After eleven years living, dancing, teaching tango, and writing in Buenos Aires, I came home to L.A. in 2014, where I'm reconstructing my life.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Friends Forever or Acquaintances for Now?

In the States, "everyone" is our "friend," even if we just met them. It's our culture and our language. We want to be friendly. We smile a lot and try to act friendly.

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!"


aBroad said...

Oh honey, I am relating so much to this ..
At least my best friend is still here, my husband .. we manage fine with all of the new acquaintances we have here ..

Tina said...

Great post! I think that living in a different country, we notice this a lot more than we do at home. At home, we have our set, rooted group of friends so we don't realize just how complex the issue of making friends is. We get to a new country, and in terms of tango it's definitely as you describe, and of course then there is the mere fact that the people in our new country or city already have their own friends, life routines, etc., and aren't necessarily looking to "add" new friends.
I know when I was living in the south of Italy there was all this enthusiasm over me, the "maestra" (oh *please*) and DJ, and when that wore off, I was pretty much alone except for a few people. And even then, I have learned to maintain my own distance, and I only call one of those people a friend, while the rest I am more than happy to consider acquaintances from tango. It works out - We're always glad to see each other at the milonga and there is no drama or "TMI". If we are to get closer and become friends, it will happen naturally.
Now that I'm in the north of Italy, people are generally a lot more reserved, so it's a matter of taking initiative on my end.
The best thing that tells me if someone is my friend is time. If time goes by and that person is still there, I know we're set. :-)

Elizabeth Brinton said...

Cherie, I also use the measuring stick of "who will take you to the emergency room". It is often a surprise to realize just who will, and who cannot be subject to "obligation". Very good post and relevant to all situations. We have to be observant and careful of how people treat others before we become "friends"
Tina, your friends here are looking forward to seeing you. We are all here, same as ever, but a little wiser.