Stuff and Junk

So when there's not really anything to talk about and you want to kill and awkward silence, you talk about the weather, right? I guess I'll do that.

We're in the middle of fall here in La Rioja but it's still as hot as summer. Well, for the most part, anyway. For a few days we had a cold snap. Generally when thinking about hot latina girls, you envision a dark skinned babe in an agreeably revealing T-shirt, or perhaps a provocatively short skirt, no? (Or for those who prefer men, a dark muscular guy in a white guinny-t and baseball cap). Well, when the weather gets a little colder, all the hot latinas (and latinos) put on tight sweatshirts and jeans, or trendy sweaters or full length athletic pants. And manage to remain incredibly sexy. I am really digging these girls with long sleeves. In fact, I almost feel it's a shame that Latin America is not a colder region of the world, because latinos in fall/winter clothing are stunningly attractive.

And now for some other stuff and junk.

I started working as an assistant cook. This is worth mentioning because I'm in the middle of the desert in rural South America, and I'm preparing authentic, home-cooked chinese food. I guarantee you that this is the only chinese food that exists in La Rioja. As it turns out, there's a pretty large group of chinese students, maybe 30 or 40, attending UNLaR (Universidad Nacional de La Rioja) to learn spanish. What the heck? Anyway, I started helping out in the kitchen where the Chinese professor's wife prepares food for the group. It's Lilian the head cook, a few (Riojan) college kid, myself, and whatever Chinese kids pop in or out. Communication takes place in a fun mix of chinese and spanish, with words of english thrown in from time to time. I learn a few new words in chinese, translated for me into spanish, for which I have to consult my dictionary at times to find the word in english. qie means cut (cortar) like cut vegetables. chao means sauté (saltear), as is chao fan - sautéed rice (Chow Fun?), and chao mian - sauteéd noodles (Chow Mein?). In case you were wondering.
Oh, and the food is really good. Especially a treat in spicy-food-deprived La Rioja.

I discovered another thing that doesn't change with culture: petty bickering between married couples. Everyone knows what I'm referring to. Proof that this exists in the US can be found on any American sitcom. The bickering exists in La Rioja equally - my host parents love eachother very much, but my host mother never fails to point out that my host father has put on a few pounds since last year. My host father is ready to pull my host mother's hair out when she tells him not to put so much salt on his milanesa, which, he mentions, she didn't cook well enough. He likes to address her with the nickname la gorda (fatty) - which she pretends not to hear.
As an extra layer of proof, the bickering occurs between the chinese professor and his spouse at the University. Every day professor Martin Yao tells his wife Lilian "You use too much oil in the chao mian. Don't use so much oil. David, she uses too much oil, don't you think?" It wouldn't matter if she cooked without a drop of oil, Martin would still say she uses too much. She points out, in a completely non-accusing voice, that it's been how many weeks since he helped out in the kitchen? And that he bought the wrong kind of carrots at Walmart.

I'm going to sponsor a contest. Who's parents (or spouses) bicker about the absolutely most retarded thing ever? I'll wait for emails from my readers. Please describe the topic over which they bicker, and include their ethnicities (Italian, Indian, Koran, Irish, etc). If I get a really good reply, I'll include it in one of my posts - I promise to protect your privacy. No names will be mentioned. (or, if you don't want it published, tell me and I won't post it.)
I'm expecting reports of arguments over really stupid things. For example, couples arguing over which paper is better to buy for the printer, B1130J or M3220K? or arguments over which side of the dishwasher to put glass cups in.

Email your responses to uberchester004@gmail.com. The winner will receive a surprise gift from Argentina.

The Hardest Language to Learn

The Hardest Language to Learn

If this post strikes you as boring, forgive me. I'm an aspiring linguist and these things are interesting to me.

When I was learning spanish in the United States I often asked myself, which language is harder to learn? English or spanish? I tried to think about it objectively - can the english language which is so accessible to me be as complicated as the spanish I was struggling to learn?

I always figured that english was harder. Think about verbs that make no sense: the past tense of eat is ate, why not eated? Why are there so many consonants in the word thought, or through? Other hard things to learn: The t in 'creation' is pronounced like as sh. The t's in 'bottle' are pronounced like d's. You farted, did you fart, and have you farted all have essentially the same meaning, but have to be used in specific contexts. Don't even get me started on the verb to be. I pitied the fool that had to learn english as a second language.

Spanish, meanwhile, seemed to have more order to it. Conjugations had a specific pattern that was almost always followed - and irregulars had an understandable pattern of their own. You always pronounce words the same as they're written. Obviously learning a second language is always hard, but I felt grateful to be learning the orderly spanish language rather than the messy english language.

