Llegar a conocerse

Random picture advertising a half-marathon taking place this weekend.

Random picture advertising a half-marathon taking place this weekend.

After three weeks of interactions on the street and on buses, in taxis, stores, hair salons and restaurants, and with landlords, a doctor, and preschool teachers and administrators, I feel confident making some generalizations about Barilochenses.

First, many people came her from somewhere else because of the quality of life. In some ways, Bariloche—a smallish city in the Argentine West—is like smallish cities in the American West. It’s unpretentious and people have a relaxed, informal attitude. We can take Lou to restaurants and not worry if he gets crumbs on the floor, wastes the ketchup, or raises his voice. Fashion seems focused on practicality—jeans, trekking pants, tennis shoes or hiking shoes, t-shirts, and technical wear—not on being ready to participate in a mountainside photo shoot at a moment’s notice.

People are friendly. They smile. They murmur about your cute child and reach out to pat his head. Skater kids readily give up their seats on the colectivo for older people or moms with babies or small children. People say “Permiso” or “Perdon” in a crowded grocery store aisle. If you pass someone in close circumstances—on a hiking trail, in a hallway, at a building entrance—you say hello. And when you meet someone with whom you’re going to have a personal interaction—like meeting to talk about summer camp options—you do the kiss.*

There’s a formula for hellos and goodbyes in stores and restaurants that is more elaborate than what I am used to and, since those places are where I interact with Spanish speakers, I am trying to learn the formula. It goes something like this: “Hi! Good day. [do the kiss if you’re a regular?] How are you? Great. Me too, thanks. …filler…yes, I want that one…Thanks! Very nice. Have a good day. See you later! Ciao!

Tourism plays a significant role in the Bariloche economy, and the continuous parade of tour buses and micros and scruffy backpackers could easily generate resentment and disdain for tourists. But I haven’t felt that at all. Maybe it’s because most of the tourists are Argentines and Chileans, and maybe it helps that the tourist stuff is concentrated in particular, avoidable areas. Whatever the reasons, we feel that we have been treated with kindness.

An older Texan who did a week of classes at La Montaña also pointed this out: people in Bariloche are well educated. Coming from a city with seven colleges and universities, I take a highly educated population for granted. But I know that it means more cultural amenities—like Teatro La Baita, where we took Lou to see a children’s community theater performance—and more people who know how to engage in making their city vibrant and well-functioning.

It’s all positive, right? So start the clock and let’s see how much this assessment changes two months from now, when the honeymoon is over.

* “The kiss” is similar to what people do in France. Women and women “kiss” and women and men “kiss.” Men and men “kiss” and add a brief (fully masculine!) embrace if they’re good friends. It’s one kiss on the left side unless the person is really enthusiastic and then it might be one kiss on both sides. Typically it’s an air kiss with a kissy sound, unless you’re actually friends with the person, and then it can be a full-contact kiss.

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