My idle observations while Christmas shopping at the Nuevocenter Mall in Montevideo, Uruguay:
Uruguay is a very peaceful, non-crime-ridden country! My take is that the people themselves, don’t have the ingredients within them for crime. Looking at them, you just know this instinctively. They’re happy, family-oriented, kind-natured folks. And that is just that!
BUT, here in this peaceful country are the most well-guarded stores, banks and malls in the entire world! They bristle with uniformed and business-suited Police and FBI, CIA-types, who are visibly doing their job as if El Presidente were currently shopping here. I mean, they are everywhere! The boys in blue; the suits with headsets and darting eyes. They walk, they stand, they circulate. Pleasant. Hyper-alert. Never distracted. Never distracting. While the rest of us slouch about, shopping or slurping cappuccinos.
It’s a wonder to behold these true professionals at the top of their game, hour after hour, scoping the patently-innocent, on the off-chance that there’s a terrorist sneaking in behind the kids. There are so very many of these Security Forces. Private ones at every store entrance into the Mall itself, often lucky enough to perch on stools and not required to wear the bullet-proof vests that the bank guards do.
And exactly what is it that the FBI-like suits are radioing to each other about? How can there be that much to say at every moment?
I love to watch their unflagging professionalism from my McCafe seat in the Mall’s center aisle. Their faces all have a very on-task and on-target look; like a dog who has just caught a scent. And their eyes dart from side to side, sweeping, in the effective way they’ve been trained to do.
How long can the human psyche keep this up without reward? How long can they ignore their inner logic?
“It’s peaceful in here! Nothing’s going to happen because no one could possibly penetrate this deep through all my buddies!”
I’m sure their coaches have always stressed the “You snooze; we all lose!” philosophy and every guard must squelch such thoughts as that. But this is hard to do when all the shoppers are your friends, neighbors and countrymen. Uruguayans are the sweetest-natured people in the world. They just don’t do wrack & ruin!
I’m guessing here, but it’s very likely that little boys grow up planning to be security workers in this Law & Order society. Likewise, employers put security high on their list and hire professionals to stand guard… at every entrance and throughout the store. Thus, the heavy concentrations of all this Human Preventative Medicine.
The lucky ones are in air-conditioning. Others must stand in the sun with reflective vests, or worse, bullet-proof ones. They man the entries to everything. Some at the outer door and then more at the inner door. Those guards seem more natural and not as furtively busy as the patrolling, suspicious types. They greet you and even deign to open the door…. as well as shoot you down!
I feel 100% sorry for every last one of them, except that they have jobs and it’s a job with high status. But that must come with flat feet and bad backs and such everlasting boredom. Even for those free to circulate the Mall. It’s fancy-dancy, but it’s full of very-repetitive clothing shops and not a whole lot more. Some household items, shoes and candy, but the whole experience is pretty forgettable. I know they’re working and supposedly not considering such details, and not everybody shuts down in there after just an hour, like I always do.
I still can’t help dabbling in the human psychology of it all. What are the brains of such hired hands like? I guess it’s been this way through all the ages. Soldiers stand watch from walls and sentry huts and guards man prison barricades, putting in their shift, expecting something every single second. They never get a pleasant or interesting environment or a way to get off their feet. No one worries about their psyches.
Possibly, they even relish their power. Wearing uniforms. Carrying guns. And we civilians are lucky to have them standing guard. It’s what Police Work is; just not usually so visible. Officers sit all day in squad cars, waiting for their radio to send them off somewhere. Ninety percent of their time is spent waiting; relying on the fact that their very presence might discourage the 10% possibility that some crook might try something, anyway.
Maybe this is why Uruguay has such a strong international reputation for being such a very safe country to be in!
I’ve been living in Montevideo, Uruguay, on South America’s Atlantic Coast, for twenty-three days now and I’m happy, healthy and well on my way to a marvelous adventure. There’s so much potential for my life in the new year of 2014, working on becoming an Overseas American, commonly called an expat.
