Demons and Water Fountains

 

The Things We Leave Behind

I don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to drinking from a water fountain.

It’s one of those things you never think about when you live in the United States. With the exception of a few small towns here and there, you will always have clean, cool, delicious drinking water available – for free – at all times. No matter what. I don’t know that it’s a federal law, but it’s definitely a social one.

Water for all, all for water. Or something like that.

It’s not so in Argentina.

In Buenos Aires, ostensibly the most European and ‘Westernized’ (kind of a misnomer, since Argentina is in the West) city in the country, you pay for water. Some restaurants will give you water gratis from the tap, but most require that you buy a bottle or three for the table if you want to rehydrate.

Easily-had water is not all that I miss. Other things I miss from the States include:

  • Travel-sized shampoo
  • Moist brownies
  • Desserts that don’t have dulce de leche in them
  • Modern elevators
  • Locks built into doors
  • Conveniently-sized keys
  • Ubiquitous flat-screen TVs/monitors
  • Relative certainty that your money is not counterfeit
  • Sidewalks and roads that are level/unbroken
  • A stylistic climate where mullets and rat tails are hilarious, not held up as respectable hair fashion
  • The ground floor of a building being 1, the next floor up being 2, etc
  • Being able to hear something other than reggaetone and American music from the 90’s

These are all little details, nothing I can’t live without, but the demon is in the details (as the kids say), and while large differences (language, for example) can be more easily digested as ‘cultural differences,’ the little details can wear at you like mosquitoes.

Death by papercuts.

Then Again…

Thinking about it, though, I haven’t even begun to be boggled by the small-and-obtrusive variations between societies. These differences are piddly! Hardly even worth mentioning!

I’ve recently made the acquaintance of Dan and Audrey from Uncornered Market and oh the stories they tell!

They’ve been traveling the world for about 3 years, meeting the locals and taking in all the sites and sounds and culture as they go. The length and breadth of knowledge they have about these things is what I aspire to someday, and meeting them made me realize just how EASY a country like Argentina is to live in.

The food is great! The people are largely friendly! The culture is beautiful and rich with history! The customs are not so foreign as to be unrecognizable to me! There are cars and roads and electricity and infrastructure!

This may not be a first-world country, but it might as well be. As far as I’m concerned the only thing keeping them from tipping the scale is the wildly corrupt government. This place is one hot revolution away from joining the EU (note: this may be an exaggeration).

Flip-Flopping

The fact of the matter is that all the little Argentine quirks are also what makes the country so lovable; if I had come to live in a place that was essentially US-lite, I would have been really disappointed (I may as well have just gone back to Missouri for that…ZING!).

The demon is in the details, but so is the delight. I get a certain tactile pleasure from closing the accordion gate on an elevator here, and despite the incredible fire-hazard it represents, the style of locks and keys are incredibly charming and have a sort of timelessness about them.

So when I leave Argentina in a week, it won’t be with eyes looking-forward to a few days I’ll spend in the States before the next leg of my journey, but rather with my head turned, gazing backward at the amazing life I’ll be leaving behind, even if I may be a little dehydrated as I do so.

26 comments

  1. Funny you’ve never been one to turn your head back. I love hearing what an impact Argentina has had on your sense of life, other people, business, etc. You’re passing on so many grand lessons to those of us ‘back in the states’ who are admittedly living vicariously through your blog. It’s much appreciated!

    But don’t look back too long. New Zealand will be a whole new experience worth looking forward to. And let’s be real, LA is always an experience…

  2. Funny you’ve never been one to turn your head back. I love hearing what an impact Argentina has had on your sense of life, other people, business, etc. You’re passing on so many grand lessons to those of us ‘back in the states’ who are admittedly living vicariously through your blog. It’s much appreciated!

    But don’t look back too long. New Zealand will be a whole new experience worth looking forward to. And let’s be real, LA is always an experience…

  3. Very interesting take on the matter. As you know Mexico City is very similar to Buenos Aires. And almost all the details you mention are present here, for some reason while reading I was a bit amazed at all the things I see everyday without really noticing.

    I have never gone outside my country (I know this will change in the not so distant future), and it amazes me to no end how different things can be.

