American first

Welcome to this week’s Reno News & Review.

I’m in a weird headspace down here in Uru-land. I’ve gotta tell you, I’ve never met better people. In the last two weeks here, I have seen one case of rudeness. That occurred one evening when I was walking to dinner with a former student of the Spanish school, a great big expatriot from Chicago, and some teenagers made snorting sounds as they passed us on the sidewalk. He’s a big one, all right, and I don’t think he noticed, but I was embarrassed for him and for them.

That’s it. Montevideo, Uruguay is a city of 1.8 million people with a small-town attitude of caring and helpfulness. I’ve never seen anything like it. There are big-city things, like strangers don’t greet one another on the street, and if two of them happen to make eye contact, both quickly look away, but by and large, it feels a lot like family. I just wish my family would clean the caca de perro off the sidewalks. (My professor told me that “caca” is a naïve word, and the correct word is “excremento,” but most people say, “mierda.”)

I began my time here with only the most basic Spanish, and now I can usually make myself understood. I was in yoga class today, and I realized I understood almost everything my teacher was saying. I just walk into a place and start out with the words, “Lo siento, no tengo mucho espanol,” and they go into rescue-the-big-dumb-puppy-with-the-two-gold-hoops-on-his-ears mode.

There’s one thing that’s a little weird, though. In this country, a person is first a citizen of whatever country they come from, and that makes me an estadounidense. I swear, the people here know more about U.S politics than your average American high school student.

Saturday night, I took the opportunity before the bars opened to walk down by the river to look at the Southern Cross. The ocean breezes cooled the sweat off my brow as two young women walked by arm-in-arm on La Rambla. Out here on the perimeter there are fewer stars. But I like them.