First, I’ll let you try on my brand-new moccasins and walk the first mile with me. From the airport, on Thanksgiving Day, I taxied to my reserved three-star Tres Cruces Hotel for five nights to lick the jet lag and then, begin my exploration of this capital city. My hotel was near the central bus terminal, where big, gorgeous buses depart for cities all over the country, as well as Argentina and Brazil, our closest neighbors. Uruguay is the size of Washington State, so everything is just a few hours away and tickets are reasonably-priced. However, nothing is cheap here. Costs are on a par with the United States. You can buy anything, though you’ll pay more for imported products, especially electronics. I learned about all this by strolling through an elaborate, Christmas-festooned, Mall above the bus station. It felt just like home…. brands, styles, prices and all. The big difference is that everything’s in Spanish. What did I expect? It’s South America!
But that’s okay! I’m determined to dredge up my high school Spanish and, eventually, take some language classes. Meanwhile, a lot of early-learning is coming back to me. So far, so good, with lots of smiles and funny gestures, wild stabs at vocabulary. A few people here do speak English or have a smattering to equal my poor Spanish. When I demonstrate that I’m quite happy to make a fool of myself , giving their language a try; then they will do that too. It’s the dignity thing. We usually laugh a lot and wind up exchanging names and shaking hands. Actually, quite fun. Otherwise, “Whatcha’ gonna’ do?”
Except for the language, Uruguayans are indistinguishable from Americans, though about ninety-percent of them are Caucasian. There’s a much greater racial mix in North America, than here. All early settlers here were Portuguese, Spanish, French, German or Italian. Hardly any British. A good bit of their present identity is tangled-up with their great-grandparents. I’ve met someone springing from the Basque region of France; another from German stock; an Italian pasta-maker’s descendant, and so on. What do they eat? Breads, pizza, pasta, sausages, beef, beef, beef, chicken and all meats….and a whole lot of Big Macs. I expected more fish and it is on menus, but pretty much neglected. Their local wine is good. There’s a massive item on the menu, called a Parrillada (Pa-ree-zha-da), with meat and fish and veggie on the barbeque. Yum!
My next ten days were spent in the historic district of Montevideo, Ciudad Vieja. I’ve already written about my happy time in The Hanging Gardens of Babylon Hostel, right on the pedestrian-only shopping avenue and an easy walk to the waterfront. By then, I was studying my expat manual: Escape to Uruguay, by David Hammond and the staff of International Living, bought at the November conference for $65 and worth every penny. How I’ve underlined!
You see, I decided to try actually living overseas, in my usual, wingdingarooney fashion, without much pre-planning.. Granted, for two years, I’ve paid close attention to International Living’s wise and plentiful advices. I’ve attended two IL training conferences, albeit, about making money while abroad and I’ve certainly stayed awhile in many lands and islands. “How hard can it be, for heaven’s sakes?”
It’s not exactly easy because it feels so scattered. I want more hand-holding than a manual!
What I’m doing about the official paperwork, right now, isn’t hard. What I’ll need to do in order to qualify for long-term residency, which has many advantages such as entre to their excellent healthcare system, is also, not HARD. Especially, when taken one item at a time, as presented in the manual. I’m even traveling with three important necessary documents on my person: birth, marriage and divorce certificates. Plus, I stopped in Florida for a police background check and fingerprints in Clearwater, where I used to live. But, I have learned already that it’s pretty frustrating and I haven’t even started yet.
Last week, still feeling innocently blasé about all this, I requested an appointment with an IL-recommended law firm in order to turn-in the few papers I’m carrying my satchel and set the clock ticking for my Rentista Visa. Ooops! I’m nowhere near prepared for that! Let me count the ways:
- My documents all need to be Apostilled, (a special stamp) and to do that I must send them to the U.S. State Department office for the region in which they were created: N.Y. for birth, and Florida, for marriage and divorce.
- The local, five-year, police clearance is not enough. I have to get a thorough investigation by the FBI, in all my names, and must send away for that. I can hire some company online for $18 to accomplish this and supply the results to me. Otherwise, my lawyer must accompany me to Interpol here, for the same type of investigation. But, FBI is the favored choice.
- I must obtain proof of my retirement income from overseas. Well, that was easy. I went to the Social Security website, www.myssa.gov, and now have that proof.