    Also, funny to say this but I don’t like dulce de leche, and it is very common here too.

    Thanks for sharing Colin!

  4. Very interesting take on the matter. As you know Mexico City is very similar to Buenos Aires. And almost all the details you mention are present here, for some reason while reading I was a bit amazed at all the things I see everyday without really noticing.

    I have never gone outside my country (I know this will change in the not so distant future), and it amazes me to no end how different things can be.

    Also, funny to say this but I don’t like dulce de leche, and it is very common here too.

    Thanks for sharing Colin!

  5. Having spent two weeks in the Northern part of Argentina at the end of November, I have to say that your little list of annoyances made me grin. They certainly are the things that stick with you (including having to use a different door because we couldn’t find the huge key that went to the other one.) And flat sidewalks are over-rated, but that’s what happens when each building owner owns and is responsible for their own sidewalk.

    The biggest lesson for me had to be a better understanding of the cultural attitudes in the area. Spending time in the local parks along with many other families, seeing groups of people hanging around outside their houses, and the attitude toward pets really made me understand some of the areas around where I live. There is a misconception that many of these similar practices with in the Latin American populations in the US has to do with economic levels. But in fact, in Argentina, it was just as likely to occur among poor and wealthy families. I love that a short trip was able to really clarify so much of the world around me every day.

  6. Having spent two weeks in the Northern part of Argentina at the end of November, I have to say that your little list of annoyances made me grin. They certainly are the things that stick with you (including having to use a different door because we couldn’t find the huge key that went to the other one.) And flat sidewalks are over-rated, but that’s what happens when each building owner owns and is responsible for their own sidewalk.

    The biggest lesson for me had to be a better understanding of the cultural attitudes in the area. Spending time in the local parks along with many other families, seeing groups of people hanging around outside their houses, and the attitude toward pets really made me understand some of the areas around where I live. There is a misconception that many of these similar practices with in the Latin American populations in the US has to do with economic levels. But in fact, in Argentina, it was just as likely to occur among poor and wealthy families. I love that a short trip was able to really clarify so much of the world around me every day.

  7. Really well-written post, Colin. I would agree; even though the differences are sometimes also the inconveniences, they’re exactly what you came for. And for that reason, they’re exactly the things you’ll remember once you’re gone.

    P.S. I’m sightly disappointed there was no mention of the electric water heaters they attach to the shower head – is that how they roll in Argentina, or no? In Chile, I was continually pissed off because the water temperature would fluctuate incessantly, going from scalding hot to freezing cold in .2 seconds. And every day, when this would happen, I had to consciously tell myself, “This is part of the charm of being in a foreign country. Laugh about it.”

  8. Really well-written post, Colin. I would agree; even though the differences are sometimes also the inconveniences, they’re exactly what you came for. And for that reason, they’re exactly the things you’ll remember once you’re gone.

    P.S. I’m sightly disappointed there was no mention of the electric water heaters they attach to the shower head – is that how they roll in Argentina, or no? In Chile, I was continually pissed off because the water temperature would fluctuate incessantly, going from scalding hot to freezing cold in .2 seconds. And every day, when this would happen, I had to consciously tell myself, “This is part of the charm of being in a foreign country. Laugh about it.”

  9. I completley agree with ya. I spent a month living with a friend and his extended family in Taipei, Taiwan. The small stuff you take for granted from your home and the small stuff that make you think twice at your new destination.

    Taipei, while kind of western, was drastically different. From anti-tanners instead of self-tanners to beer to deordinate. In taipei, straight males don’t typically work out except for gay males, so when me and my friend hit up the gym, we encountered hysterical and interesting situations.

    Perhaps the biggest thing I missed from the states was BBQ sauce…from McDonalds to Chips, I could not find anything BBQ. While minor disturbances at first, I look back at relishing the memories (often humerous) that were made from them.

  10. I completley agree with ya. I spent a month living with a friend and his extended family in Taipei, Taiwan. The small stuff you take for granted from your home and the small stuff that make you think twice at your new destination.

