively illuminate and counteract social injustice through art, writing, and performance with her social justice theatre troupe on campus.</p>

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