Thursday, March 11, 2010

righteous rant, or something to think about?

With the world borders becoming increasingly porous, some are questioning what will happen to culture. More specifically, the other night I discussed this issue over asado and vino tinto with my friend.

She is an Argentine from Santa Fe, currently living in Buenos Aires and has been for the past 5 years. She wants to learn how to cook typical Argentine-cuisine and decided to take some classes. She called up a spot in her barrio, neighbourhood, that had a good reputation from many foreigners who had taken classes there. The instructor was an American guy who taught classes out of his home. He told my friend that she had to speak English in the class and that he couldn't teach her in Spanish. My friend was slightly flabbergasted at the pre-requisites to enter a cooking class to learn Argentine cuisine in Buenos Aires in English. She did not have the proper requirements for that class.

She told me it, not only frustrated her, but that it hurt to have someone enter her country, teach classes in a foreign language, and tell her that she couldn't take classes on how to cook her own country's food. I agreed that there was something wrong about that picture.

With people ebbing and flowing through borders, usually the middle- to upper-middle class of the West, people are becoming frustrated. For Argentines, who were once referred to as the richest people in the world, it is tough to see one's country and culture torn away from their hands. Now, especially since 2001, it is tough for Argentines to travel as they don't have that luxury the way Westerners do. Instead, they hold onto their country with pride and a little bit of contempt.

Is it not a little crazy for people to enter a country, impose only the things that they know, not accomodate to the best of their ability the very people who call the place home? Is it not ignorant and selfish to think that we, as Westerners, are the only ones who have anything to contribute? In all honesty, I have learned much more about life from the Argentines than I have taught them. That's why I came here: to learn.

We moved onto the topic of tourism in Argentina and how backwards it can be. This country is beautiful, not unlike Canada in landscape, and many want to see all the sights: Iguazu Falls, the red deserts of Salta, the Perito Moreno glacier, the end of the world in Ushuaia... the list is endless. I also wanted to see some of these sights, which I got to do just over a week ago. I can say, without a flutter, that this country is beautiful. However, I revel in my experience, my journey through Patagonia as opposed to the postcard places I saw.

I traveled by bus, which was tedious and exhausting, but I met some really fascinating Argentines on the bus. An old man who had never left the province of Santa Cruz, a young man in his last year of free-med school, a seatmate from La Plata who had the thickest accent I have heard since being here... 95% of the people riding the bus were from Argentina. The flights to anywhere are just too expensive for them.

Whilst in my various tourist hot-spots, I hung out with Argentines and Chileans, speaking in choppy Spanish the entire time. The Argentines would correct me, "no, pozsho" for chicken, then the Chileans would, later, correct me, "no, poyo". Why couldn't I just say pollo the way it was spelled? A member of the entourage was French whose Spanish was better than his English and my Spanish better than my French. So, when in Argentina...

The trip was a humbling experience that I hold dearly because of the people. The places were more of a let-down than I had anticipated. I got to see a beautiful things, but I met even more beautiful people. We talked about politics and art and music while grilling fresh trout from the stream. Que lindo.

At the Perito Moreno Glacier, there were a lot of Dutch and French tourists. Most of them who I talked to had just taken a flight from Ushuaia or Buenos Aires, were staying a few days and then flying onto wherever else. They just kept bouncing and hopping, seeing the things but not knowing the people. To top it off, a lot of the older tourists, which is the majority in El Calafate where the glacier lays, stay in the hotels. The very hotels owned by the very corrupt Argentine government. It's what they call a barbara, here. Hypocritical. A double-intentioned joke.

I don't want to sound preachy, nor come off as righteous. I think travel is important, but important to learn from. A lot of people travel to find themselves, or love, or a new home, and they bounce around borders, chasing after some ideal. They may change their scenery, but does it change anything inside, whatever lies in their chest, their gut, their mind?



  1. This quote: "Is it not a little crazy for people to enter a country, impose only the things that they know, not accomodate to the best of their ability the very people who call the place home? Is it not ignorant and selfish to think that we, as Westerners, are the only ones who have anything to contribute?" It bugs me.

    I would explain why it bugs me, but my brain is far too fuzzy to argue the point properly. I will say this, it's true, Western Culture and its people are far more insidious with what we have, it's an unfair statement to say that we enter a country and expect that country to accommodate the Western world. Ever thought about what made that american decide to learn more about Argentine cooking? Maybe he's embarrassed about his lack of Spanish, maybe he didn't learn it very well and he's scared to use it, in case it makes him look bad? You took a short coming and judged him based on what you know about the culture.

    People tend to stick with what they're comfortable with. Take me, for example, I can speak some french, probably more than I give myself credit for, but if I were to go to a french speaking country I'd probably stick to English or become a mute. All because I'm afraid of making a mistake. The whole world is not as brave as you ;)

    In the end I will leave you with this:

    Be careful little sister, there's a lot to learn while traveling the world. Just beware of how you see it, and judge it. <3

  2. No judgments made. It's hard, though, when you tell an Argentine she can't take Argentine-cooking classes in Argentina, no?

  3. but was this the only person to teach her Argentine cooking?