“And what do you do in my country?”

Sometimes I think that for an expat there should be nothing more frustrating than not being able to hide their foreign accent when talking to a stranger. There should be no more repetitive moment, and more tiring than that question that seems inevitable when the way of speaking cannot hide, that “You are not part of the land you walk on”. The series of questions chained to any expatriate who cannot hide her accent in a country he chooses to live in (either for a while or forever) goes something like this: 1. Where are you from? 2. And what do you do in my country?. In the case of an expat from North America or Europe living in Argentina (for example), question “2” implies something that is easy to deduce. In an indirect way, the local questioner is intrigued to understand the reason why someone could leave his first world country, the one that is seen so perfect in movies and television series.

And here I deduce a fairly common and dissipated error: believing that the average standard of living in the first world has the standard of living of the family of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie can be as correct as thinking that in Latin America the average standard of living is the of the “good people” and rich people of a Venezuelan soap opera, where they never go hungry or walk 300 meters to fill a bucket of water, but rather suffer at most, lovesickness or tyrannical fights to dispute an inheritance, such as the life itself.

The expatriate can already see the dreaded questioning coming in a diplomatic tone of his ill-advised decision to settle in a country “such as ours”, and although he tries, he cannot avoid the question after a “houla” escapes him. Let’s not even talk about the foreigner who wants to camouflage himself by launching a “yhee, boloudo”, which clearly does not work. He needs to give an explanation.

On my trip to Ushuaia a few months ago, I found several of the “expats” living in Argentina. A Belgian in a tour agency delighted with the end of the world, so much so as to stay and live there for five years. Another German was driving one of the excursion buses that took you to navigate the lakes of Los Glaciares National Park. Nothing that is not very strange to find in Buenos Aires, or in various tourist areas of the country: «the foreigner who is delighted to live in Argentina».

I always think about those reactions, and about the questions, and the topics between those who leave, those who stay, those who dream of leaving, those who dream of coming back, those who never want to return. And coincidentally, I find myself in a blog of an expatriate in Buenos Aires, with an entry that also explores the topic «what are you doing here?«. Among a long series of arguments, in a paragraph near the end, I think the author of the blog summarizes very well what is his argument to explain his situation as a “first world man living in Buenos Aires”:

«In each place different things have priority: in many first world countries everything is about the 5 «C» – Credit Card, Condo, Car and Cash (or credit card, owning a house, car and money). Instead here (in Argentina) everything revolves around the 4 “F” – Soccer, Family, Food and Friends (soccer, family, food and friends). Many prefer the 4 “F” to the 5 “C.”

And here, you can start discussing what each one prefers or how this or that is what counts. For my part I must at least say that it seems a reasonable explanation.

A few days ago while I was taking a taxi in Buenos Aires to get to Retiro, I was left in the hands of a driver who was also an expatriate (or I mean, his accent was not at all familiar to what a family accent should be in this region of the world). I can’t even say where he was from, because I didn’t ask him, nor did I want to ask him that question “what do you do in Argentina?”. I simply wanted him not to feel like an expatriate for a while, and I resisted the question that he must be asked about 35 times a day since he works in a taxi and renews people but not conversations. I also imagine that the taxi driver was puzzled by the lack of the question. And he will surely have thought «either he is not very curious, or maybe he is not Argentine». And it is that the topics, like so many things, are universal.

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*Image taken with a cell phone in the streets of downtown Buenos Aires and uploaded on my Instagram

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