Culture Shock

23 Oct

I expected to experience culture shock within the first few weeks in Buenos Aires, but I never imagined it would be so literal.

Turns out that my MacPro Book laptop computer, with its aluminum body, is an excellent conductor of electricity. Whenever I plug in to an outlet I receive a gentle, tingly, persistent wave of electrical charge to my hand and wrist. The only way to maneuver free from shock was to use the laptop after it had been charged.

Of course, this posed a serious problem considering all of our income is generated from my work building websites. I had to find a solution.

Disorientation Stage

The MacBook Pro can manage voltages between 100-240. (The U.S. uses 110 volts. Argentina uses 220 volts.) All you need is a plug adapter. At first, I thought a simple fix to my problem would be to switch out the adapter. Tried one. Tzzt. Tried another. Tzzt. I tried every combination I had. Nothing stopped the shock treatment.

Hoping the problem was with the plugs in my apartment, I set out to test it at coffee shops. Tzzt. Tzzt. I changed the adapters again. Tzzt. Tzzt.

Seeking some counsel, I stopped into an electrical shop just around the corner. These guys reminded me of the playful brothers on Car Talk. After telling them my problem, instead of immediately giving their opinion, they guessed where I was from. Apparently, I look both Arab and French. After settling that issue, we talked electricity again.

The main guy told me that the problem wasn’t my computer but the electrical outlets and wiring. In Buenos Aires, because so many of the buildings are decades old, they don’t have proper ground wires. So, he told me, the problem was everywhere. I’ll have it just about most places.

How is that possible in a city similar in population to Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro?

Hostility Stage

If anyone had an answer, it would be Mac Station — Buenos Aires’ main Apple retailer.

There was certainly no way that everyone who owns an aluminum-cased Mac in the city just put up with this.

“I get shocked when it’s plugged in,” I told the kid, who fit the I-work-in-an-Apple-store role perfectly.

“Yeah, that happens. But this might help you.” He handed me an adapter that fits directly into the Mac battery pack.

He thought that replacing my U.S. three-prong plug with a local plug would help with the electrical conversion. I was desperate, so I bought it thinking the problem would solved. He seemed sure.

I plugged in at a restaurant with my new cord. Tzzt. Tzzt.

Immediately, I returned to Mac Station to tell the kid his solution didn’t work. We talked with tech support in the store and they said there wasn’t anything I could do, except — get this — attach a wire to my computer and run to the ground.

After navigating a bus system I still don’t fully understand, dishing out cash on a cord that didn’t work, and doing it all with broken and limited Spanish, this was all he could come up with?!

Despair Stage

I began to give up about the whole situation. Maybe this won’t work out.

Without much hope, I saw another electronics store. The attendant stood at the door ready to lock it up. He was closing… at 1:30 in the afternoon! Why not? The coffee shop I was hoping to work from had not even opened yet for the day.

The Eeyore in me started to come out. Maybe I just needed to get used to the idea that nothing is going to work the way I need it to. Coffee shops won’t be open, my computer will consistently electrocute me, and stores will sell me products that don’t help and can’t be returned.

Acceptance (or Autonomy or Integration) Stage, but Better

A day after my running around the city, I came home midday to find our landlord, Graciela, and an electrician working in our apartment. Graciela had him come out to install ground wires. Problem solved! Holmes on Homes wouldn’t be happy with the work, but I am.

The new ground wire

The kindness of a sweet person to help me out and this simple wire wrapped around a metal frame were all that it took to solve my electrical woes. I can now work from home, at least, without worry.

With this electrical fix, some rearranging of the furniture, and my own coffee supplies, I am quite content.

Now, if only the other challenges to my new life in Buenos Aires could work themselves out so nicely.

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One Response to “Culture Shock”

  1. Mario Barros November 14, 2011 at 5:48 pm #

    It’s a bit too late, but another thing that would work, would be for you to isolate yourself..
    If you have to go to another place without ground connection, try seating on a wooden chair, and don’t touch the floor with your feet :)

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