Autumn is in full swing, it’s finally time to wear boots, and we’re nearly halfway to Christmas. I need a Xanax just thinking about it. This week I’m going to help you navigate the uncertain waters of the porteño working experience. This of course might not apply to those of you that spend your days “working” in some loft in Palermo Hollywood, surrounded by other “entrepreneurs” who haven’t learned more Spanish beyond how to order a caipiroska at a bar, but you’re not really my concern anyway. No one likes being the new kid, especially when there’s a wide array of cultural subtleties to master. Since I am the expert on everything (yes, everything), count on me to be your sherpa through this magical time.
I might steer you down the path leading to moral and spiritual destruction, but that’s something you’ll need to discover on your own.
I’ve finally broken my streak of funemployment and have been hired at an office here in BA. So far, so good – I like the people I work with (all locals!) and the job is more or less in line with what I’d like to do for the foreseeable future. Since you’ve been here for a while I was wondering if there is anything I should know about in terms of working here? Thanks in advance. –Worker Bee
Dear Peggy Olson,
First off, the fact that your coworkers are locals is not worthy of an exclamation point. Hello, you are the foreign person in this situation, not the other way around. In fact, you’re probably the topic of many a dinner conversation in the nondescript suburbs of Capital Federal: “Así que… hay una gringa en mi laburo, pobre, es media loser pero le tenemos cariño. Ta todo bien, cuando viaje a USA a ver a su familia le voy a pedir que me traiga esa bici nueva que quiero.”
Congratulations on obtaining employment and contributing to society in a way that does not involve dancing on a bar until sunrise. You should pat yourself on the back for a second or two. You’re in for a trip, especially if you’re the only expat in your office. It’s not all bad, of course, but there are some weird things you’ll have to get used to. Please take out a piece of paper and jot these down.
OK, so surely you’ve made the rounds at a birthday party or asado, saying hello to everyone with a kiss. If you find that unbearable (Do you really think that your boyfriend’s friend’s cousin’s girlfriend is going to remember you name even though you won’t speak to her for the rest of the night? #Sorrynotsorry), wait until you have to do this every day at the office at an ungodly hour.
I like to consider myself a sociable person; I’m friendly, chatty and always game to take a break from work for a random conversation about anything from Miley Cyrus’s eyebrows to scouring YouTube for videos of baby goats. Pero no me jodas – though I might enjoy waking up early to get a head start on the day, this doesn’t mean I am eager for serious social interaction with coworkers before my morning cup of tea kicks in. This custom might sound charming now, but wait until the day you’re hungover as hell, hating life, and just want to be left alone until it’s time to head out for the day.
When the seasons change, get ready to be inundated with old wives’ tales and antiquated medical advice from everyone in the office. Have a bad cold? It’s because you left the house with your hair wet, you fool! Feeling “meh” after a weekend of excess? Don’t let that ataque al hígado get you down. Sick with a stomach bug? Drape your abdomen with warm rags soaked in vinegar – that’ll do the trick! (Honestly, what the fuck? Any time someone recommends something that Susan Sarandon performs in (greatest movie of our time) “Little Women,” a red flag goes up.) If you really want to have some fun, ask someone about how to be cured of the mal de ojo. Really, I dare you.
You’ll also be privy to diet and nutrition “facts” that sound like they’re straight of a women’s magazine from 1974. I was told that soy sauce makes you fat, and that the best way to stay trim is to live off of the entire line of Ser products.
Since we’re on the topic of pseudo-health, prepare yourself for unsolicited comments about your body and/or weight. You might already know that Argentines are rather comfortable discussing topics that are usually taboo or off-limits in countries like the United States. Commenting on your own weight – or anyone else’s – is as commonplace as talking about the weather. One day I was in the kitchen about to eat my lunch, and some girl with whom I have literally exchanged no more than 20 words in my life said to me: “Estás muy flaca, Página. Pero muy flaca!” Should I mention there were about ten other people in the kitchen at the time? I felt like I was expected to give them a full rundown of my physical and mental health status to explain why I looked the way I did. Maybe I’m the weird one here, but I’ve yet to enjoy a conversation where people sit around and talk about how many kilos they’ve gained or lost for whatever reason.
Never mind the not-so-sunny reasons that people might drop a few kilos: a messy breakup, serious family matters, a health issue that you might not want to broadcast for all to hear. In general, personal boundaries will not be respected, and if you act uncomfortable with these inquiries, you’ll only be met with quizzical looks and strange reactions.
Does all of this have you a bit stressed? You might start thinking of taking a trip to clear your mind. If your journey has you crossing international borders, you might not want to advertise it too openly. Why not? Because you’ll suddenly have people crawling out of the woodwork, asking you to bring back goodies from either the Duty Free shop or some store or brand that isn’t available here.
Over a span of seven years, do you want to know some of the crap I’ve had to mule back because it took me forever to learn to say no? I know I’ve done this before, but it’s worth repeating: Ski boots, a ski helmet, men’s trail shoes (those puppies weighed about 5kg), a box of protein bars, an iPod, a laptop, a lifetime supply of Victoria’s Secret bras, a tablet… I’m going to stop before I give myself a stroke.
Listen, I get it. You want to be nice and you figure you can bring back that one tiny thing for your pal in Accounting who’s been so nice to you. But once the word gets out about your trip, people you didn’t even know existed will start staking claim to your prime suitcase real estate.
Back off, bitches. Don’t you know that 95% of the reasons I go home to visit family have to do exclusively with stocking up on crap I can’t buy in BA? Why on Earth would I sacrifice my own material excess just to come across as a good friend? Ayn Rand would be proud.
Besides, once you get back to the office, if you don’t show up with chocolate from Duty Free for everyone, you’re in trouble. I’m not sure why it’s the responsibility of the person who has just been gone for two weeks to bring back a bag of miniature Snickers, Kit Kats and Twix, but that’s how they roll here. You might be able to get away with it the first time by playing dumb, but once they’ve filled you in, you’ll be well on your way to winning the title of office asshole if you don’t oblige in the future.
I think we’ve covered some of the most essential topics to get you ready to join the workforce, my little grasshopper. I raise my glass as you embark on this foray into adulthood in Crazytown. It’s really not as bad as it might seem, honest. Sure, no one’s perfect (not even you, no matter how much money your parents spent to try to assure you otherwise), but you’re bound to have a good time with your new coworkers. The people I’ve met at my myriad jobs here have been some of the most fun, down-to-earth and welcoming I’ve known. Once you gain their confidence, you’ll see that your Argentine office mates will welcome you with both open arms and some serious buena onda.
I’m going to stop before I get too sentimental and blow my cover.
Call me when you’ve been fired and your life is in shambles.