I’ve never traveled abroad before. It wasn’t until I was on my first business trip that I had the opportunity to travel to a different country.
The country of choice was Argentina. It’s only a couple hours flight from São Paulo but as deliberately different from Brazil as Tango from Samba.
Starting with the language. In Brazil we speak Portuguese, in Argentina, Spanish. And while it’s somewhat confusing, Buenos Aires is in fact the capital of Argentina, and not Brazil (which is Brasília, if you are wondering).
Being in Brazil for so long, for some reason, I thought that the culture and customs were basically the same throughout Latin America. I mean, how can one not eat rice and beans every day?
Let me tell you that before hopping on that plane, the most Spanish I knew was probably ‘Hola’ and ‘Hasta la vista, baby’. I was extremely unprepared as a penguin planning to spend summer vacations in Rio.
I remember landing at the Aeroparque Airport, the one in the heart of Buenos Aires, and trying to understand my surroundings.
From the top, the first noticeable difference, was seeing the huge Rio de la Plata that divides Argentina and Uruguay. At first I thought it was the ocean, but then there were no waves. It’s just this tranquil, infinite lake. Later on during my travels this would remind me of the Great Lake Michigan.
After disembarking from the plane, I tried to find my way through customs. It felt surreal at first, seeing signs in a language so strangely close to Portuguese. For a second it was like waking up from a confusing dream, trying to make sense of the situation.
Past customs and baggage claim, the next goal on my quest was to get to the hotel.
In my opinion, the most overwhelming part, is when you are leaving the airport, and there’s a crowd of aggressive taxi drivers, all trying to get into your wallet. You feel like a farmer entering a chicken coop with a bag full of corn.
I randomly picked a taxi stand and tried to explain that I wanted to get to a hotel that was five miles away but didn’t want to cost me a kidney. But I think my corporate credit card gave away that I clearly didn’t know how to dance the Tango.
In Brazil, we use credit card machines with PINs and you’re good to go. Argentina, and other countries (looking at you America), still insist on having a signature on paper. Not knowing any of these sophisticated transactional methods, here’s where I messed up.
I was handed a receipt and a pen after I agreed on the ride fare. At the bottom of the paper there was 'Firma' and a drawn ‘x’ supposedly expecting something from me. In Portuguese, ‘Firma’ is an slang that loosely also means 'Company', but in Spanish it means signature.
Needless to say, I proceeded to sign with the name of the company I worked for...
Lo and behold, now I’m known as Mr. Google in Argentina.
Confused faces all around made me wake up from this disoriented dream.
Not only did I not speak the local language but my first international signature crime foreshadowed how this difficult initial sojourn was about to unfold.
You live and learn, you travel and thrive...