Walking on Av Pres Figueroa Alcorta

Ms. HalfEmpty walking in Buenos Aires.

Living in foreign countries where we didn’t speak the language even close to fluently and weren’t aware of all the customs led to some interesting experiences on our South American Adventure. Fortunately, strangers stepped in to save the day!

Arrival Foul

Our flight from DCA boarded and left the gate without much hassle. But then the delays began.

A flight attendant heard something in the cargo hold, so we headed back to the gate and multiple mechanics boarded the plane. Once they gave the all clear, we had to wait for more fuel and another push crew to send us back to the runway. But before we could push off again, a worried mother in the terminal wanted her two unaccompanied daughters off the plane.

We originally had a two-hour layover in Miami, but the delay at DCA shortened that to no layover and a quick dash from one flight to the next. All was well; we made both of our flights!

Before leaving, we shared our flight info with the owner of the apartment we rented in Buenos Aires. Since we don’t have a global cell phone plan and turned off our wireless service for the summer, we told the owner that we would try to use the airport WiFi to let her know we landed and were en route. Best laid plans…

Remise @ EZE Airport

Ms. HalfEmpty boards our white remis at EZE airport in Buenos Aires.

When we arrived at the airport and exited through Customs, the remis counters were on the other side of the doors, even before the waiting area. So we booked one and were immediately sent to our driver. There was no time to jump on WiFi and send a message. But we weren’t worried because surely the driver would have a cell phone.

As it turns out, the driver did not have a cell phone. He only had a radio. Doh!

But even understanding this information took monumental effort due to our limited Spanish and the driver’s limited English. So I was worried the entire ride about how we would get into the apartment. Mr. HalfFull was chill, as usual.

Palermo Apartment Building

Ms. HalfEmpty stands behind the no parking sign (crossed out E) in front of our first apartment in Buenos Aires.

After a harrowing ride of honking, constant lane changes, and lane-splitting motorcycles, we arrived at our destination — a secure apartment building. It was 32°F on the sidewalk where we stood with our luggage. We were exhausted after an overnight flight, in shock from the immediate summer to winter climate change, and starting to realize the extent of our Spanish ineptitude.

We considered leaving one person with the luggage and sending the other to find a pay phone to call the apartment owner. This was a terrible plan for many reasons. First of all, we didn’t know the neighborhood. Secondly, do working pay phones even exist in Buenos Aires? And finally, we had no Argentinian coins.

As we were about to split up, we noticed two young women exit the apartment building. Fortunately, they spoke English and had cell phones…score! They were able to call our host and let us into the lobby of the building to warm up. It was an amazing welcome to Buenos Aires and our first reliance on the kindness of strangers.

ATM Card Foul

On our second morning in Buenos Aires, I realized that I lost my ATM card. I scoured my bags and pockets, but it was not in the apartment.

Of course, I promptly freaked out. This card was linked directly to my bank account and was my only way to access those funds abroad. Buenos Aires is a very cash-based culture where subsisting solely on credit cards is not an option. So you can understand my panic. However, Mr. HalfFull did not share my sense of urgency, requiring me to yell, “Why aren’t you more stressed???”

After spurring Mr. HalfFull into action, we set out to retrace our steps. After a couple of fruitless stops, we ended up at the grocery store where I used my ATM card to extract our first Argentinian Pesos. Of course, my card wasn’t just sitting on top of the machine, so I actually had to talk to someone.

Before this encounter, I used a translation app on my phone to try to formulate an intelligible sentence. Mr. HalfFull and I spoke with a security guard at the grocery store who spoke no English. But somehow, she understood us and took my passport to the office to look for my ATM card.

Disco Security Guard

Ms. HalfEmpty with the Disco security guard who retrieved her ATM card.

We anxiously awaited her return. Lo and behold, she came back with my lost ATM card! We were thrilled, and Mr. HalfFull snapped a photo. Forever after, the Disco grocery store held a special place in our hearts.

Drainage Foul

On our first morning in our month-long Buenos Aires apartment rental, there was a knock on the door. We weren’t expecting anyone, so this seemed rather strange. It also seemed like a daunting encounter due to our lack of Spanish skills.

Mate in BA Apartment

Mr. HalfFull ponders his next plumbing job while tasting mate in our apartment.

I was in the shower, so answering the door fell to poor Mr. HalfFull. In the hallway stood two men who only spoke Spanish.

Mr. HalfFull thought they were going to fix our washing machine, which flooded our kitchen the night before. But these guys were from the building and didn’t know anything about our washing machine problems.

To aid the interaction, Mr. HalfFull pulled out his trusty translation laptop. But the guys were not really interested in typing back and forth, so they sent for a neighbor who spoke English.

Palermo Apartment

View from our Palermo apartment of a guy hanging from the building next door.

A woman arrived and explained that there was a pipe blockage in the building, and the guys were snaking out the pipes in each unit. She also informed us that this was not an uncommon occurrence…uh oh!

Fortunately, we lived in a neighborhood with highly educated, multilingual residents. The neighbor gave us her contact info and unfortunately for her, I bothered her with a range of questions throughout our stay.

Generally, I tried to look things up on my own, but sometimes I just didn’t have enough information or the language skills to figure it out. And of course, I wanted to understand everything completely!

At the neighborhood grocery store, the cashier asked me a question at the end of the transaction that I could never understand. So I asked our neighbor about it and discovered that the grocery store provides a payment plan. The cashier was asking me how many payments I wanted to make. The concept seemed so foreign to me, and I didn’t understand the word cuotas. Plus, I only heard it orally, so I wasn’t even sure of the spelling to look it up.

This same grocery store also gave us coupons for ice cream. But the grocery store didn’t seem to sell ice cream. So it was a bit confusing since we didn’t know the names and locations of the famous gelato stores, Freddo and Volta, yet. But our neighbor explained it all, and later we frequented the gelato shops for our hand-packed kilos of our curated flavors.

Our neighbor was helpful once again when our internet connection was down. I wasn’t sure if it was just us and we should contact our property manager or if it was a building-wide problem. She let us know that hers was out too, and she had already called the provider. Go neighbor!

Stranger Danger

Stranger danger is real, kids! But I’m past the age where that’s a hard and fast rule. I’ve found that I can rely on the kindness of strangers wherever I go.

  • How do you react when plans go awry?
  • Do you panic when you lose something valuable or calmly retrace your steps?
  • Have you experienced the kindness of a stranger?

Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!