Archive for the 'Moving' category

Was There Reentry Culture Shock?

As I’ve tweeted a zillion times, which, yes, is a reflection of my excitement, I upgraded my flight home using miles because of my back and rib injuries. I mention this, not because of the aforementioned delight, but because the lounges for zee upper class passengers in Buenos Aires and Atlanta were the first places that I experienced a real cultural shift.

At the EZE airport, the upper class waiting area featured a ton of families, complete with kids running around, TVs blaring soccer…frankly, it was a bit raucous. (One American woman stomped out in a snit because it wasn’t to her liking.) What is interesting though, is that the prevailing attitude of the Porteños waiting for their flights was one of cultivated leisure. In Atlanta, on the other hand, the inhabitants were nearly all businessmen, with very few families, and most were trying to pose with a sense of importance and imperative.

Which made me realize, in Argentina, one really doesn’t witness people rushing about with an urgent awareness that they have to be somewhere.

More culture shock came upon emerging from immigration/security and the bowels of the airport tram in Atlanta. Where did the escalator deposit me? Straight into a food court, complete with the requisite long line of people at Dunkin Donuts for their morning coffee.

Nothing says “Back in America Baby” like a good old fashioned food court stuffed with fat Americans.

My flight was processed through security and immigration concurrently with a planeload of colorfully garbed families from India. While trying to make my way through the police-state measures now instituted to gain entry into my insane country, I found myself in the midst of a sea of Indian women with permanently affixed metal bracelets and rings attempting to pass through the metal detectors together with their cute smiling Indian babies crawling underfoot through secure TSA areas as authorities screamed “PICK UP THE BABY, PICK UP THE BABY.” All was chaos about me, but I had a wonderful tranquil feeling of relief that I wasn’t the one in a foreign land causing the hold up because I was screwing up unknown bureaucratic procedures.

When I arrived in Portland, I was greeted by mom-made Rice Krispy Treats (I’m so spoiled) and had a huge bowl of cherries waiting for me as well (which my intestinal system is not too happy about this morning as I over-indulged, which I am wont to do with cherries). Anyhow, as I went to toss out a few cherry stems and pits yesterday, I had to stifle a gasp when I opened the cabinet under the sink.

“My God, that kitchen garbage can is huge!” I wanted to say. But I tamped it down because I had some sense of awareness that the statement would be weird. It’s the little things, I guess — like paper towels that are huge and don’t fall apart when introduced to liquid — that make me realize I’m not in Kansas anymore. (Wizard of Oz reference for you non-Americans.)

Well, the little things and the fact that everyone in this city wants to eat at 6:30 pm too! (I went out with a friend (Thanks Steve!) on my first night home and the establishment in question had a waiting list for the evening meal at merienda (tea time)…talk about weird!

I’m used to being the only person among tens of millions that wants to eat dinner at 6:30 pm.

Trip to EZE in Lincoln Town Car


I love Argentina.

Where else would you find a guy from Long Island named Fred, who has gone to the trouble of importing a Lincoln Town Car into the country (when we all know that bringing anything into Argentina is never easy), all with the express intention of becoming the best native English speaking driver for hire in BA?

I used Fred’s services to get to the airport today and can recommend him highly. He was 15 minutes early (something to remark upon in Buenos Aires), he had drinks in a small cooler (water and a soda), the car was wonderful, and I didn’t feel that I was participating in a Grand Prix while trying to get out of the country! Also, if you are traveling with a big family, everyone fits. He even called Tom after we arrived to let him know I got here okay.

His Web site features a nifty online interface for reserving his services.

Quick BA Airport Notes For people flying out of Buenos Aires this winter, know that the airport is really hot because they overheat everything in the winter here. Wear layers so you can strip down! It took 21 minutes and 37 seconds to get through security and immigration for a night flight (8:30 pm scheduled departure) on a Sunday.

Documents for Traveling with Kids

There are a few documents that we wish we had brought with us when we came to Argentina last year.

The first item we should have carried with us was an original long-form birth certificate for each daughter. (A long-form is the one that shows the names, ages, and birthplaces of the parents.)

The second documentary task that we should have completed prior to leaving the Estados Unidos was getting a notarized letter authorizing each other as parents to travel alone with either kid as well as make make medical decisions solo, if needed.

Technically, Argentina requires citizens of all countries who are traveling alone with their children to be accompanied by a letter such as the one I describe above. From what I hear, it’s not enforced very stringently with foreigners, especially if the kids are 7 and older, but you never know when that may change.

As we learned today, it’s a good idea to avoid having to go to the US embassy in Buenos Aires for notary services, if you can. They confiscated our phones, my knitting (wooden needles) and our Kindles before allowing us in the waiting room — bereft of entertainment, it was a bit mind numbing.

