Benny Jay: Argentina Bound

November 17th, 2013

One day last week I stagger off an airplane at 7 in the morning and walk into — of all places — Ezeiza Airport in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I’m groggy from having gone all night without sleep, amazed that I hadn’t freaked out after spending seven hours in an airplane, and paranoid about the uniformed officer in the customs booth, who’s suspiciously eyeing my passport.

I hadn’t left the U.S.A. in many years — since Gerald Ford was president — so this is all kind of new to me.

The customs man takes one look at me and concludes that I’m an American who speaks no Spanish. Not sure what it is about my appearance – perhaps it’s the Chicago Bulls hat.

“Why are you here?” he asks.

“To visit my daughter.”

“What is your daughter doing here?”

“She’s a college student — studying Spanish.”

“And how long will you be here?’

“Eight days.”

“Where will you be staying?”

“Buenos Aires.”

“Take off your hat.”

A strange request. Perhaps he’s a Miami Heat fan.


How did they know I was American?


He makes me stand before a camera and he snaps my pictures. He takes my thumb imprint. I’m starting to sweat. I’ve never been good with authority. I feel like Ben Affleck in Argo, trying to sneak prisoners out of Iran.

One false move and it’s off to the dungeon!

Good news. He sends me through with a curt nod.

I stagger out into the terminal and that’s when it hits me…

I’m in land where everybody’s speaking in Spanish.

I’m pretty sure I knew this would be the case. But I didn’t comprehend the full implications until now. I guess I thought it would be like a foreign-language film – you know, with subtitles.

Word of warning to anyone out there thinking of traveling to Argentina – there are no subtitles!

I haven’t felt so overwhelming stupid since high school chemistry. It’s like the whole world’s having a conversation but I don’t know what they’re saying.

Suddenly, I’m afraid to speak — can’t even muster the courage to say, “No hablo español.” Cause I know that I’d butcher the language with my wretched pronunciation, and everyone will say…

“Ha, ha, ha — another dumb muthafucka from America!”

Only in Spanish.

At the airport to greet us is Mario, the cab driver daughter arranged to drive us to the big city.

He greets me with an explosion of Spanish to which I say – “bueno.”

That means good.


Boy George is huge in Argentina!


I figure I can’t go wrong with bueno.  Though in this case, for all I know, I’ve agreed to pay Mario $10,000 pesos for the ride.

Mario’s got the car radio tuned to an 80’s station that’s playing Boy George – Karma Chameleon, to be exact.

I like this song, though it’s funny to think I had to come all the way to Argentina to hear it.

It’s followed by a song by a female singer who sounds a lot like Madonna. I don’t know what possesses me, but I feel compelled to raise the matter with Mario.

Thus, my first full sentence in Argentina is….

“Hey, Mario – is this Madonna?”

Uh-oh. Turns out Mario speaks English only marginally better than I speak Spanish. What results is a burst of animated Spanish that erupts like a volcano.


A lot of the buildings look like this….


I have absolutely no idea what Mario’s saying. He’s wildly gesturing with his right hand and looking at me through the rear view mirror. I seem to have unwittingly struck a nerve.

I recall a controversy from the `90s when Madonna was cast to play Eva Peron in the movie version of Evita. Perhaps Mario’s one of the many Argentines who felt that casting was desecration.

If so, I’ve only been in this country for 30 minutes and I’ve already ignited a diplomatic firestorm.

I decide to remain quiet. Instead, I look out the window as we drive along a grandiose boulevard lined with looming old buildings that look as though they’re imported from Spain.

We wind up at the apartment where will live for the next eight days.

Mario helps me carry our suitcases to the sidewalk.

“Bueno,” I say.

He hugs me and says something in Spanish.

To which I say, “bueno.”

What the hell – I’m on a roll!

Then I add – “my brother.”

I’m not sure what compels me to say “my brother.” But it’s what my buddies on my bowling team say to each other. I figure Mario would fit in well with the boys on my bowling team.

To my amazement, he gives me another hug.

I make a mental note to say “my brother” to every Argentine I meet — even the women.

In any event, if the cab ride in from the airport is an audition, I have passed.

4 Responses to “Benny Jay: Argentina Bound”

  1. Beatriz says:

    Bueno “my brother” LOL

    I could have told you not to mention Madonna- it is almost like mentioning Bushie (USA president). She really stroke a cord with Argentineans when attempting to be Evita Peron.
    Nobody NOBODY but NOBODY dare to portrait Evita

  2. Benny Jay says:

    Beatriz: I learned my lesson the hard way.

  3. Benny Jay says:

    Beatriz: I never would have guessed that Boy George was so popular in Argentina.

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