A New Career
Buenos Aires, Argentina
When I flew to South America at the start of the new millenium, I had dreams of becoming a nomad. I wanted to travel and work my way around the world. Buenos Aires seemed like a good place to start. There was plenty happening there. The streets and the people there were slick and trendy but still warm and friendly. I had a couple of Argentinean friends there. The economy was good then, so earning Pesos was equal to earning American dollars. It was the most expensive country in South America.
I had heard that my best chances to find a job were in a tourist cafe or perhaps teaching English. My Spanish wasn’t so good and the idea of dealing with fast speaking porteños every day as a waitress was daunting, so I decided try on teaching. Every day I pounded the pavement talking to various schools. At the end of the week I had worn out the soles on my shoes and knew the city better than the back of my own hand.
The schools were generally interested in four things. Experience and education, a working visa, and a commitment to stay at least one year. I figured I had the first two down since I had a nursing degree and had been speaking English for twenty-five years. The working visa, well I had a visa card, that should like give me a fifty percent right? And the commitment, well ok so that wasn’t my strong point. So one by one they turned me away.
Finally I found a school that would give me a chance. It was run by a man from Chicago. Tall and pale, with a bushy black mustache and a nervous manner, he talked at the speed of a hummingbird’s wings while he reorganized the items on his desk. He wasn’t bothered about commitments or paperwork and was going to let me start today! I would teach a one hour individual lesson in conversational Spanish. I was shuffled into cubicle with a round table and a couple of chairs when my student came in, a middle aged man with a round friendly face. Our conversation was so lovely that it seemed rude to interrupt him with pedantic details such as verb tenses or pronouns. After all, I could understand him just fine! He told me all about himself. I thoroughly enjoyed our visit and couldn’t believe I had stumbled into this lucrative and fun new job! What luck! Getting paid for listening! I came back to collect my wages the following day and was shuffled into the same room again with the tightly wired Chicagoan. One of his strings snapped and blew up at me! Apparently he didn’t appreciate my laid back style of teaching, “you just can’t let them ramble on like that!” He paid me my twelve dollars and asked me not to come back. So much for my new teaching career!
With my pride hurt, I decided to pursue the other avenue of employment open to English speaking illegal aliens, the pub job. One evening I walked past a little bar with my friends. They were playing great dance music so I decided to go inside and apply for a job.
Inside the clothes of scantily clad girls glowed under the ultraviolet light. I remarked to my friend that I didn’t think I would fit in there. I had been backpacking for the past three months and my clothes weren’t really up to fashionable clubbing standards. But what the heck, I figured I may as well apply. Maybe after a few pay checks I could buy some new gear. After all beggars can’t be choosers.
I walked straight to the back of the pub and asked to speak to the manager. Apparently they did need people because without any discussions about experience, paperwork, or commitment; he asked me to return to start work at 8 o’clock the next evening. Finally I had a job! I marveled at how easy it was! I was one step closer to calling myself a local.
The man standing next to him however wasn’t satisfied. He asked me if I was looking for a job as a waitress. I said that I was. He said that there were no waitresses there. It was a small place, perhaps there was only room for the bartender. I was disappointed but still determined not to let my opportunity pass me by!
“No problema, puedo hacer cualquier cosa.” (No problem, I can do anything.) Bussing tables or washing dishes wouldn’t be quite as much fun as waiting tables but after almost a month of job searching I was ready to do anything!
The man made faces like he was straining very hard to say something but he wasn’t quite sure how to say it. He said very slowly…
“Las chicas estan trabajando” (the girls are working).
I wondered if the expression meant the same thing in Spanish as it did in English. I wasn’t sure he meant what I thought he did. Attempting to clarify in my limited Spanish, I said, “Un poco malo?” (a little bad?)
He nodded emphatically, the poor guy knew I didn’t fit in there!
“No para mio?” (not for me?). He nodded again. Ohhh…
He asked if I understood.
I said “Entiendo!” (I understand!) I had been so intent on the conversation I hadn’t taken much notice of the ambience of the place. Turning around I noticed that the many beautiful girls were dancing sexy in the laps of middle aged business men, or on the tops of chairs or on the bar. My cheeks burned burgundy as I made my way to the door! When I got outside my friends were doubled up laughing on the pavement with tear streaked faces. I guess they had figured it out sometime earlier.
In my blind determination to get some job, any job, I guess it had just never occurred to me that you could walk right into a brothel on an average street in the center of Buenos Aires! No wonder all those girls were so scantily clad!! At least I got the job though. I would have been mortally offended if I had been turned down for a job as a prostitute! It occurred to me that prostitution would have been an excellent traveling job. After all they work in every country in the world, no papers, no questions asked, money under the table. But it wasn’t a gig for me!
I never did show up for work, so it was the end of another promising career in Buenos Aires, but at least my friends had a good laugh. Guess I’ll chalk it up to experience, live and learn!
The author welcomes feedback. Tell her how she should have gotten a job my emailing her at: ruthiebaby88 at hotmail dot com.