The Expat: Anish Merchant

AnishFrom: Sugar Land, Texas
Age: 31
Profession: Founder of Merchant GMAT
Education: Physics at the University of Houston
Last book read: The Google Story by David A Wise and others
Last film seen: Emperor
Gadgets: Guitar, MacBook, wine opener, wok

Although he has no blood ties in Argentina to speak of, freely admits to not being ingrained in local culture and still hasn’t mastered the Spanish language, Texan Anish Merchant considers why he is still in Buenos Aires after three years. And the reason, he says, is the community he has built for himself through networking, plus a little good fortune.

He says: “I was lucky enough to have parents who travelled, and so I backpacked around Europe after college, for example. After that, I started to work in a bank and some years later, I got made redundant so I headed to New York. There, I met my friend Janet who’d lived in Buenos Aires, who had two Argentine friends visiting, Fabricio and his then girlfriend. Between them, they convinced me to visit BA and I only knew about it from the movie Starship Troopers. I bought a plane ticket within a week and I’d moved within a month. Fabricio said to call him when I got here, and I did. That was April, 2010.”

Anish adds: “I had no friends, nothing apart from Fabricio but — and this is where my luck began — he held a little party for me when I arrived, and there I met five of my closest friends. So from day one, I had a group, a mix of expats and Argentines. And that’s when the adventure began, to see what it was like to live in a big, foreign city.”

That good luck and a healthy dose of Texan charm helped Anish to extend his circles early on, a skillset of networking, talking and drinking he says he hadn’t put to use in a while.

“The expat and Argentine communities are friendly and so that worked out for me. I had savings so it was like being a college student again without having to study. I did the social aspect for a year and it was awesome. I started to meet people in Palermo and go to house parties. Facebook was key for me to be invited to parties and I kept in touch with everyone I met. I didn’t focus on one group. Plus I had those five guys and as long as I was cool, they were going to like me.”

Going out in Buenos Aires, a city rich in nightlife (see The Expat, August 10, 2013), is relatively easy to do, if time and money are readily available. Anish agrees: “You don’t ever want it to end, whether you’re here for a month or three years. You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow, which is what I love about this city. Events, parties, so many great things happen all the time — but within two weeks you’ll have forgotten about it as you’re always looking for an upcoming event.”

Anish’s all-important community has also included his room-mates, although he is now living alone in Palermo.
“First, I had two Dutch room-mates, and it was cool for me as I suddenly knew all these Dutch people. Here I was, an Indian kid from Texas, suddenly watching all these Netherlands games in the World Cup. That was really awesome: I was accepted into a completely different group and if I can do that — these year-abroad students can really and stick with their own group — I realized I could be part of every group and those skills could translate to anywhere.

“Even when I lived in Japan, I realized I could get by with a smile or jazz hands, or a gesture. I love it when people say to me, ‘hey man you’re going out too much.’ Well, isn’t life about meeting people? What are you doing at home that’s so cool if you aren’t going out? ‘Oh, I’ve got work tomorrow.’ Really, you came here to work? That was a bad idea! Why aren’t you taking advantage of every night of your life here? I’m no expert but the more I socialize with people, the more it enriches my life, my brain is more active and I’m smarter because of this.”

Although Anish’s social group is predominantly an international crowd, Argentine friends such as Fabricio also enter that mix. But there is also a common denominator between foreigners that brings them together.
“I love the expat community although a lot of people hate the fact that you’re in a foreign city hanging out with an international community. But there’s a common bond. We both took that plane trip leaving everything we knew behind. I genuinely want to know people’s stories. That’s how you make friends. I’m interested and all I have to do is listen. No matter how many times I’ve heard a similar story, it will still be different. And it’s more interesting than my story, as I already know it!’

When Anish moved here three years ago, he didn’t know what he was going to do or where he would live. But Buenos Aires is now home.

“When I came here, I had no plan, I just really loved my life. Six days out of seven I can tell you I was over the moon. I became immersed in this BA world. The best thing about going back to see my family in Texas is coming back here, to what I call home. Obviously it gets harder — my best friends have left. But it’s the small things that make this home for me. When I lived in Villa Crespo, everyone knew me and they’d have nicknames for me, Apu, for example. I had the best chino (Chinese-owned supermarket) in the world — we played football together. Those are the little things. What makes a place home? Familiarity, of course. But also a feeling of euphoria. I’ve been in Buenos Aires for three years and I still have a feeling of euphoria. I’m a 30-year-old man who feels like he’s 22. I get to come to Never Never Land. Peter Pan has the most amazing life where he is the boy forever — and I know it has negative connotations that he isn’t responsible but that’s not what it means — as a kid, you’re taught to have an imagination and believe in things and this is the best part of who I am, and this city can foster that. And if I want to start a new life, I can move to a new neighbourhood.”

Being a foreigner in a new land also presents unexpected opportunities and Anish is always happy to take them. “I find myself in the most random of places as an expat. I’d be waiting in line somewhere then I’d find myself in the VIP section. How did I become a baller all of a sudden? Meeting people from all different backgrounds and no-one is looking down on you, not like in New York. I’m not judged by my job title and that’s a relief as you get to live your life outside of work.”

“In the beginning I thought it would be funny to make stuff up. I’d say I sold weapons and I had a great story. But then I’d turn the tables and ask them, ‘what do you do?’”

“Here, it’s about life and not work. I was made redundant and worked in the sector that caused the financial crisis. And now, my friends who are financially successful are looking at my photos. I live day by day. It’s Monday night, I might have a beer, go to an open mic night. What happens tomorrow? I’ll go to work as I discovered here that I love to help people prepare for their GMAT business school exams. I argue with my mom about this every day. She says ‘Why don’t you do what so-and-so is doing?’ And I say ‘So-and-so is reading a book about people like me!’ When you die, that’s it, and we all die broke!

“Isn’t life about meeting people? My logic says the more I go out, the more I socialize, and that’s a good thing for me. How many times have I spoken to a friend who’s left BA and is sitting at home saying to me. ‘Fuck, I miss BA!’? They all miss this wonderful city where anything can happen. I love this magical city and for a big-ass place, people are the friendliest you could meet. That, with going to a Sunday asado, is the best. You can’t put a price on feeling young here.”

Buenos Aires Herald, August 17, 2013
Ph: Mariano Fuchila

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, you might like to read about DJ Matt Ashley.

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