The Expat: Anne Reynolds

CV: Anne Reynolds
Born: Cairns, Australia
Age: 29
Profession: Co-founder of Fuudis
Education: Marketing degree from Bond University
Currently reading: My first novel in Spanish, which is Una relación especial
Last film seen: One Day
Gadget: My new ice-cream maker


When did you first come to Argentina?
I came here in January 2009 and basically I haven’t left. I’d been living in London for three years and I had an international marketing job, dealing with clients all around the world who could all speak five or six languages. I’d tried French once and was hopeless, and I’d learnt Japanese at school but I didn’t ever speak it . So I thought to myself, right you’re going to learn a language.
My sister had been in Peru so I thought I’d try Spanish. I did some courses but if you aren’t speaking it and living it, then it’s really hard. I’d go to one lesson for two hours, drop my homework on my colleague’s desk, as he was from Spain, and that was a dead giveaway, given that I didn’t speak a word.

What led to the move from London?
It was 2008 and the crash was looking likely, the markets were going down, so I thought 2009 would be the year. My ex boss was also from Argentina, so she talked about Buenos Aires a lot. There were all these signs so I bought a ticket, and told my sister I was going. She was really surprised as I’d never been to South America, or even North America, as I was all about Europe.
So I booked seven days in a hostel and a three-day Spanish course, I didn’t know anyone and I hardly knew any Spanish.

Where did you stay?
I rocked up to Palermo, met some people and did the course, and then I went to a wine-tasting. I met an American guy and told him how I really wanted to learn Spanish and his advice was to leave Buenos Aires, as I’d speak too much English. He told me about a teaching programme out in some tiny pueblos. I looked it up, met the lady and within two weeks I was getting lessons on how to teach English to Argentine kids, and was sent to Vicuña Mackenna, a town of 10,000, in the south of Córdoba province.
So I rocked up there and wondered what I was doing, as it was all about teaching English to primary age kids in a state school, living with a family. The whole experience was about getting to know Argentina and obviously learning Spanish.
It was a roller-coaster ride as my family didn’t speak a word of English. All I could tell them was my name and some numbers.

How did communication work out?
I’d have my dictionary on me and would gesticulate for them to “wait” while I looked up word. It was hell for them, and for me! I also had the stress of dealing with teaching and I had 70 kids and a class of 15 six-year-olds and it was their first time learning English, so it was hard for them too! They’d just look at me…
I used to have Spanish classes in the morning then in the afternoon I’d speak English then at night I’d speak Spanish again with the family. Well, try to speak…
My head was ready to pop. I’d never felt such an intensity before and I actually went and bought memory pills! The pharmacy thought I was mad, so there I was popping these pills, not knowing whether they were working or not. My teacher thought I was hilarious, but I said to her “I have to do something!”
The hardest thing was the fact that the kids had such different levels, from absolutely nothing to kids who were able to travel to the US and could say a few things.

How long were you in Mackenna for?
I spent four months teaching there and it was great. The experience was incredible. For me it was all about the people who made it for me, and if it wasn’t for them I might not still be here.
Although there were other teachers in the same situation as me, the nearest one was in another little town two hours away so we’d speak on the phone a lot, just to talk.
I was the only foreigner in this town so of course, I was always asked a lot of questions and my family became famous because everyone wanted to know who was staying with them.

What was the town like?
Lots of dirt roads, but there are contrasts as the area is wealthy because it’s the campo, but you’d also see tiny little houses with kids living with their grandmas.
As the school was a state one, we had the bare minimum. There wasn’t any heating in the classroom so in winter we’d all come in in ski jackets!

What surprised you the most?
Being able to get through the experience and have fun while I did it. My biggest thing was to learn a language and I knew it would be hard. It was also amazing to watch how such young kids could learn, to hear their pronunciation. And how the people could take me in and accept me, living in this tiny little town in the middle of Argentina. Being in London was all about money, you had to have the right handbag and the right technology, while in Mackenna it was all about a Sunday asado or drinking mate.
The times also mucked me up. I’d get home from school thinking “where’s the food?” and would drink mate like there’s no tomorrow to try and get me through!

