As a typical college student I will often try to find food that is cheap while somewhat filling my stomach. A person that has become someone that I trust with my nourishment is a boss of a parilla that I frequent. She’s a middle-aged lady with blonde hair and wrinkles. She speaks typical Argentine Spanish with the speed of a typical Argentine and initially when my Spanish abilities were still developing, she was so hard to understand and all I could do was order and reply with a “si!”
A parilla in Argentina is like a grill where one goes for their meals, they serve different cuts of meat but my “usual” is the choripan, an Argentine sausage served within a slice of baguette and served with Argentina homemade sauce. The price of the choripan has also been a signal of inflation in the country. When I first arrived, a choripan was roughly 35 pesos (at that time roughly US$2). Over time, it has rose to 37 pesos, to 42 pesos to 45 pesos and then to its current price of 50 pesos. With the change in exchange rates, it now costs roughly US$2.50. While this does not appear much, watching prices change over time really exposes one to the reality of inflation.
But I digress.
In my first semester I was one of the first people to discover the parilla and every time I brought a choripan back to the academic center, someone would ask me to where I bought it from, to the point that I have remembered the address of the parilla, (Ecuador 1179) and the directions of how to get there from school. Over the two semesters I have went there so many times while bringing so many new customers there that the boss knows my face and my usual order. Even when I decide to feel adventurous and order something different, she notices that and makes a small joke about it. Furthermore, because the food is freshly grilled, it takes about 10 to 15 minutes and so I have had many opportunities to make small talk with the boss. As time went by my Spanish also improved and the quality of our conversations improved along with it. Initially, she just gave us the typical greetings but as we talked more we got to know each other better. She has asked about how school was, how well we were getting acclimatized to Buenos Aires and how our program is structured. Before I went on Winter Break, she wished us well and after I came back, she remembered where I went and asked about my experience. This interaction in particular is one that I remember very fondly because at the start of a new semester I was meeting new people and making new friends and I missed my old friends from last semester and it was nice to see a familiar face that remembered something about me and asked me how I was, that I had somewhat of an established relationship with.
Everything I go there she never fails to take a moment to talk to me ans ask how I am despite how busy the place might be at that moment. Over time, I too have seen how the store has changed. Initially, it was a pretty normal establishment but over time some of the employees have changed, more employees have been hired and they even have uniforms now but the kind lady boss of the establishment has been the one constant and I can always trust her to have choripans ready for lunch when I get there.
I think that’s one of the coolest things about living somewhere different. Someone who was a total stranger can become a source of comfort and an anchor in a foreign place.