Thursday, July 3, 2008


Porteños are a curious bunch. Meeting one is a lot like being interviewed, which is usually not such a bad thing because I am more comfortable speaking Spanish than I am listening to it (but I'm kind of back and forth on that). Even last October when I was detained by the Buenos Aires police after a bar spat (that's a long story for another post), the cops wanted to know more about my former life in New York City than they did about the incident that landed me in the police station in the first place.

Sure I appreciate the interest, but sometimes--scratch that, all the time--I find myself wishing Argentines would ask more original and scintillating questions. Oprah Winfrey they are not. For example, no self-respecting Argentine will fail to ask your age within 60 seconds of meeting you, which is interesting because there is far less ageism here than in the U.S. Truth be told, I understand. Whenever I meet someone, I'm usually playing guessing games in my head, trying to figure out their age, although I never ask because I was taught that it's impolite to do so. But why must every other cab driver ask me if I play basketball (after singing a few bars of "New York, New York")? Must be the black thing (see below). Here are my four least favorite porteño inquiries, from mildly irritating to makes-me-wanna-warn-them-that-curiosity-killed-the-cat infuriating:
  1. ¿Sos de Brasil? ¿Sos de Cuba? Translation: Are you from Brazil? Are you from Cuba? Okay, I get it. Black people in Buenos Aires are rarer than cab drivers with change for a hundred (which is, like, 33 dollars), so I'm obviously not from around here. But haven't they heard of a little country called the United States? Guess what? There are black people there, too.
  2. ¿A qué dedicás? Translation: What do you do for a living? I never cared much for that question when I lived in the U.S., and it still hasn't grown on me. A friend of mine once told me that you can tell a lot about person by what they do for a living. ¿En serio? (Translation: Are you kidding me?) Considering that most people hate their job and would rather spend their days lying on a beach, on a couch or in bed, I don't think so.
  3. ¿Te gusta Buenos Aires? Translation: Do you like Buenos Aires? Now here's a question more ridiculous than that song "Spanish Lesson" on Madonna's Hard Candy CD--especially considering that it usually comes after it's been established that I've been living here for nearly two years. If I didn't like the city, would I still be here? Why be miserable here when I can be miserable someplace where they speak English?
  4. ¿Cuánto mide tu pene? Translation: Is it true what they say about black men in bed? I kid you not. Here in Buenos Aires, size matters. At least if you're a black guy. I'm amazed by the number of outdated stereotypes about black men that Argentines have imported from the U.S. That said, they don't even ask me that question back home anymore. I'm still trying to come up with a suitably smart-ass response. Any ideas? Please, send them my way.
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