- To open a bank account here, my bank at home must supply a letter of recommendation. Done!
- I need to compose a Letter of Intent, stating my desire to become a resident and then, have it, and all of the above, copied in Spanish by a certified public translator. Then, I’ll submit the package to the Immigration Office. This allows me to overstay my three-month visa deadline, while waiting for all of the paper-processing to be completed in three to five months.
- A fairly simple Health Checkup Certificate is something I have yet to schedule here but that should be easy.
There are months of waiting, in-between official appointments and a lot of bird-dogging to keep the process moving right along. It’s probably an easier time than foreigners have obtaining their U.S. residency or citizenship, though.
Reading the above list, my brain admits that it looks ridiculously easy. It IS possible to do this all myself and I will later scoff at my “paperwork panic” of the moment. But there are reasons why law firms charge close to $3000, plus $500 in official fees, to help us get this done correctly. A tiny error in language or perception; a missed appointment; a forgotten duty somewhere, during the three to five year process, can sink our ship and we might have to start all over again.
However, I must now ask myself:
“Is three weeks of trying this country on for size, really long enough for me to know whether it’s the one I’ll ultimately choose to stay at home in?”
And, a little voice inside replies: “It’s almost like marrying somebody! You’d better date awhile!”
As time goes by, I plan to share with you….The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, as I live and breathe the expat process. But, I’ll tell you one thing right now. Something wonderful HAS occurred within me because of this unfamiliar…and nerve-wracking….. need to get all my ducks in a row and make them march in unison…. in Spanish, no less!
It’s a bright idea to create some investigative tours here, designed to take wanna-be expats by the hand, in advance of moving in. Certainly, before buying property. And even, as a way to choose which locality, or country, works the best for them. To help them do their recommended Due Diligence (which I’m doing now, alone, and after my arrival) in pre-move increments.
All that paperwork could be sliced and diced at home, brought along for Spanish-Spellcheck, so to speak. Every picky detail….like how to ship their furniture or car…. or bring their pets….. or start a business, could be thoroughly addressed in bus and hotel lectures by professionals, who will later get their business. Many for sale property showings, strolls through grocery stores and malls; a trying on of life, during an off-season vacation in luxury hotels all over this fascinating, highly-varied country.
Right now, the only choice to cope with this mountain-high, learning curve, is to fly down here alone, or as a bewildered couple; book in hand…. of they’ve opted to buy one….and, befuddled, stand on a street corner, wondering where in the heck to begin???? There’s just no time to muck about and make stabs at stuff when your time is limited. It’s expensive and inefficient. Yet, it’s all we’ve got right now. Re-invent The Wheel, maybe with printed instructions, if we’re lucky.
I may be the most-confused New Kid On The Block, but I do know how to plan great tours, having cut my teeth on doing this in the early days of the opening of the Soviet Union. It’s been awhile….. but, it’s just like riding a bicycle. At least, these tours would be a choice! Those folks who still want to muddle through alone can certainly continue to do that. But the rest of us could make it fun! Who wants to go with me?
EXPAT LUXURY DUE DILIGENCE TOURS
7 Days….. $1995 14 Days….$3495
Next blog post: see how I’m faring in my 202 sq. ft., not-cheap, apartment! While dreaming up the way things “oughta’ be!” It’s actually quite par for the course for me!
I hope you regular readers didn’t fear for me, just because it’s been two weeks since my last post announcing my imminent departure for my new life in Uruguay. I arrived ten days ago and have been very, very busy ever since. At last, here’s my first jumbled description to fill that blank spot in your mind about my arrival in this great South American country. First, a few pointers:
We’ve all been pronouncing it wrong. It’s not “You’re-a-Gway.” It’s “Ooor-a-ghway.” Just mildly clear your throat midword, though they’ll forgive you if you merely say “Oooraguay” with a hard g. They forgive you anyway. Uruguayans are such wonderful people!
