During my semester abroad in Buenos Aires I often had moments where I was not recognized as a foreigner. This may be because I was simply walking on the street and there was no way for passers by to tell, or perhaps because I was saying very little and trying to act inconspicuous. I am lucky to have an Argentine physique and complexion – my hair is a light brown, but still passable, I am extremely short, have brown eyes and European heritage just like so many Argentines – so I do not stick out immediately as an extranjera. Sure, my accent often gives me away, or confusion over simple procedures such as checking out at the grocery store (who knew you have to weigh your fruit before getting in the check out line?!), but what really blows my cover is the 32 ounce Nalgene that I carry with me at all times.
In my family, we always drink tap water. Except for locations where the tap water is unsafe to drink (such as in Morocco and Peru), I have never been willing to pay for water. In addition, I really like to drink water. I’ve heard you’re supposed to drink 8 cups a day – well I drink that and then some. And then some more. So it is useful for me to have a water bottle with me at all times, because a thirty minute bus ride without a drink of water can be torture, and you can always refill.
I’ve also used my Nalgene with great success for years at soccer practices, sports games, movies, hikes, and more. Moreover, in the United States, especially for young people, this is an entirely common occurrence. In my college classroom back in the U.S. more than half of the students will have a water bottle out on their desk, and more often than not it is an (unnecessarily) large Nalgene (even I can’t drink 32 ounces in an hour).
But here in Argentina – and most likely many other locales – this is not at all the norm. My host siblings have commented more than once: “It’s practically a pitcher!” and “You drink that all by yourself?” and “But, why?”. One of my UBA tutors observed that all the Americans he had tutored owned one of these things and expressed surprise when I told him how common they are on college campuses.
It’s really just a question of taste and habits (well, what isn’t?), for Argentines may not understand my affinity for tap water or large containers, but no Argentine would ever question the huge amount of maté – the herb tea that has its own special preparation and traditions – that many consume on a daily basis.
In the meantime, every time I pull out my Nalgene for a drink on the bus, I am very aware that I have betrayed myself to be a foreigner. And in spite of that, the water bottle stays with me.
Is there a product that has betrayed you as a foreigner when traveling abroad?
For more on Freedman’s semester abroad in Argentina, click here.