Coming back to the United States. I always knew it had to happen. That didn’t make it any easier.
Saying goodbye to my host family was difficult. We didn’t actually have much time for a long goodbye, because I had spent the afternoon having lunch with my host mom, and then I had been out running around buying last minute things to bring back to the U.S. with me: a container of dulce de leche, a box of alfajores, candy…you know, the important things. I made it back to the apartment and was still throwing things in my suitcases when the taxi arrived. My family helped me get the bags into the cab in the rain, I gave everyone a quick hug goodbye, said thank you for everything, and was off. But “thank you” never seems like enough, and “goodbye” is no good at all.
Despite the rain, the grey day, my sadness, I told myself I wouldn’t cry. I should be happy, I was going home to Nevada to see my family, and soon to UPenn to see my friends. I made it until the plane took off. That’s when it hit me — that I was really leaving. I had the urge to jump off the plane.
In the Miami airport, I was still hearing announcements made in Spanish, people speaking Spanish around me. I was even still speaking in Spanish, out of habit, or perhaps out of some sort of longing or nostalgia. I had an entire conversation in Spanish with the woman checking my luggage. When she asked to see my identification, and I handed her my U.S. passport, she stared at me. “You’re…from the United States? But you’ve been speaking Spanish…” She was confused as to why I was speaking Spanish with her, but quickly added, “I mean, you speak well, really well! You hardly even have an accent.” I felt so proud, and sad at the same time, because I knew it might be one of my last chances to have a conversation in Spanish.
On the flight from Miami to Los Angeles, the flight attendant asked me if I would like something to drink. I was so used to having to respond in Spanish, all I could say was “Uhh…uhmmm…sí. I mean, yes.” She stared at me. “Okaaay, well, would you like to tell me what you would like to drink?” And all I could think was, “Café con leche, but you don’t have that. Not like in Argentina.”
I’m going to miss Buenos Aires very much. I knew I would fall in love with it even before I arrived. I will end with a list then, of things I love about Buenos Aires. And a disclaimer: I don’t think the porteños are perfect, by any means, and I don’t mean to idealize or romanticize, or paint Buenos Aires as some sort of utopia. These are simply some things I love:
I love that you don’t ever have to worry about being late there. In the United States I am often stressed, rushing, gotta go, gotta go, late, late! There is no sense of punctuality in Buenos Aires. If someone tells you to meet them at 2:30, it’s understood they really mean for you to meet them at about 3:45.
I love that people there are more relaxed. I don’t know how to explain it, but you can feel the lack of tension. And see it on the faces. They don’t stress! And for someone who always stresses and worries herself sick over every little thing, this is liberating for me. It’s like a weight off my chest that I never even realized was there until it was lifted.
I love that “having a coffee” is an important event in this culture. You sit down in a café for hours and hours just to talk, relax, have a cup of tea or coffee with pastries. Human connection is important. I’m going to miss that.
I love that the people there seem warmer, friendlier. They touch each other all the time. Personal space bubbles aren’t as large as they are in the United States. Many people hug each other. When people talk to each other and get really excited or want to emphasize a point, they grab you by the forearm or elbow. When they’re concerned for me or want to express affection, they place a hand on my shoulder and give it a squeeze. When you get to class and see your classmates, you kiss every one of them on the cheek as a greeting. Same goes for when you leave and say goodbye. When you’re being introduced to someone for the first time, you don’t shake hands, you do the cheek kiss. Everybody kisses cheeks, it is their form of greeting. It is strange to not do that anymore now that I’ve returned to the United States.
I love that many people here care for each other so genuinely. They go above and beyond to help you. The phrase “time is money” does not exist. They don’t do things for incentive or think only of themselves.
I love that they joke and laugh a lot here. That the professors can crack hilarious and often offcolor jokes in class. They are a fun loving people, they’re not often very rigid and serious.
I love how they talk. How they move their hands, how their accent sounds, the cadence of their speech, all their sayings and slang. I love that strangers strike up conversations with each other. I love when the porteños get all riled up over something, passionate, start shouting and waving their hands.
I love how important reading and literature are here. I love that there are streets with so many bookstores, one after another after another. I love that just about everybody reads on the buses and subways, standing up or sitting down.
I even love that so many things, aspects of everyday life, seem chaotic and dysfunctional. I love, for example, that the sidewalks are so atrocious, full of pedestrians and craters and broken cement and piles of dog poop that you just about sprain an ankle trying to navigate. I love that sometimes the buses come in spurts of three, and other times fail to come for way too long, leaving you waiting on the corner forever. I love the feeling of taking life as it comes. I love that even though nothing seems to work, everything somehow works out in the end.