Okay, here’s a quiz! Where is Uruguay? Don’t be embarrassed if you guessed that it’s on the Pacific, between Colombia and Ecuador, like my daughter did when she heard that I was moving there. As a matter of fact, Uruguay is three-quarters of the way down to the bottom of South America, on the opposite, Atlantic, side; right under Brazil and next to Argentina. Oh, go get a map and look it up. You’ll find me in Montevideo with glorious blue water on two sides, basking in the summer season.
I’ll share a few excerpts from my journal:
“Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 2013 – The overnight flight was a pleasure, though sleep was scarce. I was so interested in what the Uruguayan people would be like and I knew that a majority of the passengers must be natives, though there was no way, at all, to tell us apart. Except that they spoke Spanish. What a lovely atmosphere filled that plane, with every human connection between those strolling the aisles! I felt surrounded by a jumbo-set-sized family. “Ineffably Wonderful!” came to my mind, though I’ve never heard that term before. Laughter, kindled eyes, and kind helpfulness comes naturally to them. It’s obvious that these Uruguayans are happy people. They like each other and I like them!
I must mention the power of my new Norwegian suit jacket, which I now call “General Jacket.” It’s tailored of navy-blue wool and bears double gold braid around the collar and sleeves. I think of it as my Space Commander jacket. Indeed, people do seem to want to salute or at least to do a double take. On the plane, when I complimented a woman on her lovely sweater, a seatmate mentioned my jacket in return. A nearby man gave a small salute by way of definition. We laughed and agreed. Wish I’d had a better story than “I bought it in Oslo!” Something like: “Oh, I’m simply hopping a ride to Earth from Andromeda”.
Just now, in the airport ladies’ room, the attendant asked me, in Spanish, what the stripes meant and we had a funny time pretending that I was a pilot, because navy wool and gold braid is exactly what they all wear. The only difference is that my stripes are a tad closer to the elbow, I’m way past retirement age…..and oh yes…. I can’t fly!”
Since I arrived last week, I have successfully found my way around the city. First, by getting nicely lost in the Tres Cruces (Three Crosses) area where my arrival hotel and a marvelous bus terminal are located. From that station, one can catch an ultra-fancy double-decker headed anywhere in this compact country, or even neighboring Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Tickets are reasonable and travel times short. Above the terminal is a big, modern mall, which I hear isn’t very large according to local standards. Well, I got happily lost in it 100% of the time. I’ll lack for nothing, that’s for sure!
Sunday, I attended the regular luncheon meeting of the local expat community at Club Banco Republica, an athletic club and restaurant right on the Rambla walkway, overlooking the beach and waterfront. It’s a drop-in meet-up organized by Sonia Duarte, of Total Uruguay, an expat assistance agency. The group has been functioning, non-stop, for seven years and is a great way for foreigners here to get acquainted. Ten of us attended this time and both Sonia and Terry Doering, an American realtor with Your Real Estate Team, immediately agreed to help me achieve some points on my bucket list. That afternoon, Terry showed me an available apartment, which I will move into on December 15th.
On Monday, Sonia helped me drop off my virus-infected computer at a repair shop and to buy a cell phone. In the way that such ironies happen, my faithful little computer had picked up its bug in Florida from some virus protection software that I’d stupidly bought (IObit). I had to look at this great inconvenience philosophically, imagining that it symbolized a “getting a clean start.” Now, for only a chunk of money and a week’s worth of wasted computer time, I’m back to normal with a clean-brained, well backed-up, computer.
Thursday, when my five days at the Hotel Tres Cruces ran out, I transferred to a lovely new hostel in Ciudad Vieja, the Old Town Quarter of Montevideo. This delightful, new Los Jardines Colgantes de Babilonia (The Hanging Gardens of Babylonia) Hostel is one of the most pleasant that I’ve ever stayed in…. and that’s saying a whole lot, because I have stayed in hundreds of hostels, worldwide, by this time. Bunkbeds are $20 per night and I have my two-bunk room all to myself and am able both to sleep and get lots of serious work done in this peace and quiet. Plants, greenery and trailing ferns hang from high ceilings, above black and white tile floors, serenaded by Chopin and Beethoven, in this lovingly restored mansion.
Ahhhh, more about this easy life in a few days. Do stay tuned!