The key to a stress-free life as an expat

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Published 2020-07-29 08:29

Jerry Nelson is an American expat writing his way through life in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This week, he tells us a little about the challenges he has faced as an expat and how he has dealt with them. Transport, shopping, language... Argentinian punctuality (or lack thereof!). Here are his keys to living a stress-free expat life!

My editor gave me a challenge. Write a piece about the 5 greatest challenges I’ve faced as an Expat in Argentina.

Simple enough assignment, right? Then why did it take me 4 days, 3 rewrites, and multiple cups of coffee to come up with a post with which I was happy?

Easy. There is a key to leading a stress-free life as an Expat — anywhere. A person doesn’t even need to be an Expat. The solution works even on the Crosstown Express when it’s crowded and running late. 

The rebuttal to stress, anxiety and frayed nerves works in every aspect of life, but in keeping with the assignment, let’s look at 3 areas:

  • Transportation,
  • Shopping, and
  • Language

Transportation

Just how do you get from here to there? A bicycle is always an option, but only for relatively short distances. In Buenos Aires, where traffic lights and white lines are only a suggestion, bike riding can be a contact sport making it hazardous.

Not speaking the language makes taking public transportation challenging. If you can’t read the signs, it’s hard to tell exactly where to get off. Maps are available and the ones here are written well and in such a way that figuring out what bus line to take is made easier.

For me, taxis are the easiest solution anytime I leave the barrio. I just have to make sure to write the address down before I leave home. The cab drivers can read my writing, but they can’t understand my ‘foreign’ dialect.

There are shortcuts though, it just took a while to figure them all out.

The subway is my favorite though. The ‘subte’ can only go two directions — back and forth. The choices are easy and with a light-encoded map which displays the next stop, everything is a piece of cake.

But when you get off the subway at the destination, it’s back to trying to figure out which way to turn next.

Shopping

Life in Buenos Aires in 2020 is kind of like living in the 1960s Brooklyn. Everything is a specialty store and there isn’t a ‘big box’ store near.

If you want meat, go to the butcher. Looking for fresh bread? The baker is just around the corner. Looking for men’s shoes? The men’s shoe store has a wonderful selection, but if you want a pair of women’s shoes as a gift, the lady's shoe store is around the corner. No challenge here.

Language

I still don’t speak Spanish. I know enough words to be able to ask where the bathroom is, but not enough to find the ketchup in the “mercado”.. Yes, there are limits to this manner, but between polishing my pantomime skills and blending them with the few words I know, I can get by.

But even pantomime only goes so far and it can get embarrassing to pantomime “where’s the bathroom”, especially if it’s an emergency.

But still, Argentines are friendly and understand and appreciate even the smallest, weakest attempt to learn the language.

Homesick

When it’s time to start missing the home country, 2020 is the best year to do it. Between relatively inexpensive long distance, Skype, Zoom and tk, it’s easy to stay in touch with the folks ‘back home’.

Weekly phone calls to talk with parents or children are cheap and most kioskas, or small convenience store type outlets sell compatible SIM cards.

Don’t expect magazine subscriptions from home to make it through customs on a regular basis. The men and women in the dark blue sports jackets grab those as soon as the periodicals hit the city. 

Give up the need to control

Stress and anxiety in addition to frustration and anger tend to stem from unresolved control issues. Someone, or something, doesn’t behave the way you want. The result is more frustration, stress and anxiety.

As a 30+ year member of Alcoholics Anonymous, a line from the Serenity Prayer sums it up for me. “Accept the things I cannot change…”.

The short version? Screw it. 

If you can’t change it, screw it. The world doesn’t march to the beat of my drum. No amount of foot-stomping will change that.

Need to… ? Mañana

Okay. Maybe there is this one thing that it is difficult to deal with!

“mañana”. It seems to be Argentina’s answer to everything.

Need the WIFI connection fixed? mañana.

Need tickets to America? mañana.

The laid back atmosphere of Latin America helps to make sure that nothing gets done on time. But that may be a good thing.

Unlike America, where everything is ‘rush and do it now,’ Latin America has not angered every single decent country on the planet.

Close kin

A close cousin of “Mañana”, is punctuality. There is none. Anywhere.

Invited to a party at a friend’s house to begin at 8pm? Don’t even bother showing up before 9:15. If you do, you’ll be the only guest there and will need entertain yourself, in the living room, looking for something to do.

Either that or ask your host if you can help. And then ask every ten minutes because it’s better to be a nuisance than a lump sitting on the love seat, taking up space, until the party starts — maybe mañana.

Shopping? Ignore the hours posted on the door. If the sign says the store will open at 9am, that’s not for you. That’s for the employees. The workers are expected to be there at nine and begin preparing for that day's work. Basically, you won’t get in until 9:45. Deal with it and welcome to Argentina Time.