Wall-Mart: The first parking lot I’ve seen in BA
**Disclaimer: As this story is told from my point of view, a few parts that highlight my strengths may be exaggerated and there’s a slight chance that it’s biased…maybe 😉Despite my honest intentions to discover Argentinean culture and experience life as a South American, I ended up at Walmart on Thursday with two of my friends from the API program. Alex wanted to bake a cake for his host family but couldn’t find graham crackers for the crust in any of the supermecados he had visited. He searched the web for familiar American names and was elated to find that Buenos Aires was indeed home to a single Walmart. If he expected to find graham crackers anywhere, he expected that they’d be in Walmart.
When he and Christine (who was hankering for a fix of the ever-elusive peanut butter) invited me to go with them after class I accepted. I had nothing better to do and I think my host family finds it strange that I haven’t been going out every night…I think they believe me to be very conservative, quiet and studious. Ha! Anyhow, we stopped for tea time and I expertly navigated the bus (colectivo) guidebook (Guia T), wrote down which buses to take, to connect us, etc., and bravely took on the burden of my companion’s trust.
We rode the first bus for almost 20 minutes before we got off (at the right stop!) next to the highway. It was sketchy as hell, but me and Christine only felt slightly terrified because Alex was with us. Anyhow, crossing the highway looked daunting. I dutifully followed the crowd, assuming they knew what they were doing and raced across a maze of crosswalks with blinding headlights seemingly pursuing us from all directions. We crossed beneath the highway under a bridge and a creepy pedophile van was sitting on the side of the bridge, sort of hidden in the shadows looking the part of a Hollywood drug dealer. Well, guess what?! Totally was. Three or four people broke off from the the crowd and exchanged wads of pesos with the driver for teeny bags of white unidentified powder. If the cars didn’t make me uneasy enough, I was now thoroughly aware that I wasn’t in my cozy Fort Collins anymore. After we got past the stereotypical kidnapper van, we set off for the next bus stop.
We walked along the frontage road, which was lined with dingy looking shops and houses. Houses were a rare sight because most of the places I’ve been to so far and around where I’m living are too dense for anything but high rise apartment buildings. We were pretty much alone walking there but, por suerte, we stumbled upon the bus stop right as our bus was arriving. I felt a lot better after boarding the bus and getting off the streets, but the fact remained that we could get totally lost with one wrong move…and with my limited Spanish and lack of knowledge about the city, or pretty much cities altogether, we’d be totally screwed. We were now kilometers from home in a much mor raw area of the city. Luck continued to be on our side though. As we drove on the highway for another 15 minutes or so at alarming speeds, we saw an exit for the street we needed and got ready to get off the bus. All three of us hesitated though when the bus stopped. We weren’t speaking just because it was probably an excellent way to target ourselves as foreigners (even if we tried to speak spanish our obvious accents wouldn’t have helped us to stay safe), but we all shared a look and didn’t get off. The next stop we timidly deboarded and it turned out to be the right stop. If we hadn’t gotten that intuition feeling not to get off we’d have been 2 or 3 kilometers away in a scary part of the city with no clue about where we were going. But, after a 15 minute walk the yellow Walmart flower shown through the foggy streets and bloomed in our hearts.
A real Walmart so far from its origen was bordering on hilarity. It looked totally out of place. The characteristic South American equivalent of Home Depot (Easy!) situated in the adjacent parking lot made us giggle as the nervousness we’d accumulated over the course of the adventure began to dissipate.
I seriously hadn’t seen a parking lot since arriving in Buenos Aires and there was just something so…awkward about it being there. Anyways, we went through the front doors and were greeted with a familiar sight. Everything seemed the same but with a foreign touch, like how most young people here speak near perfect english but with a thick accent. They had turnstiles you had to go through to get in…which seemed odd to me…
We didn’t find graham crackers, and there were probably a grand total of 7 jars of peanut butter in the entire store. Those seven we found on an obscure top shelf near the rows and rows of dulce de leche (my host brother would kill me if I compared dulce de leche with peanut butter so for the record, I am not comparing them. Dulce de leche is a delectable caramel spread. Peanut butter is not.) and we did find a can of sweetened condensed milk (leche condensada y azucada en lata.) After that we just explored the store. Going to Walmart made it so easy to observe the cultural differences here. For example, they had a huge wine collection and liquor store in the very center of the store (like where the grocery sections and clothes sections meet.)
And the electronics section was almost sad to see. The prices were outrageous because they have exorbitant taxes on imports here. F
or example, the TV that me and Erin had was 36″ I think. It was $320…which is about 1440 pesos. There was one about the same size, similar brand and quality for 5990 pesos, which is nearly $1300!!! That TV was probably the biggest that the store even carried. They also sold TVs that looked like they were from the 80s. An 8″ boxy television was selling for about $50. It was insane. We also found quite the collection of scales, which probably has something to say about the way weight is perceived here. They definitely boosted my self image though (see picture below 😉 )
We had to buy school supplies too and we certainly didn’t find any Target 10 for a dollar cheapies here. I haven’t even seen simple notebooks actually. Most of them have hard covers and sell for $5 or $6. Another difference I’ve noticed–which can be seen at the grocery stores too is that you don’t just put things in your cart and bring them to checkout. I tried to buy a single banana for lunch from the grocery store the other day and ended up holding up the line for ten minutes while I went back to the fresh foods section to ask the employee to weigh it and price it for me. They do that with things from the bakery too. And they did that with the nail polish and makeup products at walmart…it was really strange for me.As we left the store, a dog about the size of Lipton came in carrying a three foot long stick just really excited to see everyone. He easily hopped the turnstiles and was cheerily greeting customers and employees alike. Made me laugh and remember once again that I’m on the other side of the world where it’s not really too far from normal for a dog to come into Walmart to play fetch.
Anyhow, getting back home didn’t really go as planned. Instead of going back with the same buses and connections that we had come by, Christine was pretty sure that the 111 would pick us up right on the other side of the street and bring us within a few blocks of our houses (by that I mean apartments.) I readily trusted her and my confidence in her improved when we saw the names of streets we could recognize on the list of stops at the bus stop. We boarded the 111 and found seats and sat down for the ride. I was a bit nervous when we didn’t turn onto the highway and continued in the opposite direction from where we lived…when we started to go southwest (the complete opposite direction from where we lived) I knew we’d messed up somehow. There wasn’t much we could do except get out our Guia T’s and try to read the occasional street sign and number to decipher our whereabouts. The minutes passed and the passengers continued to get off until we were the only riders except for one lady who asked us if we were lost…I asked her if the bus would turn around and she said, yes, it would, but we’d have to get off first. We had been riding for about 25 minutes by the time we got off in a really dark alley-looking street with only three or four thug-looking people hanging out by the bus sign. Definitely not where we should be after dark but this night seemed determined to rob me of my small town innocence. We ended up getting back on the bus and riding it for 45 minutes all the way home. I got off totally dissoriented and walked seven blocks before figuring out I was going the wrong way. I turned around and trudged the now 12 blocks home…I got there at 10:30 and my family had already eaten, but my host mom was really sweet about it (I had texted her on the ride home so they wouldn’t wait up for me) and she cooked me something on the spot. My family here has been so terrific ❤ This is a bad picture of both of us but it’s the only one I’ve got. The other girl is Ines, my host brother’s girlfriend. She’s a sweetheart too 🙂
Posted on August 6, 2012, in Fall Semester, Travel and Study and tagged Argentina, Buenos Aires, bus system, comical, foreign, standinginargentina, Study Abroad, subway, tourism, Travel, wallmart, walmart. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.