But then I arrived in Argentina and people always told me, "Wow, it must be hard for you here because spanish is such a difficult language to learn." "More difficult to learn than english?" "Definitely."


Well, I gave it some thought. In spanish there really are many more verb forms than necessary. (English: I ran, you ran, he ran, she ran, we ran, they ran. Spanish: yo corré, vos corriste, el corrió, ella corrió, nosotros corrimos, ellos corrieron - and you have to get it right every single time or you sound stupid). There are a lot of annoying synonyms. You have to match up el and la with -o and -a. You have to add s's to adjectives in the plural, not just nouns.

So both languages are annoying and complicated. Why did I assume english was harder? The truth is, when I was in spanish class I didn't know the language well enough. There was a wall of ignorance, and I assumed that behind the wall might lie simplicity. Now that I'm over the wall, I see that things aren't so simple and orderly as I thought. Meanwhile I was blinded to english because of its ubiquity. I couldn't see whether it was easy or difficult because I grew up with it, and so the technicalities of the grammar and morphology were always invisible to me. In its invisibility, I assumed complexity. Now that I see how a native spanish speaker views english, I see that there is more order and simplicity that I thought. I'm beginning to admit that english might be an easier language to learn than spanish.

Crazy, huh?

Does anyone want to do some research for me to find out what scientist say about the hardest language to learn? I'd be interested in what factors they use to make their judgement.



When I first showed up in Argentina español was nonstop mental stimulation: I had to think double - listening in spanish and translating into english. The changes in schedule had me confused round the clock trying to figure out what would come next (It's 10:30PM... am I going to get dinner soon??). Just getting to know a new family and a new town is challenging enough, forget about cultural differences. The first few week were stressful and exciting - a high energy combination that didn't leave me much time to think.

But after a few weeks (it's been six now, I think) the novelty wears off, things slow down, and I start to settle down in this place I'll be living for the next several months. In that moment the homesickness can really hit.

A sense of loneliness hit me the hardest. In New Jersey I have a whole slew of friends, my family, and teachers who I love to talk to. Here I don't have those people. And, as it always goes, I realize how valuable those people are to me now that I'm separated from them.

When I hopped off the plane, I had zero friends in Argentina, only my host family. Yet I was never alone, so to speak, because Argentines are very friendly and eager to welcome you to social events. There was never a weekend when I wasn't invited to a party or a disco. But the discos got repetitive fast (dance, drink, and act like a fool until 6 in the morning. Next week? Dance, drink, and act like a fool until 6 in the morning). And after three weeks or so of the same discos, they actually started getting boring. I started opting to hang out instead with a group of kids from the university's Arts School (the Arts School is where I finally wound up in terms of classes. I am studying theatre). I wound up enjoying my time much more chilling out with these artsy kids than dancing at the clubs. And then I realized, "Oh, these people are my friends! Like, friends!"

That was a wonderful thing to realize. There's a difference between "Hey David, let's go party" friends and "Hey David, is everything going alright?" friends. I needed the latter. If you want to survive ten thousand kilometers away from home for five months, you absolutely need the latter.

Culture differences exist in almost every aspect of life here: the food, the schedule, the way you greet old people, what time of day you wear jeans, teacher-student interaction, what music you play when friends are visiting, the list goes on. But I've discovered two things that are constant: B.O. and friendship. When you go to the gym, people stink, in every country on the planet. Likewise unchanging is the concept of friendship. And I mean real friendship, as opposed to daily social interaction with your buds (which does change with culture). True Argentine friendship feels the same as true North American friendship. It doesn't matter USA, Paraguay, or Thailand - I've decided that the concept of true friendship knows no cultural boundaries.

To those of you who know me (and really know me, not just know me) it should make some sense why I wound up with the artsy kids as my core group of friends. They're sort of a variation on my core group of friends at home. Our preferred activity is sitting on a rooftop talking about philosophy and artistic expression. One night we got together, dressed up in costumes, mixed experimental techno music on a turntable, and collectively painted a nonrepresentational mural of sorts on a huge canvas. More than half of them play in one band or another (Always rock music, they detest cumbia, the more popular music in La Rioja), and at least half of them are homosexual. One time the band played at a political demonstration in the central plaza. Spectators were waving red flags with images of Che Guevara, and there were my friends rocking out on the guitar and bass.

They could be artists, scientists, or strippers. The point is, they're my friends. They are people who talk to me and want to know how I'm doing. The want me to feel at home and comfortable. They are people who I won't remember as "Argentine people I met in Argentina," but rather as "friends." As much my friends as my friends who I call my friends in the United States.

That's important.



