How I Became an International Criminal

I was more than a block away from the coffee shop when I realized the waitress was chasing me.

She spoke to me, flustered, in rapid Spanish. I looked at her, clearly confused, until she said to me in broken English, “Need to pay.”  I responded in my meager Spanish, trying to explain that my husband had covered the bill before he’d left an hour earlier.

“Sorry, no,” she told me.

I returned with her to the establishment, embarrassed, but still trying to plead my case in my weak Spanish. The manager kept nodding “no.” So I paid…again. I was so embarrassed, but I couldn’t understand what was happening and I couldn’t explain myself.

Our family's temporary location to Buenos Aires has caused me to think a lot about immigrants traveling to the US.  My husband followed a calling and a job to Argentina, and it was a month before my daughter and I could join him.  Being separated internationally was extremely difficult, and experiencing life as a single parent was stretching as well.

A week before our departure, I learned that I may not be carrying all the required papers.  I struggled to buy an international plane ticket for an infant when parents were on different flights.  But no one could give me answers.  Not the airline... not the Argentine consulate they told me to call.  Not anyone.  I scrambled to collect and translate and pay for official, internationally-recognized seals of approval.

Arriving in a country, not speaking the language and navigating an entirely new system, while still trying to work and raise our child… this is not tourism… this is life.

My heart is with all those that seek to live life cross-culturally in the US. I hope that I can be as gracious to you as the coffee shop owner was to us when my husband went back and explained (with his bilingual skills) that he had paid for my breakfast. They remembered, apologized, and refunded the overpayment. I hope I can care for immigrants as they navigate a new place. 

Now I just have to deal with my husband who, whenever we passed by the coffee shop said, “Look! They have a photo of you in the window: Do not serve this customer.” Not funny, Mr. Quezada. Not funny at all….

Have you had similar experiences in cross-cultural travel and life?  Have you been on the other side of the situation and had opportunities to smooth the transition for immigrants?  
A Life with Subtitles. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.