From: London, UK
Profession: Director of Au Pair in Argentina & Summer Camp Punta del Este
Education: MA Psychology & Philosophy from Edinburgh University
Currently reading: Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy
Last film watched: Kick Ass
Gadget: Soda Stream. Old school but new for me
What is your first memory of being in Argentina?
Getting lost in the supposedly easy grid system of the streets of Buenos Aires, and stumbling across what must have been Bosques de Palermo. Then I remember laughing out loud at the comical sight of the dog walkers armed with their hundreds on dogs all divided by size.
Why did you end up staying?
Like most expats in Buenos Aires, I was only supposed to stay for six months and I just couldn’t bring myself to leave. So I extended my flight by a couple of months and then a few more — I am so glad I did, otherwise my company, Au Pair in Argentina, would have never existed and I wouldn’t have met all the fabulous people or experienced all the wonderful things I have.
What was that time like?
Exciting, energetic and filled with a “can do” attitude I had never come across before. That said inflation was starting to get crazy, Buenos Aires was getting pricey and crime was definitely on the rise.
What exactly kept you after those six months?
My love for Buenos Aires, the food, the climate, the friends I had made and I felt there was still so much more to explore and experience. I wanted to really get to know the city and not feel like so much of an expat.
Also coming up with the idea for Au Pair in Argentina and wanting to see it through. I felt excited by the prospect of creating my own project and that it could actually work. Oh, and I wasn’t ready to give up my daily medialuna just yet!
You travel back and forth between the UK and Argentina. What changes do you notice?
Sadly the impact of inflation, the heightened cost of living and the rise in crime are noticeable each time I return to BA. Having said that, Buenos Aires does seem to have grown and developed each time I come back, with new cool coffee shops, hotels, bars and businesses popping up everywhere. And luckily some things don’t change, like the warm nature of the people and the insane boy-racer taxi drivers!
How has it been setting up a business?
Exciting yet infuriating. The challenge has been amazing, I have learned so much and I have never enjoyed work as much as I do now. Had I not come to live in Buenos Aires, I would have never thought it possible to set up on my own, so I definitely have Argentina to thank for that.
However, the legal bureaucracy makes things almost impossible and sometimes the Argentine eager-to-please attitude is not helpful. You just want to say “please stop telling me what you think I want to hear and tell me the truth!”
How do Argentine families respond to the au-pair concept?
At first, a little reluctantly. They weren’t really sure what the concept was and sometimes this led to a few problems. We had some families just see an au pair as an extension of their staff so we had to gently remind them that the role is more like a big sister and part of the family, than another maid. To their credit all of them adapted and went on to have great relationships with their au pairs. Another problem we encountered was seeing an as a trophy, a “look at me I am so cultured” badge. We had one paraded around the school playground (she quite liked this), however another poor girl was rejected as she “didn’t look English enough,” whatever that means! Don’t worry, we found her another family who adored her and she adored back and she au paired with them for over a year.
That experience definitely made me quite shocked at just how superficial people can be, and from that moment I vowed only to work with families I would like to work for and I feel proud that all our clients are kind, interesting and cultured people.
I would say now, though, we have ironed out the teething problems and Argentine families seem excited and open to having an au pair and seem grateful that there is a service that allows their children to learn Spanish in a fun and cheap way!
What is the biggest reward you see from that experience?
Seeing the change in the Argentine attitude to au pairs from being dubious to intrigued and excited. Hearing from the families about how happy they are with their and how they can’t believe how much their children suddenly love learning English. Hearing from the au pairs about how it has made their stay in Argentina special, more real, how they now speak Spanish confidently, how they are still in touch with the families and how it was an experience they will remember forever.
Did you already know Spanish when you came to Argentina?
Yes, I knew some as I was an au pair in Madrid as an 18-year-old and so got the basics then.
Where do you live and why?
Las Cañitas. Some say souless, I say central, safe and close to the park. When I’m not in Buenos Aires, I live in London or Spain as that is where my work takes me.
What do you miss about Argentina when you’re in the UK?
My friends, the weather, asados, my morning medialuna and malbec.
And vice versa?
Spice, good cheese (Cheddar in particular) and music from this era that’s not reggaéton. And my friends and family mainly which is why I now live between the two.
Do you consider yourself to be an expat?
Now I do, yes, but there was a point when I didn’t. Having said that, BA definitely feels like home.
What is your most Argentine characteristic?
I am no longer a planner — that, and adding “no” onto the end of every sentence, even in English.
Name a lost-in-translation moment.
It was more of an awkward language moment.
Having recently learned that shell was an inappropriate word in Argentine Spanish, I was then faced with the challenge of explaining to the class I was teaching English what a snail had on its back. After a few failed Pictionary attempts I went bright red and finally said the dreaded words — the reaction, a room full of laughter. Needless to say, they all now know the word “shell” in English.
What’s been the hardest trámite?
Getting legal… there has been so much paperwork and so many hoops to jump through.
Where have you travelled to?
Bariloche, Salta, Puerto Madryn, Iguzú, Isteros de Ibera, Calafate, Pampas, Mar del Plata… lots of places. I just love Argentina and the slightly off-the-beaten-track places blow your mind as much as the must see sights.
What does a weekend entail?
In Argentina — brunch with friends, a walk in the park, in the summer going out to Tigre on my friend’s boat, and an asado on Sunday, of course! Oh, and the odd ridiculously late night. How does it happen in BA that it’s suddenly 6am and you are still out? In London, dinner with friends, drinks in the pub, terrible Saturday night telly and a Sunday roast!
Name a crazy taxi driver story.
I took a taxi one night, or morning rather, that called himself a disco taxi and in hindsight I should not have gotten in. It had blacked-out windows, UV lights and was kitted out with a disco ball and speakers that could make a giant deaf. He was pumping out some amazing 80s and 90s classics so I just couldn’t resist!
Published in the Buenos Aires Herald in October 2011