Visions from Buenos Aires

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By Erin Delman

I watched my three new Brazilian friends jabber on in Portuguese as they meticulously cut their carne Milanese into small, dainty pieces. After a particularly rapid and animated discourse by Larissa, the most fluent English speaker of the group, she looked at me and said, “Oh, I’m sorry, Erin, I forgot you don’t speak Portuguese. We were just saying how when we act stupid, we tell people we’re Americans.”

I smiled and shrugged off the comment, filing it into my repertoire of anti-American remarks that had frequented my recent conversations in Buenos Aires.  Now, I’m not saying that the people in this city are unfriendly or angry. Rather, they echo a sentiment pervasive throughout the world: Americans are annoying.

Granted, being with a group of 20 Americans in one of the most heavily-visited cities in Latin America draws attention. Though we are blatant tourists, with our cameras flashing and maps at hand, I can proudly say that we are not obnoxious.

Or, at the very least, we are not the worst. We frequently run into our fellow countrymen who are talking loudly and intentionally, clearly unaware of cultural propriety. In these instances, the Union group tends to share a glance and roll our eyes in an attempt to dissociate from the offensive behavior that has epitomized all Americans and annoyed the entirety of the world.

Now, despite my bout of superiority, I must concede to the porteños, ex-patriots, and other global citizens: Americans, including the Union group, are very, very easy targets. As a matter of fact, our trip has been plagued by misfortune since almost the first day.

We have been robbed, threatened, and even assaulted. There is the girl whose entire purse, including her wallet, keys, cell phone, and schoolwork, was stolen as she ate lunch.  Then, there are the two boys who were drawn into a whorehouse, unbeknownst to them, where they were charged $20 each for a sip of beer and an invitation (which they clearly declined).  One student’s Blackberry was stolen from her hands by a bicyclist as she walked the city streets. Another student  was threatened with a ten-foot long 2×4 and a knife as he cut through a park on his way home. Money, cell phones, and cameras have been stolen as the entire group danced at a club.

Perhaps the scariest incident occurred at a boliche, where a bouncer made sexual advances on one of the girls, and when she declined, he attempted to use physical force. She escaped unscathed, save jitters and a heightened awareness of her surroundings.

In reality, no one has been hurt and the city is not scary. We have lost a lot of physical property, but all of the robberies and incidences are highly reflective of the level of poverty and quality of life in Buenos Aires.

Although we live in the richest part of town, we are well aware of the conditions in which many porteños live.

So every time we get robbed, pickpocketed, or even ripped off, it’s hard to not think, “maybe someone needs that money.”

So we will keep on keeping on. As we continue to grow in our understanding of Castellano and the Argentine culture, maybe we will be able to assimilate more effectively. And hopefully, at that point the incidences will stop or slow down. But hey, if that doesn’t work, we could always use the last resort scenario and tell everyone we’re from Canada.

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