Note: To sound like a real argentino, say /COR-do-ba/, not /cor-DO-ba/.
My first impression of Córdoba was This is the Philadelphia of Argentina.

Córdoba is a big city. With a population of over 1.3 million, it's a far cry from my little La Rioja (less than 350,000 inhabitants). A quick geography lesson: Buenos Aires is on the east cost of Argentina, and slightly north of the latitudinal center. La Rioja is tucked into the far north and west. Córdoba is about in the geographical center of the country, if not slightly northwest. The other big city is Mendoza, which is in the west and slightly north of Buenos Aires. I am still mostly ignorant about the souther half of Argentina.
It surprised me how completely modern and developed a city Córdoba was. La Rioja seems to less developed than a typical country town in the US. Naturally, I expected Córdoba to be less developed than a typical US city. Bur Córdoba struck me more developed than a US city, at least the section I visited (Nueva Córdoba, a fast-growing neighborhood where most of the city's university students live. It is also home to the central mall and the numerous disco clubs). Maybe developed isn't exactly the right word. What I mean is, the streets are wide and clean, everyone has a car (instead of a motorcycle), the signs on the shops and restaurants are all professional and well designed (as opposed to a typical kiosco in La Rioja, with a sign simply painted on the wall... freehand. Storefronts in La Rioja are reminiscent of an old western movie). In Córdoba there are rows of shops of expensive cloths with prestigious brand names. The parks have pristine sidewalks and elegant fountains. Everyone gathers in the green, well kept park El Paseo del Buen Pastor at about 7:00PM to lie down in the grass and enjoy mate and snacks. The city does not feel congested like New York or Philli. No shop looks like it's trying to cram itself in between two others. There's plenty of space for shopping districts, parks, and cultural centers (museums, theatres, concert halls). There seemed to me many less cars and pedestrians on the street, but that could be because I missed rush hour.

I came here with my host brother Mauricio who came to visit his girlfriend Juliana who studies at a university here. Universities! that's another notable aspect of Córdoba, it's full of universities. The public and private institutions of Córdoba are renowned as the best in the country. Juliana studies law at a private institute and lives in an apartment with some girl friends. The apartments! They're really nice! At least Juliana's was. It was spacious, clean, and had a beautiful view of the cañada (the [clean] gully that runs through the middle of the city). The elevator was really small. Only two people could possibly squeeze in, I've never seen an elevator that small. Bad news for claustrophobics in Córdoba.

Anyway, Mauri and I show up in Corboda at 6:00AM on Saturday. (We got on the bus in La Rioja ten minutes past midnight on Friday). We meet up with Juliana and eat breakfast in her apartment. As I'm sure I have mentioned, I hate breakfast in Argentina. It's bread, sometimes a croissant ("medialuna"), and that's all you get. After "breakfast," which I will hereafter refer to disparagingly as breadbite, Marui and I go to our hotel. What a dump. A few dirty mattresses with yellow sheets, a shower with no curtain, and a toilet with no flush handle (ie. - you have to reach into the tank to flush manually). That's was you get for $90 pesos (about $24 USD) in Córdoba; I guess we were asking for it. Anyway, Mauri and I crash in the hotel for a few hours and then go to lunch with Juliana at the famous central mall Patio Olmos. Nice mall! Three stories, with trendy modern architecture on the roof. At the food court, Marui and Juliana get McDonalds (there's no McDonalds in La Rioja); I get a garden salad from a hippie-vegetarian salad bar (which earned me some ridicule from Marui and Juliana, but the truth is there's virtually no salad in La Rioja either). Then I got the city tour.

The tour brief: famous cathedral (la Iglesia de los Capuchinos - easy to remember because the church is the same color as cappuccino), an art museum, El Paseo del Buen Pastor city park, and the pleasant shady walkways inbetween. I fell in love with Córdoba. This would be a really cool city to live in. I really want to show you guys pictures, but with the internet situation here loading pictures is a nightmare. I'll do my best, but no guarantees.
I'm personally and art junkie, so I liked the museum best of all. Córdoba's Museo
superior de bellas artes Evita met my high standards for a good museum. It featured all types of genres from impressionism to postmodernism. A good portion of the works were painted by artists from Córdoba. A scholarship program allows painters from Córdoba to study in Europe, and the artists return must send their best paintings back to the museum. Admission cost three pesos (80¢), half the price of a large coke.

Later that evening, I learned that the night time schedule in Córdoba is about the same as in La Rioja. The fun starts a little after midnight, and doesn't stop until seven in the morning. Mauri, Juliana and I went to a folklore (fo-KLO-ray) concert. Folklore is a famously Argentine musical style played with guitars, little guitars, and wind pipes. It's got an upbeat, folksy, cowboy, and native american (native south american) feel to it. It's pretty fun!