    Taipei, while kind of western, was drastically different. From anti-tanners instead of self-tanners to beer to deordinate. In taipei, straight males don’t typically work out except for gay males, so when me and my friend hit up the gym, we encountered hysterical and interesting situations.

    Perhaps the biggest thing I missed from the states was BBQ sauce…from McDonalds to Chips, I could not find anything BBQ. While minor disturbances at first, I look back at relishing the memories (often humerous) that were made from them.

  11. I love the title of this post! And I’d never really thought about being grateful for those things that you say are absent where you are! Interesting stuff :)

  12. I love the title of this post! And I’d never really thought about being grateful for those things that you say are absent where you are! Interesting stuff :)

  13. Hey Colin – Thanks for the mention. What makes this journey so great is that we can grind our way through places like Bolivia and Paraguay, land in Buenos Aires, meet people like you, and feel a lift from a breath of fresh air.

    About your list, I enjoyed it. All of it resonates, particularly the importance of water. But I wonder whether your title should have been Mullets and Moist Brownies. I believe we share a distaste and taste for those in equal measure.

  14. Hey Colin – Thanks for the mention. What makes this journey so great is that we can grind our way through places like Bolivia and Paraguay, land in Buenos Aires, meet people like you, and feel a lift from a breath of fresh air.

    About your list, I enjoyed it. All of it resonates, particularly the importance of water. But I wonder whether your title should have been Mullets and Moist Brownies. I believe we share a distaste and taste for those in equal measure.

  15. @Kristin: You know me too well! I’m really NOT the kind of person who looks back, gets sentimental, etc, but the people I’ve met in Buenos Aires have really had an impact on me, and I’ll definitely miss them and the city. That being said, I’m also looking forward, and New Zealand (and my few days in the States) will be amazing!

    @Alejandro: I’m definitely going to need to spend some time in Mexico City in the near-future. Funny that you don’t really see dulce de leche in the US, except on rare occasions or in specialty shops.

    @FormFire: Yeah, the fact that a lot of these things – that I also thought were economic in nature – were universal between the classes surprised me as well. I guess we have similar things in the States, though, too. Look at tailgating!

    @Ash: Thanks! And exactly, these are the things I’ll miss (in addition to the wonderful people, of course). I didn’t every have the electric water heater deal, though I do know someone who did. I don’t know that it’s as common here as you might think…or maybe it’s become less common since you were in Chile?

    @Ralu: Next destination is New Zealand! Woo!

    @Ronnie: Anti-tanners, eh? I’ll fit right in! Sounds like the gyms there are quite interesting, too. I’ll definitely have to make my way to Taiwan in the near-future, though I will miss BBQ (even though I rarely eat it now…though the same was true with peanut butter here in BA).

    @Steven: Thanks, Steven!

    @Daniel: My pleasure! It was great meeting you, and I’m thinking now that I may have you write my titles, because Mullets and Moist Brownies is a whole lot funnier/makes me hungry for brownies.

  16. @Kristin: You know me too well! I’m really NOT the kind of person who looks back, gets sentimental, etc, but the people I’ve met in Buenos Aires have really had an impact on me, and I’ll definitely miss them and the city. That being said, I’m also looking forward, and New Zealand (and my few days in the States) will be amazing!

    @Alejandro: I’m definitely going to need to spend some time in Mexico City in the near-future. Funny that you don’t really see dulce de leche in the US, except on rare occasions or in specialty shops.

    @FormFire: Yeah, the fact that a lot of these things – that I also thought were economic in nature – were universal between the classes surprised me as well. I guess we have similar things in the States, though, too. Look at tailgating!

    @Ash: Thanks! And exactly, these are the things I’ll miss (in addition to the wonderful people, of course). I didn’t every have the electric water heater deal, though I do know someone who did. I don’t know that it’s as common here as you might think…or maybe it’s become less common since you were in Chile?

    @Ralu: Next destination is New Zealand! Woo!

    @Ronnie: Anti-tanners, eh? I’ll fit right in! Sounds like the gyms there are quite interesting, too. I’ll definitely have to make my way to Taiwan in the near-future, though I will miss BBQ (even though I rarely eat it now…though the same was true with peanut butter here in BA).

