When I was living in Seattle, which I did for about three months, whenever I mentioned missing something about Uruguay; the abundance of family and friends everyone has, the good quality bottled water and faucet water you can mostly safely drink, the good theater, the amazing live music offer, my boyfriend started calling Montevideo/Uruguay the place where “streets are paved with gold.”

It was not an entirely sarcastic/derogatory comment, as he too appreciates the many amazing things I love about my homeland and we basically dislike the same things about America; the lower level of general culture, the police state, the love of guns, the waging of absurd wars, the fact that friendships tend to be more scarce or more superficial, and families seldom live in the same place or keep in touch the way we Latin Americans usually do.

When I met Rhea and her husband Paul, a couple of sixtysomething Americans who were looking to move to Uruguay yesterday, I understood that these streets may not be paved with “gold,” but they are paved with what is gold to me.

Rhea had wanted to rent my house to spend three weeks in Montevideo to “check it out” with a view of moving down here eventually. She is a librarian and a pianist, so, in my mind, she was “a literary-minded artist” who might surely appreciate my neighbourhood´s rich cultural life, the beauty of the adjacent waterfront, etc.

As I was going to be in Montevideo during all of November, I couldn´t rent Rhea my place. She was so disappointed when she heard this that she made me feel terribly guilty. I really wanted to find a solution for her. It seemed odd that she couldn´t find anything else on airbnb, since there are so many Montevideo listings on the site, but she appeared to be so desperate that I decided to help. I called up a friend who is one of the top production designers for film and TV in Argentina. She has a lovely place on my block, which she herself recycled and decorated with amazing antique furniture. As she was gonna be in BA all November, the place was free and my friend was willing to rent it out.

Before Rhea arrived in Montevideo, allegedly after being in a small car accident and seeing a girl in skimpy clothes running around on the street in Buenos Aires, she had seen pictures of my friend´s place, I had answered all her questions about the house truthfully, and she had sent a 40% deposit. I really didn´t understand why seeing a girl with revealing clothing had affected her that much, but I could see how being in a cab that got hit by another car from behind on the way to the ferry terminal might be a bit disturbing.

However they had gotten that way, these were, no doubt, the most depressing people I had seen in a long, long time. They seemed puzzled that there were keys to the doors and they had to learn which was which. When they saw there was no TV in the house, I thought they were going to get a heart attack. I had mentioned before that there was no WI FI and I would provide a USB dongle. When I was connecting it, Rhea said, “this place is so isolating, with no Internet and no phone.” It was funny because when she said this the Internet was already going and I said I would lend them a Uruguayan cell phone.

This is one of my favorite houses in this city, and this woman called the antique basinette “primitive,” she seemed afraid of the fireplace as a heating device, let alone the gas heater. I thought I would show them all the cool things in the neighborhood to cheer them up after assuring them that if they didn´t like the place it was cool, they could move out the next day and I would help them find something.

Another interesting fact is that these people didn´t speak a word of Spanish, not even “gracias,” and they seemed to expect everyone to speak English; without my help, they couldn´t even go to the supermarket. When I showed them the marvelous boardwalk by the sea, they didn´t even utter a sound: they didn´t want to see the ocean, they wanted a big screen TV. I couldn´t believe what I was seeing. It was the first time I had ever shown someone the rambla and they hadn´t made some sort of comment; I didn´t even get an “it´s nice” from them…

The only two times they seemed at ease was inside the supermarket; yes, you could make these people happy with a supermarket, and when they entered the lobby of the 4-star hotel from where they would figure their next step.

One thing I know for sure is this: wherever LIFE is happening, it´s never happening at a 4-star hotel. You can add as many stars as you like; it ain´t gonna happen.

My gold is the sound of the drums on Saturday afternoon. It´s going to Mingus bar and finding hordes of interesting people to talk to, wonderful musicians playing. It´s going to see a play with actors that can transform my life and bring tears to my eyes. It´s knowing that for the most part, my government wants the same things I want, though they sometimes make concessions I wouldn´t do, especially when it comes to environmental issues. It´s knowing that if I have a problem I can call a friend and they will take care of it, whatever the problem may be.

Sometimes I feel like I am the richest person alive.

In the past, Uruguayans used to migrate to Spain and the US. Now, we are getting lots of Americans and Spaniards. When our people migrated to those countries, they lived like outlaws, doing jobs that locals wouldn´t do; the dirty work. When Americans and Spaniards come here, we welcome them, we have no barriers, they can work here, stay as long as they like, etc. While I agree with this policy, asymmetrical as it may be, when I read about this American who complained that he was not able to bring his weapons in through Uruguayan customs at the airport, I started thinking that maybe we should have some sort of barrier to keep people who love guns and whose church is a supermarket far, far away from our little paradise, flawed as it may be.

