We talk about Man's Best Friend, we belong to the Friends of the Library, we are Best Friends Forever with someone for a week.
I'm a person who has few friends, but the ones I have are "cherce!" My current friends in Buenos Aires are not at all the ones I thought I had when I moved here permanently. I had met some local people on several vacation dancing trips since 1997, other foreign dancers like me, and of course, the milongueros. I enjoyed the company of these folks; I didn't feel so alone thinking I had friends here.
When I became a "local" myself in 2003 and people saw me every day, I lost glamour. I was no longer the exotic foreigner who came and went, bearing gifts. The milongueros became noticeably uncomfortable that I was always here, watching and comparing notes with others. They saw me like the local I now was. Many milongueros enjoy the fact that tourists hit and run, leaving them free to start a fresh seduction with someone new and innocent. The game can be more important to them than the conquest.
While I continued to enjoy "friendship" with local ladies, I realized that I felt used. People I hardly knew asked me to bring them all sorts of things with no offers of reimbursement. I had parties and invited these "old friends" as well as new ones I was making. But they didn't participate or reciprocate. One local did invite me to a party but then charged me for the food Ruben and I ate, despite our bringing wine and a gift. Others tried to profit off of my foreign friends, trying to sell them shoes, tango clothes, jewelry, tours, places to stay.
When I couldn't afford anymore to invite locals out to restaurant dinners as I used to, our relations changed. There is a common attitude of "foreigner = money" and there are certain expectations.
Many tango tourists do as I used to do and enjoy treating local dancers. Ruben and I love treating folks to an empanada lunch or an asado at our apartment. The error is to consider everyone our "friends." We throw that word around a lot in English, rarely using "acquaintance" as Ruben does to describe our relationships, but in Spanish, people don't often talk about "amigos." After all, real strong and enduring friendships are infrequent and not that easy to make. What do they say, a friend is someone we can call at 3 a.m. to take us to the emergency room? We shouldn't fool ourselves that everyone we know would do that for us.
Do we believe that all those friendly folks at the milongas are our friends? Do we even know much about them? We know how they dance and if they smell good and perhaps in what part of town they live in, but usually that is about all. Because we are not there to make life-long friends; we are there to have dance and fun. Sometimes knowing too much about a dance partner ruins the experience. It's wonderful to have acquaintances, "conocidos," too.
In searching for an illustration for this post, the "friends" images on Google were either of animals, children, or the "Friends" TV series. "Acquaintance" images were mostly cartoons, and posters for the Bette Davis movie, "Old Acquaintance."
In Spanish, the primary images for "amigo" are cars and electric wheel chairs (??!) For "conocido" it's pictures of men alone, including Jesus and Che Guevara. For "conocida," the female acquaintance, it's the Virgin, flowers, and fairies. Go figure.
My favorite theme of "Sex and the City" was the bond between the four women. The writing portrayed the quality of friendship as more important and enduring than a date with a man, as real life female relationships have tended to do the opposite: I'll spend the evening with you as long as a man doesn't call me for a date. Some of the moments with the TV women expressing love and caring for each other in difficult circumstances often brought me to tears. I didn't envy their Jimmy Choos, their apartments, jobs, or boyfriends--I wanted a circle of friends like that. But it wasn't reality. And there are certainly few real friendships in Tinsel Town. But the ones I have are "cherce!"