Doorbells and Sleigh Bells and Schnitzel with Noodles…

We’re going to be heading back to the US during what is winter vacation south of the equator. We’ll be leaving in a little over a month, which has gotten us all thinking about a few of our favorite things back in the US:

  1. Tillamook County Fair and the Pig and Ford races. (Each of the contestants has to complete three laps around a horse racetrack in an old Ford Model T, which they have to start with a hand crank, all while holding one of three different pigs. They have to stop and start the car each lap to get a new pig.)
  2. Not ironing freaking uniform skirts and shirts every day (that one was mine).
  3. Portland Farmers Markets at the height of the growing season, super yummilicious.
  4. Berry picking on Sauvie Island
  5. Mooching off, I mean visiting, family and friends.
  6. Trip to Vegas, sans kids, in a luxury suite (we may not even leave the room to play poker…yah, right).
  7. Using a dishwasher!!
  8. Blissful quiet on the Oregon Coast. (You can see the stars and fall asleep to the sound of the ocean at night.)
  9. Being able to eat at a formal restaurant before 8:30 pm.
  10. Making Rice Krispies Treats (courtesy of the Zs).

Introducing the Kiosko, Chino, Supermercado, and the Verdulería

There are four types of stores around which our world revolves: the kiosko, the Chino, the supermercado, and the verdulería. In general, when moving to Buenos Aires, I would recommend living within one or two blocks of at least two of these four types of stores to make your life easier. Where we are now in Las Cañitas (my new favorite neighborhood), we are within two blocks of all of these essential retail concerns as well as a smattering of fabulous butchers, delis, spice stores, natural food stores…we adore it here!

The Kiosko. These are very small convenience stores that are important when you have a toilet paper emergency late at night (living with three females has made Tom very aware of this phenomenon) or if you want to re-up the minutes on your pay-as-you-go phone. We also use these establishments for emergency moneda acquisition, but you have to be canny and hard-as-nails to get actual coins out of these proprietors!

The Chino. There is a large contingent of small grocery store owners that are of Chinese descent, therefore the name for these types of stores has become, Chino. It is always amusing to freak out the owners of these markets with some Mandarin conversation at check-out, especially with two little blond-haired Chinese speakers in tow! We frequent the Chino for quick staple runs — milk, yogurt, water, rice, etc. There is generally a small produce section in the store as well, but it is usually of lower quality.

The Supermercado. The Carrefour, the Disco, and the Coto are the three most ubiquitous grocery store chains. The mega versions of these purveyors carry electronics and household items, the more modest locations are just grocery stores. If you like to feel and select your own produce, this is where you would buy it, although quality varies dramatically from store to store and day to day.

It has taken Tom awhile to master the Spanish vocabulary required for checkout at the supermercado. First he has to select between efectivo or tarjeta (cash or credit), then he has to decide if he wants home delivery. Next, they ask if he wants his purchase charged in one payment or multiple payments. Lastly, they request a documento, which is supposed to be a DNI card or a passport. Tom usually just gives them his U.S. driver’s license, which often results in a visit from a manager, who has approved its use in every case but one.

The Verdulería are produce markets that dot the city’s streets. In general, I have a hard time buying produce from these vendors because I’m not thrilled about buying food that has been sitting out in the street all day, getting covered in the chemical-laden black exhaust which spews from the buses, but it often can’t be avoided as supermarket produce is often horrible. I find that it’s also a good idea to try to get a sense of when your local Verdulería receives shipments because unless you catch it off the truck, items like lettuce sit outside and wilt in the heat within about 30 minutes of delivery.

It has been my experience (and yes, I know it is not everyone’s experience) that these operators will pass off crappy product if you appear to be a transient tourist, so don’t be shy. Ask to see all of the produce they are bagging and feel free to reject their selections. Because they pick and you don’t, relationship building with your local vegetable merchant is a good idea if you are going to be living in the city for any length of time.

Time to Bitch about Our New Home!

terraceWe are now in our third apartment in Buenos Aires, and our second neighborhood. Our new home is a MUCH nicer place than the Tiki Lounge (our last dwelling), unfortunately though, our move has not been without problems. (More on those later.)

We are now living smack dab between outlet stores, funeral homes, and a trendy expat-focused district. Needless to say, it is not a neighborhood where we spent very much time previously, so we’re having to get to know our new environs — for some reason it has been hard to work up the energy. (Of course, we have located our closest Chino (small grocery store), laundry service, kiosk, and supermarket!)