Our streets are paved with gold alright, but only for those who have eyes to see it.

NOTE: Names have been changed to protect the identity of two sad, sad people.

FEATURED IMAGE by ana_ge

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10 thoughts on “Everybody wants to move to Uruguay, but not everyone should…

  1. I am an American but it drives me crazy when other Americans judge immigrants the came to the US, yet when some of them move abroad they have no desire to learn the local language, socialize with the locals, or live with the locals, the same things they criticized immigrants for in the US, but in their logic that is somehow
    okay?

    If you are planning to bring ‘all’ the ideals of America abroad, live in a gated-community with other Americans, then I don’t understand why they moved abroad in the first place.

    I myself am considering moving to Uruguay, but not to ‘bring’ the US with me, but instead to go to Uruguay for what it has to offer! :)

  2. Brilliant. Love the description of what life is “really’ like there. Some folks were meant to stay put!

  3. Thank you for your wonderful article! It is amazing what Life can provide and some people has no clue of appreciation.

  4. Great insight! It took me a few months to really put myself inside the heads of people like this when I worked as a travel consultant.

    The saddest thing for these people is their mindset has been ingrained over many long years of social/spiritual oppression. This attitude is what they know, so it’s easiest to just keep on keeping on.

    Some people can be unlocked, but it may not just be thanks to a kindness such as what you showed. It would have to be a momentous and life changing existential crisis.

  5. When I meet those kind of people online, I like to send them to expatbob.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/living-abroad-is-it-worth-it, where they can wallow in the narrow-minded parochial rantings of a failed UY immigrant.

  6. It’s true, if someone wants to move abroad just to have the identical life they had before, whats the point? Of course it’s going to be “isolating.” Duh. Stay home and be isolated there. Nobody abroad is pining for your insularity and negativity.

  7. Ah, the epitome of the “ugly American,” which many of us have seen time and time again in our peripatetic world travels. Perhaps this was the very first time the couple ever stepped outside of the American border, or their own state, for that matter. Culture shock affects us in different ways. Pity they may venture through their remaining “golden” years with myopic blinders.

  8. Nice article! My boyfriend and I have been considering moving to Uruguay for quite some time now. I’m a graduate student but I’ve lived in 5 countries so far (the US included) and I’m currently living in Italy. The main reason we’re considering Uruguay is that we’re both accostumed to a warmer climate and we agree with Uruguay’s political and social choices..however, a post of a Canadian woman did scare me….I moved to Italy when I was 19 and honestly I can’t take it any more so I’m afraid of the things these places may have in common: I just get depressed when I see dirty dirty streets where people don’t look after their dogs and their mess, it bothers me when the people who work in public offices can’t be bother to do their jobs etc…(this is what Rome is like and this is what the Canadian lady described in her blog) so…is that really the case? Because to me it’s just not giving a damn about your community and everyone around you and it really, really brings me down. Is it nice music, and cheap art and all that but then you need all the patience of the world when you need to get things done, and you should get used to the city being dirty and all? I don’t mean to be offensive in any way, I’d just like to get the most realistic immage possible in order to avoid moving to a city that is perfect and magical when you’re on holiday, but it’s killing you slowly day by day once you actually move in there and try to have an organized life whithout being stressed out by small issues every step of the way. The fligts are pretty spendy and our economy here isn’t exactly letting us save up that much so there is no way we could just visit Uruguay and then decide. Thank you!!

  9. Some streets in Montevideo are dirty, many people don´t pick up their mess, there is a lot of bureaucracy, but we have an OK economy, and people live in much closer contact here with family and friends than in the States, this is why we don´t have psychos doing mass shootings and serial killers and that kind of thing. We also kind of trust our government. If you take cleanliness of streets over good art, maybe Montevideo is not for you. This is a city full of art. Our culture has a lot of Italianness to it. I do not recommend you come down without trying it out. Good luck!

  10. I enjoyed reading the lead article and all the comments. Uruguay is sounding more and more like the place for me. My question: Does anyone following this blog live in – or has spent much time in Salto? Can anyone suggest a blog, website or internet community of English-as-a-first-language residents or regular visitors to Salto? I speak pretty passable Spanish (and some German) but would like to talk to an English speaking immigrant to Salto as I plan my personal exodus from the most American (in all the wrong ways) of places, Texas.

    Thanks for any tips, John

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