Otherwise known as The City that Never Stops Honking, Where Eventually All Car Horns Merge into One Incessant High-Pitched Beeeeep, Which Is The Last Thing You Fall Asleep To Every Night.
Or, The City That Is Actually Miami Without The Ocean I.e Full of Latinos So My Family Didn’t Need Me To Translate After All.
My trip to New York City was more than just a vacation; it was a cross-continental reunion. I didn’t go to see the Statue of Liberty in the distant fog from the orange Staten Island Ferry or take a 42-second elevator to reach the 86th floor of the Empire State building for those #instaviews. I went to meet up with my Argentinian family who I spent three months living with in Buenos Aires last year. They’d planned a three-week vacation in the U.S, starting in New York City, then to Orlando, and depart from Miami. Despite it being summer holidays down in the southern hemisphere, it’s a slight dip in temperature up north in January, a colder climate Argentinos are unaccustomed to, to say the least.
Our Airbnb was in Nolita, Soho. I knew it was gonna be lavish AF when the elevator doors opened directly into the apartment, displaying a fine marble kitchen counter and a glittering chandelier. Who was I, Serena Van Der Woodsen?
Nine days in the Big Apple may have been a bit of a stretch. Literally. We walked an average of 30km a day, packing in as much cheap touristy things as possible. Our daily schedule was carefully crafted by Lucas’s older brother, who did an amazing job at creating the perfect itinerary to fit in all the landmarks and neighbourhoods to visit, from 8 in the morning to 9 at night.
We awoke every morning at 7:30am to the sounds of pots and pans, the weird bubbling of the coffee maker, and a chorus of Buen Diaaaaa, which we could never escape since we slept on a pull-out couch in the main living space. As I began waking up earlier than I do to go to work, I realized this was the kind of vacation where you need an actual vacation from afterward. But despite the lack of zzz’s and my frequent retreats under the sheets, I was grateful to spend at least a week with my crazy, Argentine family.
My favourite moment in NYC
Lucas’s dad has zero shame, as he shouldn’t. He’s in a foreign country where he knows no one. What better way to embarrass his wife than to propose to her in every major landmark in New York, for all to see, admire, and tweet about?
Result: picture perfect on Top of the Rock, where you can literally see the moment where Mama Fuse’s embarrassment conceded into delight. The audience grew and tourists erupted in cheers, snapping photos as Papa Fuse placed a plastic ring on his beloved’s left finger, bellowing out in broken English, “I lahve yew, Grrrace!”
The proposals may have been fake, but their love sure ain’t.
Argentinos at Whole Foods Market
The closest grocery store to us was good ol’ organically-raised, non-GMO, locally grown, and non-hormonal Whole Foods. Great. I totally wanted to spend that extra two bucks for organic celery…
These trips were pure entertainment. We’d come home with a buttload of organic groceries with flowery names, and sometimes, a neat surprise. For example, one morning, Mama Fuse offered me toast – she had two types of jams and had just bought cream cheese. She picked them up all by herself. I looked closely at the label of the package and tried not to burst out laughing. It was called, “better than CREAM CHEESE” and was made purely of soy. It tasted like farts, but I ate it anyway. Ah, the little things.
The NYC Subway
Apparently, this subway system has been hailed the best in North America. I am on the fence about that claim, especially being a daily commuter on the TTC in Toronto.
If the train ever decides to make an appearance (since they really like to stand you up), they’re not much comfort, filled with hard, plastic benches made for robotic asses, and you either the type of people squeezing up on each other and trying to grab their cellphones out of their pockets, subsequently elbowing someone in the face, or the other type of people that sit so spread out to avoid any humanly contact, there’s wasted space.
Beware of the different trains that operate on the same line – you might find yourself in Brooklyn instead of Williamsburg, walking through a sketchy industrial area only to realize you’re lost (yes, this is a personal tale).
Oh, and the rats are a real NYC subway phenomenon – you aren’t really experiencing it right if you don’t see these crusty-tailed critters scutter in the track gutters.
Sure, the subway is open 24hrs and has wifi at almost all platform – that’s ideal especially for a modern-day tourist without a data plan. The wifi saved our butts plenty of times. But does it really make up for those flimsy paper metro cards that leave people with permanent pelvic bruises due to slamming their guts through the turnstile that refuses to move ‘cuz you didn’t swipe it hard or fast enough????
The Best Bargainers Are from the South
Canal Street, we meet again. This time, I am no longer a naive 14-year old paying in full for tacky souvenirs without question, but a fully-matured woman, armed with 9 Argentinos who can barter with their eyes close, while playing limbo, seeing how low they can go with the prices.
