The Expat: Susan Rogers

Susan Rogers.
Susan Rogers.

From: Portland, Oregon
Profession: Psychoanalyst and translator
Age: 68
Education: Degree in French at Goucher College, Maryland, post-graduate in psychoanalysis
Just read: Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks
Just seen: Blue Jasmine
Favourite gadget: Nutcracker. I eat a lot of walnuts

After a first visit in 1965 that included her engagement party, psychoanalyst Susan Rogers moved to Buenos Aires to start married life a year later. And she had no qualms about doing so, although she found it more touchy feely than what she was used to.

Susan says: “I was in love with an Argentine. I was studying at a women’s college and he was at a men’s college that traditionally dates the women from mine. So I came to see what it was like in August 1965, and met his family. We had an engagement party and I stayed at my future parents-in-law’s house in the northern suburbs. His family were very warm and inviting and I spoke French with most people, as many didn’t speak English but they spoke French as it was considered cultured, especially for women.

“It was amazing — I was very struck by all the kissing. I come from an Anglo-Saxon family and that was completely outside my experience range. After I had been living here for a while, I went back to the US. Mother fetched us from the airport and father was waiting at home. I went in and gave him a big kiss on the cheek. The poor man went beet red from head to foot, and I didn’t realize I had become so adapted. After that, I thought about it and realized I had no memory of him giving me any kind of physical contact. I knew he adored me, but that wasn’t in our body language! It was a shock to go back and look at my native culture from an outsider’s eyes.”

The couple married in December 1965, and once her husband finished college and Susan finished her third year, they moved to Buenos Aires in June 1966. “I thought it was a great idea to move. I hadn’t been to Latin America before that first visit, but I had travelled to India when I was 15 on a tour giving talks about life in the US. Given that I was also president of a society called People to People, I’d always had an interest in foreign countries.

“I was shocked as Buenos Aires is so European. My husband’s family were very cultured, second-generation Jewish as his grandfather had come from Russia. I had a stereotype about the sleepy atmosphere, which probably comes from the middle of Mexico. So when I saw everyone running around Buenos Aires, stressed out, like they would be in New York, I didn’t feel like it would be something that I couldn’t handle.”

One aspect of Argentina’s capital that did surprise Susan, however, was the hubbub. She says: “The noise was hard to get used to! I’d never lived in a big city and came from Portland, a quiet city with quiet people. And as for New York, I’d lived in a quiet suburb in Long Island. I think Buenos Aires was even noisier back then! The buses weren’t as new and there might have been more horn honking!”

In the early days, the newly married couple made their home in an apartment overlooking Recoleta cemetery. “That was our view from the living room and people would come by and say ‘don’t you find this depressing?’ I’d say no, because it was like a little city for me down there. It wasn’t connected with death for me. I thought all those angels were charming!” she says.

At that point, Susan didn’t work, saying that her husband preferred her to be dealing with house or available for social events. “It was something I thought I would be delighted with as my mother had always had a conflict between work and home and doing everything.

“In the beginning, I was very sheltered by my husband and his family. It took me about three years to learn Spanish and I didn’t think I’d be able to drive in BA. But my mother-in-law taught me to drive stick shift, in her car. Her gear-box was probably never the same…

“I had housewife Spanish, as I had my first child two years after we got married — that caused a bit of an uproar as in Argentina you are expected to get pregnant on your wedding night. So I was busy and getting used to dealing with a maid and to things that were completely outside my experience.

“But actually I wasn’t very happy with that situation. I have always had a lively mind and as soon as I had enough Spanish, I took a course on semiology.”

That wasn’t the only return to the books for Susan, who trained as a psychoanalyst in Buenos Aires. “When my second child entered first grade, I started psychoanalysis. A friend of the family had seen I wasn’t very happy and suggested I saw an analyst. My father-in-law was very much against it: as he said, ‘analysis, divorce, boutique’. That was his take on psychoanalysis! But it was wonderful, such a freeing experience, and when my son was six, I enrolled in psychology as medicine wasn’t congenial with the family. But I knew I wanted to become a psychoanalyst even though it wasn’t legal at that time. So I went to university and realized just how little Spanish I knew! The first few months were difficult as my ear was getting accustomed to fast Spanish and how to take notes.”

After undergoing analysis in Spanish and while completing her second degree, Susan reached the conclusion that her marriage was the problem, and separated. “Actually, there was no such thing as divorce at that time and I spent that third year between class and hearings. It was very disagreeable, in the middle of the dictatorship and there weren’t any valid grounds for a separation. We both agreed there was no place to go with that marriage, but I mainly got scoldings from the judge. I vowed I would never get divorced again — in fact, I am not married to my second husband although we did have a big party.”

Despite going through a hard time personally while Argentina was consecutively going through a hard time politically, Susan says that returning to the US was never an option.

“It would have been cruel to separate my children from their father, and it never occurred to me. I had my profession, which I’d just gotten, and my friends. Many said ‘are you going back to your country now’ at that time, and I’d say ‘no, because this is my country now’.”

Having practised as a psychoanalyst for many years, Susan says uprooting is the hardest issue for foreigners to deal with while living in Argentina. “It’s also hard on marriages. The husband is working like crazy and fighting his own battles, while the wife is usually out in the suburbs dealing with the children, being lonely. But outside the consulting room, the cultural differences — when you’re married to an Argentine — are difficult as no one can spell them out for you. Argentines don’t care forgive, which is very shocking, especially for English people as it’s so common — ‘oh, I’m so sorry, oh, excuse me’, and it’s such a part of that culture. Although it might come as a bouquet of flowers, waiting for an Argentine to say sorry isn’t going to happen!”

Susan adds that working in a city with such a reputation, analysis wise, is very exciting. “It’s hugely stimulating! If you wanted to, you could live, breathe, eat, play psychoanalysis all day, every day. Everything gets a psychoanalytical twist. I remember taking an anthropologist from Denmark to a production of Bastien und Bastienne. There’s a magician in it, and he was depicted as a psychoanalyst with his couch. I told that anthropologist ‘everything gets analyzed here!’

Moving to the present day, Susan now lives on the south side of Belgrano with her second husband. When she isn’t working, either as an analyst or a translator, she likes to keep fit. “I don’t have a prejudice against work! But we go to the park and walk around the lake at the weekend, and we have coffee and chat a lot.

“I’ve also been practising martial arts for the past 10 years as I thought I’d need to get in shape for old age. I started what I thought was Chinese yoga that’s how they described it to me — and as I get gung-ho about things, I’m now a third-degree black belt and teach tai-chi as well as reflexology.”

Buenos Aires Herald, September 19, 2013

Ph: Mariano Fuchila

If you enjoyed reading about Susan, how about meeting Colombian chef Santiago

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