Broken Pieces = A Whole World

Jackson, an American expat living in Buenos Aires, doesn't regret moving from Chicago to Argentina for a second, especially since he's found so much energy, so many broken streets and so much material to put in his second novel. Jacskon lives with his girlfriend in Capital Federal, where he teaches English and does translation work. Read this US expat's witty perspective on life in Argentina, learn more about their short-term plans and find outwhat he really thinks about porteños.
 

Jackson Bliss

-Where were you born?

In Traverse City, a picturesque hamlet in the ring finger of Northern Michigan, USA.

-In which country and city are you living now?

Buenos Aires, Argentina

-Are you living alone or with your family?

I moved here with Erika, the raddest girlfriend in the whole world and Zoe, our Shia-Poo, who is possibly the most adorable dog I've ever seen. But don't take my word for it. Come over and spend five minutes with her and you'll agree.

-How long have you been living in Argentina?

Around three months.

-What is your age?

34. I finally passed my Jesus year and I'm so damn relieved. It's too much pressure to put on any one person.

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Argentina?

Who knows? You can't really trace something like that because the birth of an idea really starts decades ago when you're a kid. But the first time I seriously considered packing up my whole life and moving to another country (for the second time) was the summer of 2007. Originally, Erika and I were going to move to Barcelona. After visiting her family in Peru for a month in February, South America started to feel really good to us. Then the economic reality of the Euro-Dollar exchange rate hit us: it kept plummeting and we realized thousands of dollars of our meager savings would simply disappear into thin air. Just like that. The real coup de grâce though was that neither of us had received a single response from employers in Spain whereas several companies had written back in Buenos Aires. Finally, Erika's uncle and cousin lived here so we knew we'd have the traces of a community.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?

Impossible is more the word. Originally, we were going to get work permits but it was too much of a hassle. There is something like eight Kafkaesque steps to working here legally and all of them require you having a job before you get here. Also, I got a job without a work permit so I have no complaints. Lastly, having to renew our 90-day tourist visas was the perfect excuse for us to travel since it forced us to take advantage of where we lived. So instead, we're going to Uruguay and Brazil. Holla!

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?

I wouldn't know. We don't have it. Both of us make sure we're healthy and that we eat well so it's not an issue.

-How do you make your living in Argentina? Do you have any type of income generated?

I teach English to employees at Big Bad Businesses. Fortunately, my students are awesome and I get three days off a week to write. I also tutor privately. Lastly, I translate for an international wine magazine. The first two jobs were through Craig's List and the last job was through a professional translator website called ProZ.

-Do you speak Spanish and do you think it's important to speak the local language?

Yes I do, but I still learn something each and every day. My personal philosophy is that no matter what country you visit (whether it's for vacation or to change lines of latitude), you need to learn the language, even if it's just basic words and phrases. Unless you happen to run into an ass, people always appreciate any attempts at speaking their language. It opens them up, helps you connect, and creates a cultural bridge. It's not only a matter of respect, it's also a question of survival. In Buenos Aires, speaking English in the streets can sometimes be a liability. Why advertise that you're a foreigner? You're practically begging someone to steal your purse.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?

God, all the time. But skype does wonders. And we've made friends with both expats and Argentines, so our social community is large and vibrant enough to take the edge off things.

-Do you have other plans for the future?

Hell, yes! We're going to Uruguay and Brazil in the next four months and in April we're flying to Europe to spend a month there. We're going to Paris, Barcelona, Geneva, Amsterdam and hopefully Casablanca if we have enough time to make it to Morocco.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?

Our apartment is in one of the coolest neighborhoods in Buenos Aires and we still only pay $570 a month, which includes all utilities, internet, a fantastic location, a free cell phone and a weekly maid service (which feels odd to us, to be honest).

-What is the cost of living in Argentina?

It's gone up a lot since last year but is still much cheaper than Chicago, where we moved from. Unfurnished apartments cost around $250-$400 (USD) per month, especially in neighborhoods with less hype. Furnished apartments cost more but they're worth it considering how expensive it is to buy all of your furniture. If you're a high roller, you have different rules obviously.

Groceries are extremely cheap. We leave the local Coto with 8-11 bags of groceries, filled with some pricey imported food, and we never pay more than 130 pesos ($45 USD). Eating out is still quite cheap but has become more exensive as of late. You can spend $15 USD for dinner for two at a budget restaurant sharing a bottle of mineral water, and $100 at a swanky place with local wine. Electronics, facial products, and any other imports, on the other hand, will cost you two of your fingers.

-What do you think about the Argentines?

Argentines are awesome people because they never hold anything in. In general they're very friendly, charismatic, charming, not to mention perpetually late. They also seem to coo over children and conspiracy theories. I find that if you make an effort to connect with the locals they are friendly and open. On the other hand, if you come here with a chip on your shoulder, a closed mind and remarkably primitive language skills: you'll get back what you give out. But what else is new?

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living Argentina?

Pro's: The cost of living is very affordable, the people are intriguing and beautiful to look at, the food is great (even for vegetarians), time slows down and quality of life goes up, Buenos Aires is cosmopolitan and has amazing energy, there is extensive mass transit, there are health food stores and ways to eat healthy here, tango milongas are everywhere, great conversation seems to happen on a daily basis here, the Spanish spoken in Argentina is gorgeous, the TEFL market is booming, there are strikes all the time, you don't see lots of fake smiles, people don't over-apologize like they do in America and the UK, there's a million used bookstores, and the weather is absolutely fantastic most of the time. Think SoCal.

Con's: There's lots of corruption, theft is ubiquitous, pedestrians do not have the right of way, riding the Subte during rush-hour is like stage-diving in a crowded rock concert (so packed it's ridiculous), there's dog shit on every corner, pollution can be intense in certain parts of the city, there's no place to go jogging, some men can be macho and chauvinistic, tango sometimes feels like a cult for single female expats, everyone smokes, doing laundry can be a huge chore if your place doesn't have a washing machine, there are strikes all the time, the lines at the supermarket are never-ending, bureaucracy (like in most South American countries) is legendary, and people don't apologize when they walk into you.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Argentina?

Don't expect Buenos Aires to be like Paris. Or Rome. What's beautiful about living here is the same thing that's unsettling at times: this city is falling apart at the seams. Buenos Aires has a ruptured majesty about it, borrowing parts of European culture without owning any of it. Some buildings are straight out of the 9th arrondissement in Paris, and then suddenly you'll find yourself in the middle of a construction site that just goes on for 10 blocks. This city is amazing, but all of those European juxtapositions you've heard about are crap. Come here and approach this city on its own terms, just like you would a new relationship.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Argentina?

Sorry for the self-promo but I think my blog/flog does a decent job of showing a few sides of Buenos Aires and Peru from a personal perspective. I post lots of pictures and add personal commentary every week. You can check it out at:

http://waterandsoul.blogspot.com

And here's Erika's blog too:

http://alittlebugsworld.blogspot.com