Onward to our new pad…this place is what I picture the results of a makeover on Home and Garden TV to be — it all looks good, but most of the construction is cheap and doesn’t function well. Our closet doors, for instance, slide on rails. Sadly, the doors don’t slide far enough so that we are able to open the drawers that reside inside the closet, which means gaining access to the drawers often bumps the sliding doors off of their tracks. Really annoying. The shower has this crazy system where the water trickles down the back wall (I mean regular wall, not tile, not marble) and it collects in the recessed built-in shelves. The few drops that escape the shelves proceed down into a gutter on the floor. I’m guessing they used waterproof paint, but it doesn’t really work well. The “retro” furniture is falling apart. The roof leaked in three places during a recent rainstorm. The neighbors turned off the electrical service to our main air conditioner on a hot day. When we moved in, there were no phones downstairs, the doorbell didn’t work, the lights were nearly all out in the living room, the dishes weren’t clean, there was an electrical outlet literally hanging out of the wall, the downstairs toilet wouldn’t flush…you get the picture.

On a positive note, (I do have them) the place has an awesome private terrace (pictured above) with a built in parilla (grill), outdoor sink, outdoor outlets, and a large table. It’s really quite lovely. And the crazy high ceilings with fabulous light puts us in a good mood (or blinds us) when we get up in the morning!

One Storage Space Down…

…Four More to Go.

Tom loved to say that we had five storage spaces while we were out enjoying our summer sojourn:

  1. Two storage spaces in the US (I like to think of it as 1 1/2)
  2. One storage space rented in Buenos Aires.
  3. Suitcases stashed at Jermey’s apartment.
  4. Computer backup at Guada and Dani’s place here in Baires.

We have managed to clear out our Baires storage space (we used Deposito Belgrano — they were great). In the next few days, we should have our precious items from Dani, Guada and Jeremy, which will leave us back to a paltry 1 1/2 (or 2) storage spaces. (Containing all of the stuff that we couldn’t possibly live without.)

How Would We Pack for BA Now?


1. Tampons (I laid in an 8 month supply!)
2. Pans (We brought two All Clad pans with us, a stock pot and a frying pan.)
3. Chef’s Knife
4. Paring Knife


1. Glide Floss
2. Leopard DVD (Tom could have then restored his MAC operating system in English after his hard drive died.)
3. Y Adapter (So the girls could both listen to a movie or music on one device.)
4. More US Bills (Moving and traveling require cash money.)


1. Formal Clothes. (Everyone goes on and on about the formality of the populace in Baires, but the truth is, it’s like any other international city…unless you’re going to work or hanging out in a trendy bar, jeans and a regular shirt are SOP. I would have packed far less “nice” clothing and more t-shirts.)


1. Immersion Blender (pictured above). We bought this little jobby in Baires and I love it. I haven’t used an immersion blender forever, and they’ve come a long way baby. Truly, this is a power tool! We have taken it with us on our summer sojourn and we try to make smoothies most mornings, no matter where we are staying!!!

Expatriate with Kids

This stint in Argentina is my second foray spending an extended period of time overseas as an expatriate. The first time around, I was just out of college and spent four years overseas–three in Asia working for an aerospace corporation, and one in Europe, well, just messing around.

Some might think that being an expat with kids makes the experience harder, but there are many positive inputs that the wee ones bring to the adventure!


  • You do not get profiled as terrorist/drug smuggler/shoplifter! We can carry backpacks into stores and no one looks at us twice. We arrived in Argentina with a MOUND of bags and got waived right through customs. Back when I was a single and very young international traveler, I apparently fit every profile, because I was stopped by immigration, customs, and security guards constantly.
  • Kids give you a social construct. When you first move overseas, it can be difficult to meet people and you may be tempted to hide out in your apartment all day (especially with Internet access). Well, with kids, it’s not possible to hide out in your apartment (they would drive you bonkers if you tried). Having to find schools, uniform stores, field hockey stores, seamstresses to repair ripped uniforms, birthday party presents, and having to meet parents, arrange play dates, negotiate sleep overs, etc. really makes you jump into local culture and language with both feet!
  • You have extra carrying hands. I’ve never owned a car while living overseas, so having extra carrying capacity from the grocery store, or any other store, is HUGE (even if it comes with whining).
  • You eat healthier. If the girls weren’t here, I think that Tom and I would be living on gelato and alfajores (a yummy crisp butter cookie sandwiched around a dulce de leche caramel center).

Traveling Lightly

Here are two images from our arrival.

The first image is the “we are so exhausted why the hell do you want to take our picture” that Ian forced upon us. On a positive note, this pic does do a good job of illustrating the amount of bleeping luggage that we had!

(May I make a plug for Eagle Creek luggage? We could strap two 50 pound bags together and the girls were able to drag 100 pounds of luggage around the airport. The luggage is amazing, if you are taking a long trip, we would highly recommend it.)

The second is a picture of the van (that I refuse to name accurately as a shuttle bus) that was needed to carry us all with our bags!! (Did I mention that we brought Ian’s Turkish drum?)