Archive for February, 2009

Know Thy Door Slam

There is nothing that a Buenos Aires cabbie hates worse than a passenger slamming their door while entering or exiting the vehicle. (I’m serious, they get super pissed.) Tom feels horrible when he inadvertently closes his door with hulk-like strength. And then, he gets to feel doubly bad when he can’t sufficiently apologize in Spanish!!

We’ve noticed that cab drivers seem to associate door slamming with Americans. We’ll often be on the receiving end of “Don’t slam the door,” from the taxista, followed by the question, “Are you from America?”

These types of conversations have led us to the realization that, OMG, we are gouache American passengers. Tom and I try not to be gouache American anything, so we are diligently working on implementing a kinder, gentler door close. (Perhaps this is a good reason to skip workouts!?!) I try to explain to our yellow-car conductors that we have kids and owned a minivan back in the States with very heavy doors…blah blah blah. Unfortunately, this explanation seems to lead them to believe that I’m really a wordy gouache American, so I’ve quit!

Anyway, all of this leads me to wonder, does every nationality have its own door closing technique? Can cab drivers roughly tell where your from by how you handle taxi etiquette?

A Very Chinese Wednesday

Wednesday was a hyper-errand day which required an exhausting amount of both Spanish and Mandarin! (Yes, from the kids’ perspective, it was another death march day.)

We picked up the girls at 12:15 from school and proceeded to eat lunch, buy birthday presents for Zelda’s upcoming parties, and visit Barrio Chino (Chinatown) to find Yugioh cards, visit the Chinese Cultural Center to inquire about lessons for the girls, and dip in for a little Chinatown grocery store action to snag some spices/oils/vinegars. Next, we went to a pharmacy and then headed back up to Cabildo, where we bought white tennis shoes for the girls’ field day uniforms and visited the shoe store where we purchased the girls’ brown school shoes for an exchange because Zoe’s shoe sole was coming unlaminated on only her third day of classes. We wrapped up our errand day with a trip to the art supply store for the weird random stuff we need to begin Drawing on the Right Side of Your Brain, as a part of home school.

If I hadn’t taxed my Mandarin enough on our Yugioh/Chinese Cultural Center treasure hunt, I got a reprise when I went to pick up our laundered clothes from the lavandería around the corner, which is staffed by a Chinese woman from the Fujian province. She said, “your Mandarin in pretty good, but one time a gentleman came in from India, and his was even better than yours!”

I’m now motivated to retrieve more of my waning Mandarin so that I can compare favorably to the mystery man from India floating around Buenos Aires speaking perfect Mandarin.

What is that Smell on my Pork Chops?

clovesOn Sunday, in a Jumbo-induced shopping haze (similar to an Ikea-induced shopping haze), Tom purchased the pepper (pimienta) pictured here. (Pepper is not a commonly-used spice in Argentina. We generally buy it in containers, such as this, that have their own little grinder on the top.)

Yesterday, we made pork chops with home made apple sauce for dinner (yummy). Naturally, we salted and peppered the chops before throwing them in the pan for some searing. When everything was cooked to perfection, I sat down and almost immediately brought the chop to my mouth for a big chomp. I stopped in mid-bite though because I caught the whiff of a strange odor that I don’t normally associate with pork. I moved my nose nearer to the slab of cerdo, attempting to place the strange bouquet… . “Cloves?” I said to Tom. His chop rapidly greeted his nostrils and after an assessing sniff, he agreed with me.

Digging into a bit o’ research, we have discovered that “Pimienta de Jamaica” is not pepper, but rather allspice, cleverly disguised as “Pimienta Negra” in a pepper grinding jar waiting to trap a hapless male shopper at the Jumbo. I have never seen allspice in its whole berry form and have since learned that it is in the same family as cloves (Myrtaceae), but possesses a more mild flavor with cinnamon and nutmeg overtones as well.

Who knew? (I’ve been saying that a lot lately!)

I Love Parent’s Day!

schoolsuppliesYes, that’s right, school started this fine Monday for the Zs, a day that Tom and I like to call, Parent’s Day.

Last night was a late one. As you can see pictured here, we had to go through all of the school supplies, label, reconfirm we had the right stuff (they are very particular that you get exactly what is on the list), find uniform crap, iron said uniform crap, Tom had to fix the clip-on tie that Zelda had destroyed last year, pack backpacks…the list goes on and on.

Today, the Offermann/Reeves clan got a very bleary-eyed start to the morning, and, although we had to squeeze in an unplanned kiosk stop to grab some juice boxes, we were still early on the first day of school! “Hah and double hah,” as I like to say to the girls because it makes no sense and drives them crazy. Anyhow, enough about us, the Zs were excited to be back at school and we all felt it was lovely to be welcomed so warmly by parents and staff. They were in high spirits when we picked them up at noon.

