What were your expectations or pre-conceived notions of your host culture? How were they met or challenged? How have your first impressions of the country and its people changed since you arrived?
Argentina: the Paris of Latin America. I expected extravagant, grandeur buildings that exuded a sentiment of wealth. The food would be equally as great, living up to the rich foods of Italy and Spain, the majority of Argentine’s ethnic background (a fact expats will never be allowed to forget). However, after spending approximately 10 months in Argentina, I have come to realize that perception is certainly not the reality.
The city, although apparent the roots to Western Europe, does not escape the realities of being in a developing country. After spending one summer in Argentina, January to March, the country solidified its semi-peripheral developing status, as a severe energy crisis continues to buffet the nation. I never appreciated a consistent energy supply until I had to throw away hundreds of pesos worth of food as a daylong power outage persisted in humid 90-degree weather. As much as one day was miserable, I was thankful for not living in the neighborhoods that did not have power for four straight days, leading to protests and bonfires in the streets.
The food also serves as an allegory for the lack of diversity in Argentina. Argentine food consists of pizza, pasta, empanadas, meat, and bread with guest appearances by breaded meat (milanesa), cheese, and dulce de leche (to the dismay of my gluten-free vegan friend). Although the idea of only eating carbs, meat, and cheese sounds appealing initially, living 12 months in this country requires any expat to actively seek out good food.
In Buenos Aires, the best things the city offers are all secret. The best restaurants, bars, clubs, and cafes are all considered a privilege, allowing only the most hip attendees to enter. The best restaurants are called Puertas Cerradas (closed doors), found only through friends, vague Instagram posts, or other blog posts. Speakeasy bars are considered some of the top bars, requiring passwords to get into secret locations in the city for overpriced, high-end drinks. The porteño culture obsesses over secret things, affirming a sense of privilege and entitlement of being in the know. However, as overwhelming as the culture may seem at the beginning of my semester, the discovery of new cool spots makes me feel as if I am chipping off a piece of my extranjero status. The food and nightlife scene acts as a tangible measure of my immersion into Argentine culture, making me feel truly porteño, or maybe that’s just my perception.