Were there many house rules?
No, my family were brilliant. I don’t eat red meat so that was really hard for them as that is pretty much all they eat. “My mum” let me cook, which was great, as I told her that I need to eat fruit, and veggies, so I’d buy the weirdest stuff to them: cous cous, quinoa, avocado. They though I was crazy as I’d travel to Córdoba city to buy those things. I had to explain what sushi was as they had no idea, and once I made nachos, which the kids went wild for.
I do eat white meat so “my mum” would cook that for me, and she also started cooking vegetarian dishes, which was amazing as the family started to change too. “My dad” had some tests and it turned out he had high cholesterol and he could see what I was doing so they all started to eat more salads, veggies. I know it was a lot more expensive for the family so I’d help out, and also cook every now and then.
I also made pancakes one time, so for the little boy’s birthday I made 14 and towered them up with dulce de leche and chocolate, and he loved it!

What happened when you left Mackenna?
We had a big Australia day at school. My mum went mad on packaging and had been sending me postcards and temporary tattoos on a weekly basis, and toy koalas and blow-up kangaroos. One time I even decorated the classroom with leaves from eucalyptus trees. Of course, the kids put the tattoos all over them, and those tattoos then got banned from school.
The kids were amazing. When it was my birthday, they all made me cakes and lit some candles. Of course, we set the fire alarms off so now candles have been banned from school too…

Do you go back to Mackenna?
I returned in December for my “little sister’s” communion and I go every few months. My parents visited last year and we had a big New Year’s party there.

Why did you decide to return to BA?
Everything was very mañana in Mackenna. I’d spend the day going from one friend’s house to another drinking mate, and I realized I needed to break away from that. I went to work on an organic farm in Mendoza for eight days in this hick little town, planting strawberries. It absolutely killed me! I returned to Mackenna for two weeks to help a family practise their English and told them I needed to get back into marketing. They said the only place for that was in Buenos Aires.

The food aficionado within
Once she had decided to return to the bright lights of Buenos Aires, Australian Anne Reynolds got back into the swing of living in the city quickly. Finding employment with relative ease, she struck lucky given that the company helped her out with the all-important DNI paperwork, and Reynolds soon found that it was becoming harder to leave Argentina.
After meeting Marina Ponzi, who runs Ladies Brunch Buenos Aires, the two food-passionate women decided to set up a gastronomical tour with a difference, a business venture which is proving successful and adding to Reynolds’ reasons to remain in the capital.
Nestling among the puertas cerradas closed-door restaurants and wine-tasting tours is
Fuudis, which takes hungry diners to three distinctive restaurants in a particular neighbourhood, for a starter, main course and dessert.
“We wanted an Argentine audience for this project, as we knew it could be up-and-down market if it was just aimed at foreigners. We have tours in San Telmo, Palermo Hollywood, Palermo Chico and Recoleta at the moment, as well as themed dinners, and a group of about 20 people get together each week to try out three restaurants. We had no idea how it would work out, but people really seem to love it,” she says.
Attempting to steer away from the well-known eateries, Reynolds says: “We don‘t just to go the ones which are in guide books or have big names. We’ve been really lucky to hook up with some great owners, for example, there’s one enthusiastic Italian who tries to load us down with food, and we always have to tell him not to prepare too much as we have to move on to the next place! We also let the chefs or owners talk about the meal or wine, which people like.
“We had originally thought we’d have to do a lot of talking to get people to mingle, but on the very first night we had a mixture of Argentines and foreigners, couples, bank managers, architects — and everyone talked to each other — they all wanted to carry onto another bar, and even shared taxis home!” she says.
Other alternative tours run by expats include visits to the most prominent Jewish buildings and areas in the city conducted by Texan Chance Miller from BAlocal; Yorkshire lass Sophie Lloyd, who tailor-makes shopping tours for the fashion-hungry; and the well-established Graffitimundo tour, run by Marina Charles, which takes art aficionados on an ever-changing tour of Buenos Aires street art in Colegiales and Palermo neighbourhoods.

Photo by Mariano Fuchila.
Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on January 15, 2012.

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