It was more aggressive on the classic shopping street than I had remembered. You gaze at a keychain a second too long, and a shopkeeper slithers behind you, bobbing their head up and down intensely, “you like? 8 for $10, special price for you.” You give a quick thanks, and as his gaze burns a hole in your back, you decide to move on, since there are tons of other stores that sell these trinkets and you just want to shop in peace, gosh darnit. That is, until an aggressive “Excuse me miss! Excuse me!” rings in your ear and the hair on your neck raises, and you turn around to face the shopkeeper, sweaty and spitting out, “10! 10 keychains for $10!”
The sound of desperation clings to every syllable of his outburst, and although you have no use for 10 keychains, you decide to put him out of his misery. Or maybe I’m the same naive girl who succumbs to my false perception of people’s genuine feelings. If that’s the case, he tricked me indeed. My heart betrays me.
I walked into the next store to find my Argentinos shoving souvenirs in bags without a second glance, others bargaining hard for fake MK bags, and the rest doing the math with the shopkeepers. I was impressed; most Canal Street shop owners spoke fluent Spanish, which enabled them to make a huge sale that day. I watched Mama Fuse bargain down a fake designer bag from $35 to $20, and Lucas got me a free pair of NYC PJ pants because he threw it in the offer as his parents were buying 4 pairs.
Oh, and then just because, Lucas’s brother bought a Samurai sword from Chinatown. K.
Living the American Dream of ~Fast Food~
Back in Argentina, they take their sweet ass time to make you a good meal. You’ll find plenty of sit- down restaurants and cafes that don’t comprehend the concept of ‘to go’, because why not sit down and relax while you sip a coffee, converse with friends, or read a newspaper fully? Responsibilities can take a small break. The village won’t burn down.
Not in America… Riddled with fast food chains to appease the time sensitive, the Argentinos were overjoyed to taste this cheap, tasty food that was served in under 10 minutes. McDonald’s was a top spot, and I’d say they ate there about 7 times (even though they actually have them n Buenos Aires). I convinced them to try Shake Shack, which was just as delicious as the reviews forecasted, and the employees’ chillness made our trip worthwhile (picture: Lucas and I trying to order hamburger combos for 8 Argentinians, each with a separate meal preference, including a celiaco).
We also ate several times at Chipotle, a family favourite, and Pret a Manger, a surprising revisit from my England days.
Shop ’til You Drop Argentino-Style
The Argentinos really did come with empty suitcases and one outfit to their names. Let’s just say after three weeks of daily shopping trips in New York to Miami, they arrived back home to face Argentina border control with 18 suitcases, 9 carry-ons, 9 personal items, a 50-inch TV, a Mac desktop computer, and who knows how many iPhones and iPads. The first day we arrived in NYC we went straight to the Apple store, so… They really love their tech. I don’t blame them; technology is ridiculously expensive in South America, so they took advantage.
“No One Can Scam an Argentinian”
Argentinians, particularly Portenos (from Buenos Aires) have an innate sense of distrust of everyone they meet. Why? Because it’s so common to fall victim to con artists and scammers that you thought were your friends, and in a country that’s comfortable bribing police officers. Corruption is overtly part of their everyday lives. So you could imagine what my Argentinian family thought when we were approached right out of the subway, rather abruptly, by a nice woman who seemed to read our minds:
“You’re here for the Statue of Liberty! Right this way. We have an hour tour, where you get real close to the statue and can take pictures….”She continued on her spiel, 20 bucks for 1 hour. A good deal, I thought. I relayed this information to the family in Spanish, yet they were firm about their intentions.
“Nope. We’re going to take the Staten Island Ferry, it’s free and we get the see the statue.” Lucas’s bro told me. Without hesitation, the woman continued:
“It’s cloudy out, which means you won’t see the Statue from the Staten Island Ferry. You’ll just see a veil of fog. Oh and it’s two hours, one way. This tour leaves in 15 minutes and will get you back here in two.”
Great saleswoman, and I put my Canadian trust in her. I actually believed her, ‘cuz why would she lie? (TO SELL HER TOURS, LIZ. AGAIN, YOUR HEART IS BETRAYING YOU.)
This caused a bit of a strain for me to try to explain this to the stubbornness of the family, and the commotion had the manager come over, who relayed the same info, “It’s foggy, you won’t see it, and the ferry goes to New Jersey.”
Wait, what? I thought it went to Staten Island?? It was then I realized these players were just in it for commission and really weren’t there for our best interests. So we plowed through them, hopped on the free Staten Island Ferry, and, well…
We saw it perfectly. No fog. Free for all. And it was a 20-minute ride. Embarrassed, I admitted and apologized for being a gullible tourist. I wanted to see the best in people, but my ease of trust ended right there. Lucas smirked and said in a matter-of-fact way: “No one can scam Argentinians. Especially in America.”
I didn’t even get to the bulk of anything we actually saw, or touristy things we did, did I?
You get the picture.