New York is… to put it mildly… fast paced. Things happen quickly. Every one seems to be in a rush to get somewhere and the menial tasks or tedious errands like picking up groceries or buying a metrocard are expected to happen quickly with an exorbitant amount of efficiency by all players involved. The cashiers at the grocery store we used to go to (Peas N Pickles… how I miss you) worked in tandem at lightening speed, one person bagging the items and rattling off prices and the other entering them into the computer. I sometimes lost track of what they were doing. And the lines moved quickly. Every where. You rarely have to wait for anything, except a table at the hottest new restaurant. (Ok that line was a little cheesy, but you get my drift…) And, as my family and friends can definitely attest, I fell prey to this mentality. Going to get my morning coffee at Cranberry St Bakery, I would get annoyed at the person in front of me who wasn’t prepared to rattle off their order the moment the line moved on. A person (no matter what age, gender, race, disability) would pause as they tried to figure out the metrocard or would stand on the escalator instead of walking (let’s be honest, jogging) down, and my back would stiffen with frustration at the possibility of missing my train. And the meanderthals… oh the meanderthals. Tourists visiting New York, just casually strolling down Broadway, pausing every now and then in the middle of the side walk to comment on a window effectively blocking my path… even now my blood pressure raises as I think about it. Didn’t these people know that I had places to go?!? That this was my “commute” and they are holding up traffic!!
Well, as Jesse and I have since learned, that kind of thinking – really that kind of living – isn’t possible here. Someone told us soon after we arrived that porteños (people from Buenos Aires) love to wait in line. I don’t know if anyone loves to wait in line – at the grocery store everyone decidedly seeks out the shortest/fastest moving line. But what I have learned is that nobody is in such a rush here. Cashiers are not in a rush to check you out; they are not packing your bags with speed of an olympian. They’re often not packing your bags at all. Just because you are in a rush or would like to get home in a reasonable time doesn’t mean any one else is going to stress about it. They will keep working at a steady even pace, stopping sometimes to chat with a friend or fix something with their desk. This is attitude holds true with the customers. People go about their business, they get their items, they wait in line. They know that it is going to take a minute, but they do not stress. At least they do not LOOK stressed. Instead of staring pointedly around with a stiff back and neck, glaring at the cashiers who are taking their time or pacing waiting for their number to be called as most New Yorkers would do, everyone seems to just relax and wait.
A quick story… Our first week here, Jesse and I went to Movistar (a mobile phone carrier) to get a sim card for our phones. After going to about 4 different stores, we finally happened upon this HUGE central location. We entered, were greeted and our names were taken, and then we were sent upstairs to wait for our names to be called. We waited for about 30 minutes until we were sent to a desk at the back. As we walked up I saw the man at the desk take his sweater off and start to roll up his sleeves. We sat down and told him we needed a sim card. And then we waited as he carefully rolled up each sleeve, taking his time to do it precisely. We sat there for at least 1 minute 30 seconds, no stress on his part and utter confusion on our part. Then about half way through the mountains of paperwork we had to fill out, a friend of his walked up to his desk and he got up and started chatting with him casually for a couple minutes.
Buenos Aires is busy and people are constantly moving and doing things… but the attitude here, the overall feeling in the air, is much more relaxed. You know things will get done and there is no point in stressing about it. You spend your time thinking about more important things or just enjoying life. I’m not saying that life isn’t hard or stressful for people. There is stress, but the day to day stress is much reduced compared to New York. And it’s really aimed at different things in life. For me, this has been really great. I’m forcing myself to acclimate to the new attitude. It’s easier because I’m not working/going to school/planning a wedding/etc and also because if you are running a little late somewhere it’s not a big deal. But even after 3 weeks of living here, I’ve had to reflect on my reactions and the self-imposed stress that may eventually give me an ulcer or heart disease or increased metabolism or any other health problem brought on by chronic stress. It’s still a bit of a struggle, but we’re getting there. I’m now a little worried that after a year or so of living here, moving back to the fast paced life and stress of New York will be really difficult. But I suppose that’s what this whole trip is about… learning from other cultures and bringing that with you wherever you go.