Working Grandmother

At the next table at my café in a small corner of Palermo are a grandmother and the child of her child. This is a neighborhood café, a relatively upscale place in an upper middle class neighborhood. The teenager, who appears to be about fifteen years old, has long dirty dishwater blonde hair and is dressed in nice jeans. The old lady’s clothing, linen pants, silk blouse and her Ferragamo Vara shoes, clearly weren’t bought in Buenos Aires. Miami, most likely.

The girl orders a pizza and a Coke, and her grandmother has a glass of wine and a salad. Both are carrying on polite conversations, but the girl shows a level of manners beyond simply good breeding. She’s working on her grandmother for something, and the crescendo slowly builds. They are speaking Castellano to one another in quiet, measured tones.

Finally, the girl bursts out with “So I can get a better job!” In English. It’s fairly clear that job prospects are not exactly the top priority in this kid’s agenda.

I start to eavesdrop more carefully. The reason behind the girl’s supper with her grandmother becomes more interesting.

‘But David and Pilar went,” she said. “And I can learn to speak better English.”

The grandmother remains very calm, in that deliberate way that only old ladies of a certain generation and style can pull off.

The girl pleaded her case about why she should go abroad, mixing her English with Castellano. The grandmother responds only in English to the girl, who is somewhat taken back by her response. She cannot believe what she is hearing. The grandmother tells her that if she is so desperate to improve her English-language skills, she can begin right now by continuing the conversation in English. And she could talk to her grandmother any time she wanted in English. The girl’s jaw drops, in the “I so totally cannot understand what I am hearing” way of teenage girls who’ve been caught up short. The grandmother just isn’t buying the story about the girl’s ardent desire to improve her language skills. She knew the kid just wanted to get out of Argentina.

The reunion did not end well as the girl stormed out of the restaurant ahead of her grandmother.

But there are unanswered questions. Where exactly did the girl want to go, and why did her grandmother deny her the money?


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