The latter half of the afternoon marked the beginning of our great experiment. We made lunch and then I cracked the whip as the home schooling maestra. Zoe said, “Mommy, you’re hard!” Music to my ears. When the albino girls would get a little burned out from the home schooling death march, I allowed them a short timed break, or had them do some exercises (sit ups, good mornings, flutter kicks, jumping jacks, squats, push ups, etc.) I called the work out mats, “portable recess.”

Our main topics today were writing and lots of geography — their South America is really rocking (although they still need to work on spelling country names properly). I had them research a South American country of their choice. (Zelda was delighted that we were having “computer lab time,” as she called it.) I learned from Zoe that Brazil borders on every country in South America except Chile and Ecuador. From Zelda, I now know that the national language of Guyana is English. Who knew?

Xalapa: Mexican Restaurant Review

xalapaWe are within walking distance of a bunch of different Mexican restaurants in our new abode, so we thought we would give one a whirl tonight and ended up at Xalapa. We haven’t yet tried Mexican food here in Buenos Aires, so we were pretty excited.

Xalapa opens at 8:30 pm and it starts filling up fast with Porteños. (You know a restaurant is popular if Argentines start flowing in before 10:00 pm.) I would recommend a reservation if you want to dine during prime time. If you show up early, you can get a table without a reservation.

In terms of a review, we would give the restaurant mixed marks. The interior was nice and comfortable and the service was good. Positives for the meal included very enjoyable guacamole, a pretty decent margarita, and the tortillas, though not the real McCoy, were certainly reasonable. On the negative side, our main courses were not well executed. Tom had a chicken with mole that was overcooked and bland. The girls and I shared a plate of different meats cooked in various traditional ways, as well as some refried beans. Unfortunately, everything on the platter was rather tasteless, as if it was prepared without a single spice. (A very picante sauce is available on the side if you ask for it.)

We had a good time, but I don’t know that we would rank it high on our list of places to which we would return for a meal.

Exfoliation and Ashiness

pinkpoofWashcloths are not very popular here in Argentina, so I had a solid five months of dead skin cells that had accumulated on my body (they have received a generous smearing of soap though) since traveling to South America.

Then, a few days ago, I remembered that I am a girl. I don’t have to accept a lack of exfoliation in my life. There are other ways to shed old skin besides using a washcloth. Primed for action, I marched down to the local Farmacity and immediately began perusing the loofah section. Alas, I was not happy with the selection, so I went with recycled pink plastic poof — pictured here.

To accompany said poof, I am using a Dove product that claims to have 10 times more moisturizers than soap. (I automatically love anything with an order of magnitude in the marketing). My new oily, yet cleansing, soap is combating both my uber dry skin (another problem I have had for months) and ridiculously ashy legs (a condition from which I shouldn’t suffer given that I have the skin tone of an albino).

I am happy to report that I am very pleased with both products! It’s great being a girl.

All Hail the Taxis and the Buses!

We learned a very important hailing lesson yesterday.

But first, I must provide a bit of back story. We’ve posted about the crazy spider web of a bus network here…tentacled routes all over the city. Because of this network, it is common for nearly every street to have many bus stops, often with multiple lines sharing a stop. That means it is necessary to hail your bus. No matter how many people are at a stop, the bus will not halt to pick up passengers without a hail.

This I knew. What I didn’t realize is that there is different form for a bus hail than for a taxi hail!

The arm raised straight up is apparently, “Mr. Bus Driver, stop here (and please don’t run me over).” The arm raised outward from the body, but not above the shoulder, means “please Mr. Taxi Driver, come to a screeching halt and pick me up!”

The moral of the story is that you shouldn’t hail a cab with the arm overhead if you are standing at a bus stop (nearly every street) because the taxi may pass you by.

Living with Kids in BA — It’s Not Easy

Now that our family unit is back in BA, I thought I would share some of the challenges we have been facing living la vida expat with kids, as well as some of our crazy plans to address those challenges!


