When the plane touched down at Ezeiza International Airport, Buenos Aires, I had a backpack full of climbing gear and a head full of dreams about summiting Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas. I hadn’t expected to land in Argentina for the first time and feel like I was finally returning home. At the airport, Spanish with an Italian lilt blasted over the speakers and women with legs like spaghetti paraded in short, tight mini-skirts. Dark-haired men that could easily have been models sauntered through the airport, comfortable in their own charm and sex-appeal.
By the time I hit Buenos Aires proper I’d decided that this was the place of my heart – and I hadn’t yet tried the ice-cream. Half the population of Argentina comes from Italian heritage, easily identified by their passion for coffee, cakes and ice-cream. Argentines have a great love for “lunfardo” (slang), as do Australians which was one of the first things I found we had in common. Slang and wine, but that’s a whole other post.
It took me three visits to Argentina before I finally took the plunge and moved there. The first friends I made in Argentina were through bonding over homemade ice-cream. It’s not uncommon to find ma and pa shops on every street corner, a rainbow of frozen flavors just waiting to be devoured. Plastic chairs and tables are set up on sidewalks and locals gather to eat, laugh and gossip. It didn’t take long to find my favorite ice-cream shop, and I set about trying to fit in. Boy, that was a lot harder than I expected. I thought my love for Argentina would give me an automatic “in.” Here was a single woman who uprooted herself, moved to their country and had fallen in love with the people and culture. But wariness lined their acceptance. When I was asked “Boca or Riverplate?” I thought they were talking about political parties. I had no idea which football (soccer) team you barracked for could have such an influence on how people view you.
Often, I was asked why I would choose Argentina when I could live elsewhere. I never found it difficult to answer. The language, warmth of the Argentine people, astounding scenery and lifestyle all added up to something I couldn’t resist. Now don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of amazing places in the world, but for so many reasons, Argentina captured my heart. But no Argentine could understand why I would want to live in their country, even though their patriotism is amongst the strongest I’ve ever experienced. Fortunately, my Argentine friends embraced me and my flawed Spanish, inviting me to family functions, including weddings and milestone birthdays. I learnt how to tango (very badly), eat asado (Argentine BBQ) without looking like I’d just had a bath in a tub of fat and I perfected how to swill copious quantities of Mendocino wine without falling over. Life was good and it didn’t take long to adjust to my new country.
In the early days, though, especially when my Spanish was worse than a toddler’s, I felt left out. The gap between languages left me floundering, especially in large gatherings and I felt like an imposter. I desperately wanted to be “one of them” yet my accent gave me away every time. But the harder I tried to learn Argentine ways and their Spanish, the more accepted I became. When people realized I wasn’t just flitting through, they took me more seriously and went out of their way to help me negotiate customs and language challenges.
When the economy in Argentina took a dive in 2001, many Argentine’s couldn’t escape their dire circumstances. And even though it was never mentioned, I know many friends and colleagues were thinking that the gringa could go back to her life outside the financial shambles of Argentina at any time. I wasn’t privileged by any means, but because I came from a non-South American country, people naturally assumed I was rich. But man, I was far from it. Although if you measure richness by experiences and the depth of friendships made in Argentina, I was richer than all the Spanish galleons put together. But I stuck it out, protesting right alongside the nation. That single action changed how I was viewed forever and finally, I felt I was amongst my people.
And in case you need to know, my answer is Boca.
What have you found in common with people from other cultures? Did that commonality help build friendships? * Originally posted on Novel Adventurers
10 thoughts on “Mi Helado Es Su Helado (My Ice-cream Is Your Ice-cream)”
Wow! You truly are rich for the experience and friendships!
When I moved to Australia, I thought it would be easy to assimilate because I spoke English. I was wrong…there are so many differences even amongst English speaking countries!
It wasn’t until I stopped comparing Australia to my birth country that I was able to assimilate…and that happened about the time I started hiking. I learned to love the Australian flora and fauna and before I knew it, I felt more at home in the Australian bush than I did in the American countryside.
For me, it wasn’t so much about the people, but the place. Once I felt the place inside me, then I started feeling at home with the people too.
Dee, that’s so very interesting how you mentioned that once you got in touch with the place you could then start feeling at home with the people. And you are so right about English being so different within English speaking countries! I wonder if your American friends think you have a strong Australian accent now and if they can decipher your Australian slang!
I wish I have traveled more but I had my family very early and so it is only now that Hubby and I are starting to spread our wings a bit more. So far we have only gone to English speaking countries but I hope to go to many more places in this amazing world in the next few years. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to make a home in a place where you didn’t speak the language well but well done you for sticking with it because it sounds like it was more than worth it.
Hello there Cassandra! Oh yes, it was hard but I think that’s why I liked the challenge – I put myself in a position where I was forced to learn another language. Admittedly, I think Spanish is an absolutely gorgeous language. I hope you and hubby get to all the lands you dream about – travelling at any stage of life is always a chance for adventure!
Hi Alli, your love of Argentina and her people shines through in your post. I must admit it’s not a country I’ve ever thought about visiting but you certainly make it sound appealing.
I’ve only lived somewhere other than Australia for six months (when I was in my very early twenties) and that was in England, so no real problems with communication there. During more recent overseas travels I’ve loved the fun of trying to communicate where English is not always spoken/understood well. I’ve found patience and a smile go a long way in those situations.
Hello Marilyn! Thank you – I am very passionate about my second home so I’m not surprised you picked up on it! I haven’t done a stint in England but would certainly jump at the chance if the opportunity arose. I’m so glad you’ve had a chance to experience other languages. I find some of the best parts of travelling is laughing with the locals while we’re all trying to figure out what on earth the other one wants to say! And yes, patience and a smile goes a long way!
Hi Alli. I’ve never lived anywhere other than Australia, although in the last five years I’ve finally travelled a little – had a family too early to do it previously, and then no money! I don’t know where I could transplant myself, but I suspect it might be somewhere where English is the first language…! You are so brave settling into Argentina. My son and DIL have a friend who lived there for some time, and she loved it passionately. You answered the question about the football team, but I want to know what your favourite icecream flavour is.
It’s great you’re getting a chance to travel now, Malvina. I do think travelling at different stages of life means you see things differently. I know for sure that returning to Argentina now with my family would have a different feel to when I was young and single and in my twenties! I can understand your son and DIL’s friend loving Argentina so passionately – it captures the heart in so many ways. Ah, and ice cream? I have to say dulce de leche without a doubt. 🙂
I just wanted to let you know I read Luna Tango and loved it. I really enjoyed the historical and dance theme, not to mention the characters. Great job. I look forward to your next work of art.
All the best,
Oh thank you so much, Karen! I am so glad you loved Luna Tango – your message has made my day! Thank you for you lovely words, they are greatly appreciated. Flamenco Fire is next – I hope you enjoy that one, too!