On Sunday we did nothing. For almost 7 hours straight! Argentines are experts at doing nothing for prolonged periods of time. I thought maybe it was just in La Rioja were people did nothing, because it's out in the country, but the big city is just the same. Mauri and I woke up at about 12:30PM, too late to eat breadbite, So after a 1:00PM lunch we sat down in a park and talked about nothing for four hours. Then we ate a snack, went to another park, and talked about nothing again for another three hours. Wow!
We finished our weekend of fun by jumping on a bus at midnight, and now I'm back in little La Rioja. However, before I left I threw a coin in the fountain at El Paseo del Buen Pastor. According to the superstition, throwing a coin in the fountain means you will return to Córdoba again. I'll personally see to it that that superstition holds true.

Words you didn't learn in spanish class

Parental Advisory: Explicit Content
This post has bad words and is not intended for parents
If you are a parent, don't read this post
If you have parents, don't tell them you read this post

A key aspect of any world culture is the colloquial language. In this post I will share what I have learned about common idioms and phrases.

It's noteworthy that the words used with greatest frequency in colloquial language are the words not taught in spanish class. I learned these words relatively quickly and am now happy to share them with you.

This word is used with incredible versatility
Puto (m) means gay or asshole.
Puta (f) means gay, and also bitch or slut
Hijo de puta, a very common phrase, means son of a bitch. It is used endearingly as well as offensively.
Él es puto - he is homosexual
Duele como la puta madre - it hurts like a bitch

¿Qué mierda? (lit. 'what shit?') means WTF?
Se fue a la mierda (lit. 'he left to the shit') means he disappeared

¡Joder hombre! translates as fuck man!

To fuck.
Culeador - fucker, ie. 'one who fucks'.
¡Vamos a culear las putas! - let's go fuck bitches

Tiene tremendo culo - She has a tremendous ass
Cara a culo - Assface, this describes an unpleasant appearance
Huele a culo - (lit. smells like butt). I believe the meaning is similar to 'Se fue a la mierda' (It's disappeared), to be used when something goes missing.

Idiot, moron.
¡Vos sos pelotudo! - You're such an idiot
(etym. - originally denoting 'big balls' or pelotas)

Dummy, less offensive and more lighthearted than pelotudo
¡Que boludo! - You big dummy!
(etym. - possible derived from bola meaning 'cock')
Synonyms: tarado, imbécil, estupido, sonso, tonto, idiota, energúmeno

Pene - penis (Note: not slang; this is the word a doctor would use)
Bola - easy to remember because it sounds like balls
Palo - lit. rod


- lit. whistle




- lit. 'this one'

Vagina - no translation necessary
- conch
Tuna -
nothing to do with the fish. According to my dictionary, tuna means prickly pear, a desert cactus that bears an edible red fruit.

To drink (alcohol), usually in excess.
¡A chupar! - Let's get bombed! In La Rioja you hear this frequently on Friday and Saturday nights.
The verb chupar literally means "suck." Eg.:
Chupa dedos - suck your fingers (after eating).
Chupa pecho - breastfeeding.
Chupacabra - goatsucker.
¡Chupame la pija! - suck my balls! Used frequently by my younger brother Nacho.

Chapar (not to be confused with chupar)
To make out; to hook up.
¡A chapar! - We're gonna kiss some girls(/boys) tonight!
(Note: often used in conjunction with '¡A chupar!')
Un/una chapista - a man/woman who hooks up with numerous partners.

Borracho, Chupado, and En pedo (lit. - in a fart) are all synonyms for drunk


To help me adjust to the language, my host brothers have been speaking in English as much as they are able. A sampling of a typical conversation:

David (18 y.o.): Hola, Mauricio
Mauricio (17): Hello, bitch!
Joaquín (9): Hey Deivid, fuck you man! you're fuckin bitch!
Nacho (13): Hey Deivid, ¡Chupame la pija!
David: Hey Nacho. Nacho!
Nacho: Yea?
David: Shut the fuck up.
Nacho: Ooooh yeah. Fuck you man. You're the best bitch. You're the king of bitch. You're the queen of bitch. You're the bitch of bitch. You'--
Mauricio: Che Deivid, ¡prestame el fucking iPod! (give me the fucking iPod)
David: Fuck you, chango (ie. - dude, man, homeboy)
Nacho: Hey Deivid. You see this shirt? It's the best! This shirt the best bitch. You're shirt? You're shirt is not bitch. It's the worst bitch. Yeeaaaah. ¡Todo piola chango! (It's all good, homeboy)