  1. School hours are long. We appreciate that the Zs don’t have as much homework as they had in the US. But, they attend school from 8 am to 5 pm, which we are finding is just too long. By the time we pick them up, get home, cook dinner, eat, and clean up, it’s time for bed. It leaves little time for them to have any extracurricular activities or hang out with their parents and still get to bed at a reasonable hour.
  2. The English half of the school day is underutilized time. We thought that sending them to a Spanish/English bilingual school might be a good idea so they could have some time in English to balance out having to learn Spanish from scratch. In truth, the English level of their peers is well below a native-speaker’s level, so the class time is less than engaging.
  3. The Zs are losing some of their Mandarin. We try to speak Chinese as much as possible (it’s our secret language when we’re out and about in the city), but there’s little we can do for their writing since I can only reproduce a few characters. And, with their current school schedule, it’s hard to find time for additional tutoring.
  4. We are always working against the Argentine schedule. I call the kids here “Coca-Cola Powered” because it’s gotta be the caffeine that keeps ’em going. Wee Argentinians are up about three hours later than my kids but seem very perky in the morning. Unfortunately, my stodgy American kids need a lot of sleep to feel decent and not be growley all day long. It’s tough to maintain a reasonable sleeping schedule when you are fighting an entire nation’s predilection to stay up late. (Yes, there is a theme here — getting our kids to bed at a decent hour is nigh on impossible.)
  5. Healthy eating is a struggle. Argentina does wine, ice cream, and beef really really well, but fruits and vegetables…not so much. Of course, we are incredibly spoiled coming from the Pacific Northwest. It’s hard to adjust to having only two types of apples available (Granny Smith and Red Delicious), no heirloom tomatoes, no multiple varieties of locally-grown cherries, no amazing berries, no farmer’s markets… . But aside from lamenting the loss of PNW produce, the lack of produce variety as well as the poor quality makes it very hard to feed our children in a matter that we consider to be healthy, even when we are doing our own cooking. (Luckily, the girls are able to choke down less-than-tasty produce because they understand the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, even if they don’t taste as good as they did back home.) This was not a challenge we anticipated before moving here.

CRAZY (and mundane) SOLUTIONS

  1. We are going to begin “Worldschooling” (a phrase coined by my friend Mel and also by some other traveling home schoolers). We approached the Z’s academic institution to ask them if they would allow us to enroll the girls in the school for only the morning portion of the day (which is Spanish) and one afternoon a week (which is field day). For four afternoons a week, we want to bring them home for some learnin’, Michele and Tom style. (Yes, I know…never say never!) To make a long story even longer, we met with the various functionaries at the primary and administrative levels yesterday (biting our nails) and they gave us the green light! (All the while stressing that this has never been done before and that they are only approving it on a provisional basis which will not be extended to any other families.) So the great experiment begins.

    We want to use the afternoons for private Chinese tutoring (the girls and I will take classes together); English, math, and geography homeschooling; and, extracurricular sporting activities (we may take up some family horseback riding lessons and family time at a tennis center). Crap, writing this makes me realize how much freaking work we have to do!

  2. Try alternative produce options. Please see my thread on BA Expats about possible produce procurement options. A lot of contributors had great ideas and we will be trying some of these. Also, we are going to attempt to integrate food shopping into school pick up time in Belgrano, since it will be in the middle of the day, and incorporate meal planning and prep into the home school curricula.

Food for Foreigners with Family

photo_4931_2We are constantly on the lookout for dining options that meet the following impossible criteria:

1. An exciting menu (for us, that means offering something besides milanesa, empanadas, steak, or a pizza with an inch of cheese); 2. Food that is palatable to both children and parents (often at odds with the previous item); 3. Being open before 8:00 pm on weekdays (so that we can catch a meal during the school week and still get the kids to bed at a reasonable hour); 4. Must be located near home; and, 5. The cuisine cannot trigger Zelda’s nut allergies.

Well, stop your laughing, because we found that restaurant tonight! El Francés, on the corner of Thames and Gorriti (the address is Gorriti 5099). For a reasonable price we found a nice selection of dinner treats that were beautifully presented. I quite enjoyed my chicken stuffed with mushrooms and gruyere with a side of squash risotto. Their baby salad greens were both lovely and tasty (being vegetable-deprived, we all gobbled those down).

But, without a doubt, the show-stopper of the meal was the mint lemonade-limeade slushy made with a scoop of lemon sorbet — WOW! Totally addictive, not too sweet, and absolutely amazing.

Photo courtesy of Óleo, Guía de Restaurantes

90 Seconds of Good Parenting

stopwatchHow do we apply epiphanies from stroke recovery to parenting? Easy, we now make our children count to 90 when they are mad. (Forget that counting to 10 shit…it doesn’t work; but 90 seconds, that’s a really long time.)

At the end of last year, Tom and I both read “My Stroke of Insight,” the amazing book by Jill Bolte Taylor describing her stroke and her subsequent recovery. One of the tidbits that really jumped out at us was her describing her left brain recovery and her realization that a lot of negative personality characteristics came from the left side of her brain (i.e., the internal voice that nags you for days after you get busted for a speeding ticket.)

We set about applying her insights to kid anger management. We passed on Jill’s observation that the body purges chemicals related to anger from the bloodstream in about 90 seconds, so if a person remains angry for more than 90 seconds, they are emotionally choosing to let that anger continue. (Yes, this is an important lesson for Mommy as well). So now, when our lucky offspring get out of control, they have to start counting to 90. And you know what? it really works!

Furthermore, if there is an issue that they just can’t let lie, we talk them through having the right side of their brain tell the left side of their brain to give it a rest. They actually respond to the physiological explanation of that little voice that won’t let it go…smart little beans.

As my sainted Mother likes to say, “I’m glad you weren’t my parents!”

Photo by Erica Marshall of Used under a Creative Commons license.