Today, Helen and I took a taxi to el Laboratorio de Idiomas a de Universidad de Buenos Aires. We arrived an hour early for afternoon registration and placement testing.
It is an old building that was once obviously very beautiful. Sadly, it is in disrepair. Still, an incredible building.
We took lunch at the cafe across the street and returned just before 3:00. Stumbling our way throught the registration process, we completed our written placement exams and then had an informal interview. We were both placed in the 2nd level beginner class.
Testing completed, I asked la professora if we could pay by credit card. The web site, though helpful, was silent about payment (and ambiguous on many other points.) "Eso es una buena pregunta" dije la professora. It was, in fact, not a good question.
We went to the payment window where a scowling security guard was directing traffic. I told him that Helen and I were paying together, but he would have no part of that. I went to pay first and was told cash only-- "solomente effectivo." Not having brought $1400 pesos with us, we were told we could pay manaña.
We went back to tell la professora that we would have to come back tomorrow when she gestured to the other students taking placement exams and interviews and said, "Tommorow there may not be a place for you. There are many others."
We ran to the nearest ATM where I withdrew $700. I had been told that different banks, ATM, would allow different maximums. I previously had an ATM reject my card. Lukcily, this one worked. Now we only needed Helen to get $700 on her ATM card. Good news, the machine spit out $700 pesos. Cash in hand, we headed back.
Rushing back, we paid our bill and returned to registration with our reciepts.
The class was full.
Now, you have to understand the level of stress I am feeling at this point. My limited Spanish, the unfamiliar bank regulations, the cash only policy, the exam, the interview . . .
I knew this would be difficult. I wanted this to be difficult. But I had no idea exactly what it was I thought I knew and wanted. Sure, this is supposed to be a challenging, life changing experience, but this is 24-7 (well, 24-6, so far).
Now this is the odd part.
Another professora, one who seemed to be in charge, explained that this class was full but that we could take the 9:30 class in Palermo Soho. She said she would get us a refund and that we had to go to Palermo on Monday and pay. Now I am really confused. It was imperative that we pay cash-on-the-spot-today to take the class downtown, but they would just enroll us and give us 4 days to get the cash together to take the class in Palermo? AND, they already have our $1400.
By now she could tell that they screwed up and we were in way over our cultural heads. This is when she immediatly switches to perfect English and explains what has happened and is going to happen. We got our money back, we got in the class, we start next week. Two hours of stressfully trying to negotiate this in limited Spanish and she could have told us everything in English all along--they all could.
It´s different here--not bad, just different. To all of you who told me to "Be careful, once they find out you are an American they will all want to practice their English." ¡WRONG! Absolutely, beg-my-forgiveness-you-ignorant-fools WRONG.
Porteños are very proud of their language and culture--even if they can speak English, they prefer to speak Spanish. Yet, when they think you really need it, after they see you suffer, and try and fail, and try some more . . . they bail you out. You have to admire that.
So far, they are Buena Gente, Los amo.