    @Steven: Thanks, Steven!

    @Daniel: My pleasure! It was great meeting you, and I’m thinking now that I may have you write my titles, because Mullets and Moist Brownies is a whole lot funnier/makes me hungry for brownies.

  17. colin-

    what i appreciate so much is the honesty in this post. it seems like unattainable to do what you are doing – to travel the world and to make your own way. it’s a fantastical adventure – but that doesn’t mean it will be perfect.

    i think that without acknowledging those truths (lesser bloggers might try to make it seem like everything was ALL they’d EVER dreamed, in an effort to validate their experience for the readership) would make the experience less authentic–for you and for us. the reality is that life IS the details. it’s the imperfection of life, the nuances, the “strangeness” that is so very beautiful. those are the things you remember, even as you adapt to everything else. in a few weeks, you’ll find yourself missing desserts with dulche de leche in ‘em!

    it sounds like you’re having a wonderful trip. safe travels home!

  18. colin-

    what i appreciate so much is the honesty in this post. it seems like unattainable to do what you are doing – to travel the world and to make your own way. it’s a fantastical adventure – but that doesn’t mean it will be perfect.

    i think that without acknowledging those truths (lesser bloggers might try to make it seem like everything was ALL they’d EVER dreamed, in an effort to validate their experience for the readership) would make the experience less authentic–for you and for us. the reality is that life IS the details. it’s the imperfection of life, the nuances, the “strangeness” that is so very beautiful. those are the things you remember, even as you adapt to everything else. in a few weeks, you’ll find yourself missing desserts with dulche de leche in ‘em!

    it sounds like you’re having a wonderful trip. safe travels home!

  19. Hey Colin. I just love reading your stories about your travels and the little words of wisdom that you can extract from each event. Remembering that this is your first trip out of the country you have shared your realization of what it entails. I’ve felt the same way with my travels in Europe with finding the inconveniences that we don’t need to worry about here in the US (like free public water). These differences jolt things around enough to keep us on our toes and more prepared for whatever we have in store for us tomorrow.

    Aga and I want to visit you in New Zealand. Fingers Crossed.

  20. Hey Colin. I just love reading your stories about your travels and the little words of wisdom that you can extract from each event. Remembering that this is your first trip out of the country you have shared your realization of what it entails. I’ve felt the same way with my travels in Europe with finding the inconveniences that we don’t need to worry about here in the US (like free public water). These differences jolt things around enough to keep us on our toes and more prepared for whatever we have in store for us tomorrow.

    Aga and I want to visit you in New Zealand. Fingers Crossed.

  21. Umm the ground floor of a building is called G for Ground. Sometime L for lobby. The first level is 1. The second level 2. :P

    I know what your saying tho. I am in a 3rd world country at the moment and there are lots of comforts I miss – I’m with ya on the flat screen monitors! – what the hell is CRT? I think I remember them from history (or was it physics?).

    Another thing I miss is a large young upper-middle class. If you go to interesting events at nice establishments there are always lots of old people around…

    But the differences are what keeps things interesting and ensures constant learning. I find that lots of the modern conveniences make me less alert. Comfortable but boring.

  22. Umm the ground floor of a building is called G for Ground. Sometime L for lobby. The first level is 1. The second level 2. :P

    I know what your saying tho. I am in a 3rd world country at the moment and there are lots of comforts I miss – I’m with ya on the flat screen monitors! – what the hell is CRT? I think I remember them from history (or was it physics?).

    Another thing I miss is a large young upper-middle class. If you go to interesting events at nice establishments there are always lots of old people around…

    But the differences are what keeps things interesting and ensures constant learning. I find that lots of the modern conveniences make me less alert. Comfortable but boring.

  23. well, I certainly hope you come back one day too!!! and good luck travelling south america… you might discover that the things in the list you put above are not so bad in here! hahahaha (evil laugh :P)

    Come back soooooon Collin!!! :D

  24. well, I certainly hope you come back one day too!!! and good luck travelling south america… you might discover that the things in the list you put above are not so bad in here! hahahaha (evil laugh :P)

    Come back soooooon Collin!!! :D

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