Coming Up On Your Left: Entertaining Guests

Buenos Aires, ArgentinaPaddle Boats

Hosting is as much a part of living abroad as is learning a new language.  Yet, in all the time that I have lived in Buenos Aires, I have had virtually no visitors (except my own mother). I did get to see a few friends and acquaintances when they passed through town.  But I was not the motivation for those trips, just a bonus.

My two worlds have never truly collided, and most of my friends and family from the States have never interacted with my host country or actively participated in the “Argentine years.” My life at home and abroad were both present during the past three years, but they almost never appear together in the same memory. Pictures allow people on both sides of the equator to put faces with names, but they cannot take the place of actually experiencing a place en vivo y en directo.

Besides, guests give you an excuse to act like a tourist in your own city.  You get to do all of the things that life, work, and pride don’t normally permit you to do – visit museums, drink at Irish pubs, rent paddle boats in the park, carry a map, take pictures.  But maybe I’m just idealizing and romanticizing what it’s like to have visitors.

I have enough friends who practically run hostels to know that being a host is hard work.  Your guests may be on vacation, but you, typically, are not, and differences in time, energy, and budget can make it hard to keep up.  After a few days, you find yourself shoving a guidebook in your guests’ hands and agreeing to meet them for coffee after work.   Having nonstop guests is especially difficult right after you arrive.  Establishing a routine is impossible if every few weeks, visitors come and upset it, and developing new relationships is challenging when you’re busy entertaining old ones.

There is also the pressure and the guilt you feel if your guests are uncomfortable or not having a good time.  In your mind, the city is a reflection of you, and you are responsible for all that happens there.  You want your loved ones to like where you live in the way that you want them to like your boyfriend. If your visitors so much as observe that it would be nice if the sidewalks didn’t have potholes, you get defensive. No one is allowed to talk badly about your city, except you.

Moonlighting as a tour guide/babysitter is worth it in order to spend quality time with close friends and family.  But what about when your visitors are slightly more distant?  There is always some kid you shared a desk with in fourth grade who heard from your parents that you are living abroad and wonders if it wouldn’t be too much trouble to stay with you for a few days.  Of course, you can’t remember if you even like this person.  But the “travelers’ code” states that if you have the space, you have to put them up.  That’s just what you do.  And most of the time, it’s what you want to do.  Just remember, don’t let other people’s vacations get in the way of your own life.

Luckily, my mother was easy.  My mom has been coming to Argentina since before I could locate it on a map.  This was her seventh trip to Buenos Aires, which means that she’s already done and seen it all. The only things on her list of “musts” were: eat empanadas, get together with friends, and spend time with her daughter.  Check. We actually made it a point to get out of town, spending a few days at the incredible Iguazú Falls. The only problem was that since my mother had no agenda of her own, I was left to fill in the gaps in our itinerary.  And as I tried to come up with ideas of fun and novel things for us to do together, I was forced to ask myself: “What the hell am I doing here?”

The hardest part for me about having visitors is that it forces me to confront the fact that I’m just not that into Buenos Aires.  I’m always excited when people tell me that they are coming to visit or stay for a few months, because I know that they are going to love it here.  Most people do.  But they are almost always meat eating, Malbec-drinking, Tango-dancing, Latino-loving, party animals.  And I’m not.  I am a vegetarian, I prefer white wine, Tango bores me, most Argentine guys are not exactly my type, and I will never understand the logic behind starting your night at 2am.  And while the city’s cultural offerings are nice, they are not exactly worth renewing your passport for. This is not to say that Buenos Aires isn’t charming, beautiful or worth visiting.  But in my case, it doesn’t offer me enough to compensate for the noise pollution, exhaust fumes, catcalls, inefficiency, broken sidewalks, and bureaucracy.

So, how did I end up here, and for so long?  Because at first, I didn’t know any better, and honestly, I didn’t care.  Before moving to Argentina, I didn’t do much research or pay attention to the details, because all I wanted was different and distance.  And I certainly got both of those things.  Buenos Aires was a place where I could explore, experiment, resolve, and grow.  It was a place where I could live well.  And it was a place where I could make some of the best friends I’ve ever had.  But it’s not a place where I see myself long-term, because the quality of your life is inextricably influenced by the city where you live.

When I was applying to colleges, my parents (half) joked that I could go to any school I wanted, as long as it was in a place that they would want to visit.  And I think that a good rule to follow is: if are going to move abroad, and take on all of the associated expenses, you should pick a city that you personally would want to visit.  Otherwise, you won’t last long.  That’s why I’m optimistic about New Zealand, a country famous for it’s great outdoors, extreme sports, sheep, and Sauvignon Blanc.  And if any of that sounds appealing to you, you’re welcome to crash on my couch, just as soon as I have one.

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