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 the same 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 reggaetón 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.
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).
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).
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.
Update: November 26, 2016
I still appreciate water fountains a lot more than before I started traveling. I notice them, and use them, and love them.
Also, that floor-numbering thing can be tricky, particularly when quickly switching between countries. I recently completed a quick trip around Europe, and when shuttling between countries every few days, it’s difficult to keep track of floor-identity standards. I was primarily using Airbnb, and frequently found myself at the wrong flat as a result of this.