The Expat: Maria MacDonald

Director of YoQueVos Maria MacDonald recently had to explain to the AFIP tax agency that Ronald isn’t her father.
CV: Maria MacDonald
Born: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Age: 27
Profession: Director of YoQueVos
Education: Spanish and Sociology degree at Occidental College, California
Currently re-reading: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Last film seen: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Gadget: My iPad

When was the first time you came to Argentina?
I studied abroad here in 2005 and I decided to study at Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA) to get the real experience. The idea was to be here for a semester, but I loved it so much and felt that my experience here had just started so I stayed for 13 months. I got back three days before my senior year began in 2006.

What kept you here?
I was a Spanish major and I’d lived in Spain in high school for a few summers and I was on the brink of being fluent and feeling perfectly comfortable with the language. But it took me three months to even get used to the different Spanish and I didn’t feel like I had achieved what I wanted in that short amount of time. So I stayed here for longer, to get 100 percent from the experience.

Where did you live at that time?
In Plaza Italia, which is still my favourite area. People always look down on me for that, due to the cats and how dirty it is, but I love it, it’s so central. I’d walk everywhere. And walking around is what made me fall in love with the city. I wanted to be exposed to Spanish speakers and have a real local experience and that meant for a few months that I spent every day, all day, alone.

What was studying at UBA like?
For my first class, I arrived 15 minutes early and sat in the front row. Of course, no one was there and I was so nervous. People trickled in 30 minutes later, the class never really started, then these people with painted faces and shirts came in, yelled something I didn’t understand. All the students raised their fists, picked up their desks and walked outside. I later realized it was a protest strike about teachers earning a dignified salary.
When I left, I was interviewed by a TV crew and they said “you, what do you think about Bush?” And I quivered “No me gusta.” I was the only foreigner in class. And I’ve never studied harder than I did there. I’ve never been someone who is uncomfortable about situations but before I went to UBA, I was so nervous.
Professors would speak into a microphone, looking at the ground, I could barely understand them and they would always call me out to ask me “hey, what’s your experience like as a yanqui?” I’d turn bright red!

And all classes were in Spanish…
I’ve always been a B student but I really wanted to prove myself at UBA and show yanquis are smart… and I ended up getting A grades.
But it was hard — 100-page readings each night. I don’t know how most people do it as they work during the day then go to school at night. It’s very different from my small-school, liberal arts experience!

Did you work in your year abroad?
As my school didn’t accept my UBA credits, I stayed on to teach English for the spring semester. It was interesting. I was going into these big companies, and meeting all these different people, and those were my best Argentine friends.
I hooked up with a few schools, and used to earn eight pesos an hour. A coffee costs that now!

Who were your friends?
I hung out with foreigners, but I was renting a room from a 38-year-old lawyer, so I hooked up with her group. I also had study groups, and made my own little life. But no one I hung out with then is still here. But it has also been hard to make female Argentine friends, especially at UBA, as they all had the same groups of friends since primary school.

What happened after graduation?
I graduated in May and came back in August. I knew I wanted to return as I really wanted a working experience in Buenos Aires and I had fallen in love with the city. I loved everything from the streets to the feeling I got to the wine to the people and how they acted and their gestures.
I thought that moving to somewhere else in the US, such as New York, was the easy thing to do. I never wanted to do that. So I thought “why not?”

Where do you live?
In Palermo Hollywood in a gross huge building but since I’ve been robbed 12 times, I need 24-hour security! In the beginning, being a Minnesota girl I’d leave my purse on a chair so pickpocketing was normal.
But the only time it was really violent — and I’m sure lots of people have heard this story and it was me — was when I was sitting at a café and had my computer out to do some work. I had my purse around my leg and was so conscious of everyone coming in. I had asked for a big bowl of their hot coffee, and heard the door slam open, then felt the coffee on my face and chest as someone grabbed my laptop.
I tried to run after him but I fell down because my purse strap was wrapped around my leg and there was coffee all over the floor. The chef jumped over the counter to run after him, but he showed him a probably-fake gun in his pants, and his friend was waiting on a motorbike half a block away.

What do your family think about your living here?
I’ve always made up my own rules, and went away to boarding school and college, far away from them, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary. They’ve been supportive but I’ve noticed in the past year that their attitude is “are you actually going to come home?” That if I don’t do in the next 12 months, I never will.
It’s weird how the years pass by — it’s been six years now! But for the first time I’ve felt a little bit tired of the city and it’s weighing to run your own business. To work so hard and things happen slower than you hope, but that’s also the part I love as it’s always a challenge. But I feel like my time in Argentina isn’t over yet.

Reveal a lost-in-translation moment.
A few hours after meeting my boyfriend’s mom in the tiny town of Azul, we came across her having tea with 15 of her closest friends. She waved me over and said: “You have to meet Maria, she’s the cutest” and turned to me and said “Maria, say guitarra.” And as I struggled through the double “r” they were basically rolling on the floor laughing as they repeated “say it again, say it again.” After years of saying the “rr” tongue twister in the shower (guitarra, carril…), I mastered it, but I’ll never forget how I felt that day.

What’s your most Argentine characteristic?
I’m always late. I love the fact that it is okay here and I use it to my advantage. But I realize I need to adapt depending on the place I’m in.

What do you miss from the US?
Things working, dollars… but also thinking about the future. I feel things are so up in the air here. Every year the peso has a different value. I feel there is some stability there that doesn’t exist here. And I miss driving, sometimes. And feeling safe.

What’s been the worst trámite you’ve undertaken?
I’m in the process of making the company legal which has taken the best part of the past five months. I gave in the last papers and all I was waiting for is the tax number, which should take two days rather than 30. It turns out — and I waited for three hours — despite my giving them three certified copies of my passport, DNI and driver’s licence, the AFIP tax agency said ‘oh we spelt your name as McDonald’s’. Plus, they fused together my first and middle names.
I even had that conversation with AFIP explaining that my dad isn’t Ronald…

Tell me about the sports night you organize.
I put together a kick ball evening as there are all these amazing expat women here who never have a chance to hang out. So I thought it would be fun to get them together in one place, being a bit competitive, with a glass of Champagne or wine in our hands.
We might do relay races where you run from one base to another, chug your wine then run back and tag the next person, for example…

What would you do as City mayor?
Make it easier and create incentives for foreigners to start businesses and people in general to do things en blanco instead of making it in people’s best interest to do things en negro. I’d also put police in the subways, and implement stricter punishments for petty crimes.

For more about why Maria MacDonald set up her own business, click here.

Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on April 8, 2012
Photo by Mariano Fuchila

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *