46 – Puerto Rico: A Crash Course on Island Life

Have you ever been to Puerto Rico? Did you know it’s part of the United States? If you didn’t, you’re not the only one!

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That’s just one of the seven surprising facts packed into this week’s episode, which you can consider your crash course on la isla del encanto (translation: island of enchantment). Come along on a journey that goes beyond the stereotypes and highlights the lesser-known aspects of Puerto Rico.

Revealing some surprising facts from the mundane and awkward (like converting to the metric system) to deeper socio-political issues percolating on the island (like corruption and capricious electricity), you might just learn something new about the vibrant culture of Puerto Rico, and whether or not this is a place for other childfree Latinas y Latines.

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[00:02] Paulette: Buen día mi gente, and welcome to La Vida Más Chévere, the place where Spanglish speaking, childfree Latinas y Latines are learning to dismantle the toxic cultural bullshit we all grew up with. I’m your host, Paulette . While you’re listening to today’s episode, I am most likely still in Puerto Rico trying to find a place to live. Last time we were there was 2019, just before the world shut down. Y esta vez, it’s a little bittersweet because la ultima vez, that was for a reunion. Con todas mis titis. Pero esta vesz there’s one less of them. In fact, cuando regrese a Los Angeles,

[00:39]: I have to go directly to her funeral, so that kind of sucks. And if you didn’t understand what I said, here’s a really good time for me to remind you that you can subscribe to the Substack, which will always have translations, or you can watch this on YouTube, where I will have translations somewhere on this screen. Either way, the links are in the show notes or the description. Also, while I’m pitching you on it, check out these shirts. Why don’t you get yourself one of these limited edition La Vida Más Chévere baseball tees? Links in the show notes. And hey, when I say show notes, I mean the extended show notes. You know how there’s a link to palettarato.com slash show notes? There. With the full transcript and everything. So anyway, the husband, Ryan, and I decided it’s finally time to start bouncing around the world. And we’re starting in the Caribbean, and everybody asks us why. Well, if you didn’t know, it’s clear from recent news about trying to rent a car

[01:30]: at Hertz, or trying to get on a plane without a passport, that maybe you don’t know, but Puerto Rico is actually part of the United States. It is a territory. If today is the first time you are learning that, congratulations, felicidades. Today you are part of a special club of 10,000 other people who are learning something new for the first time. I’m going to leave you a link to a cartoon that illustrates this phenomenon. My point is, don’t be ashamed if it actually is your first time learning that, because now you know. So please spread this knowledge.

[02:03]: So because Puerto Rico is part of the United States, you don’t need a passport and you don’t need a visa to live or work there. And while it is super romantic to talk about being a digital nomad and flying off to all of these far off places, the reality of that is you either need a very, very flexible job or deal with a shit ton of paperwork to pull that off, and we’re just not about that right now. Puerto Rico also made sense for one of the surprising things I’m going to tell you about a little later. But spoiler alert, they mostly speak Spanish on the island, so it’s a great place to learn the language through immersion, something both of us actually need to do. So we’re not going there to live like the Crypto Bros, obviously. My dad was born there, so it’s kind of a return to the roots. And I’m super excited. If everything works out this week. I’ll have a home here for the next year, so please keep your fingers crossed and help us tell the universe to make this work out.

[02:59]: The first time we were here in 2019 for the family reunion, I got to admit, I was a little surprised by a lot. I realized I was pretty ignorant of island life, so I wrote a little post for my little sewing blog at the time, which I figured, you know, what was worth sharing with you this week. And look, most of these things are pretty lighthearted facts. I’m not really going to delve into the corruption or any of the other issues percolating on the island. Like why isn’t Puerto Rico a state? Why isn’t it an independent country? Not because that isn’t important. It absolutely is. But I don’t have sufficient knowledge to do it justice in this episode. But please know I am aware of those things and I’m going to try to educate myself more on them.

[03:45]: I mean, hell, while we were there last time, the governor was arrested by the FBI for corruption. I am well aware of this, and now so are you. So if you are planning a tropical vacation to a place that does not require a passport or a visa because you are a citizen, and Hawaii, which is currently facing its own issues and has other issues with colonization too, if Hawaii isn’t your jam, here’s some stuff you should know about Puerto Rico. The first is where is Puerto Rico? Here’s a little geography lesson. And if you’re listening to this on a podcast app, open up your map app so we can do this together. Otherwise you’ll see this on the screen. Puerto Rico is an island in the Caribbean about 1150 miles southeast. That’s 1800 km off the tip of Florida.

[04:31]: So past the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, both the US. And British ones, past Turks and Caicos, past Hispañola, which is where Haiti and the Dominican Republic are. And as I mentioned, because Puerto Rico is a US Colony, they use U. S. Money and are U.S. Citizens.

[04:48]: They just don’t have representation in Congress, which means they don’t pay federal income tax. That also means that Americans traveling there don’t need a passport because it’s just like going to Vegas or Guam, which is another territory, or New York. But just because you’re still in the US. Doesn’t mean you won’t be surprised by a few things. Like, for example, you’ll probably have an easier time finding a Burger King than a McDonald’s. Like I mentioned, at the top. Number two is you should know some Spanish. I mean, the first thing you should know after where the island is located is que tienes que saber un pocoquito de Español.

[05:23]: A lot of road signs and stop signs. They’re all in Spanish. Primary school is taught in Spanish, and English is offered as a foreign language option. So even though English and Spanish are both the official languages on the island, only about 20% of the population speaks English. That includes most service people and Uber drivers, restaurant workers, and there’s certain pockets of the island that definitely have more English speakers as the Crypto Bros. And others move in. But I highly, highly advise having at least a little bit of conversational Spanish in your pocket if you’re visiting without a native speaker, because here’s an amusing story. The last time we went, we did find a McDonald’s for breakfast, and as my husband was ordering, the person did not understand him because he was speaking English, and she did not speak English.

[06:08]: Her manager did, but that could have been avoided. Also, I took an Uber in Viejo San Juan, which is like the most touristy area, and my Uber driver did not speak a lot of English enough to say hello and then drop me off and say good-bye. So, you know, that’s just my experience. Also, you know what? That happened to me in Orlando, Florida, too. A lot of my Uber drivers were immigrants who spoke Spanish first and a little bit of English enough to get by. Spanish is just a good thing to know anywhere in the US. Basically. I mean, we have Mexican food everywhere. You know how to say taco and burrito.

[06:40]: Those are Spanish words. Build on that. You should also know the metric system. This was probably the most shocking thing for me because I took for granted that being in the US. Meant we used to the imperial system. Nope. Distance is measured in kilometers, and your phone’s GPS will switch over to kilometers while you’re there, which makes measuring distances kind of awkward. If you’re not prepared, you’d better know your metric conversions.

[07:06]: 1 km is equal to .62 miles and 1 mile is equal to 1.61 km. Yeah, a kilometer is shorter than a mile. That’s easy math, right? You’ll learn it eventually. It’s like an immersion factor, like how we’re going to be learning Spanish by immersing ourselves in it. Gas, gasoline is also sold in liters, and there’s approximately four liters to a gallon. So at 3.79 liters per gallon, again, that easy math. Gas is approximately about $4 a gallon right now. I don’t know if that’s more or less where you live in the US.

[07:41]: In LA it’s closer to five. So, yeah, that’s nice. Enough about the gas, Paulette. I’m just hoping that I learned to think in liters and kilometers and square meters sooner rather than later. I do know that 5 km is 3.1 miles, only because I’ve run a couple of those and I hate running. Number four is you got to know your boricua-isms, the colloquialisms, the idioms of the island. Boricua is another word for Puerto Rican, and boricuas speak a little different from other Spanish speakers.

[08:10]: That’s not unusual across other Spanish speaking countries. If you’ve ever heard a Spaniard or an Argentinian, for example, speak, they have a little bit of a lisp. That’s not true of, say, Mexican Spanish, which is actually closer to what I grew up influenced by, because LA has a predominantly Mexican influence as opposed to a Puerto Rican influence. And I’m probably related to most of the Puerto Ricans in LA. There’s that few of us there. By the way, the word chévere, that’s a boricua-ism. So, for example, a typical greeting in Spanish is buenos días. You use that to say hello.

[08:47]: In the afternoon, you would say buenas tardes. In the evening, you say buenas noches. On the island, they say buen día, which is nice and efficient. You hear this every time you turn on your podcast because that’s how I greet you every time. Buen días. Welcome to the podcast. There’s a great TikTok and Instagram account that breaks down a bunch of these little boricua isms and where they came from. It’s run by a woman from the island, and she speaks really fast, but little by little, I’ve been picking up what she’s putting down.

[09:16]: I’ll leave you a link to that, too. Number five. The craft beer scene is amazing. I’m hoping this is still true from four years ago. You know, pre COVID, post COVID. Ryan. And I love beer. Beer was involved in how we met, where he proposed, where we got married.

[09:34]: We even took a beer tour of Europe on our honeymoon. He’s also a home brewer. All these years later, we’re drinking more wine than we drink beer because the beer bloat is real. But when we were here last time, I was super impressed by the huge variety that’s available. Beer exists in all the major categories stouts, browns, ambers, blondes, sours, IPAs. There was no pigeonholing into a single island style beer. We also got to enjoy some of the German and Belgian influences on the microbreweries here. The menu at this great beer bar, La Taberna Lúpulo in Viejo San Juan, will rival just about any tap room on the mainland.

[10:12]: They have some amazing beers, and thankfully they are still operating post COVID. The other options for local microbrews that we had at the time are also still operating, thank God, Ocean Lab, ZURC Bräuhaus, and Dragonstone Abbey, which reminded us of our honeymoon. The only problem, and it’s not really a problem, it’s more of an adjustment that you have to make, is that the island has a perpetual summer. And even coming from California, which also has a reputation for being nice and warm all the time, it does get cold there. You will need a wool coat in the middle of winter sometimes. And it’s also not humid in California like it is in Puerto Rico. So getting used to drinking alcohol in high heat and high humidity, that’s going to take a little bit of time because, see, the beers warm up a lot faster in those conditions, so you got to drink them quick, which means you won’t drink much unless you have a really high tolerance, which unfortunately, I do not anymore. I am looking forward to checking out the wine scene on the island.

[11:15]: According to an article from Caribbeantrading.com that was published way back in 2015, at the time, the Puerto Rican wine scene was still in its infancy and they weren’t distributing off island. So I’m excited to see where they are eight years later. Stay tuned because I am sure I am going to find a child free Latina que tambien le gusta el vino. And if that’s you, let’s be friends. Number six. There are no Target stores on the island and Amazon shipping is a little tricky. Target just doesn’t exist.

[11:45]: Walmart Sam’s Club. They’re here. And so is Costco. But no Tar-jay. I found this funny quote from a trademark law firm that says, due to trademark law, Target stores are not allowed to operate on the beautiful island of Puerto Rico without paying a hefty licensing fee to Target, the Puerto Rican rental car company. Can you imagine? So there’s a rental car company called Target. So Target stores cannot operate without paying them the licensing fee. That would be probably too expensive and that’s why they don’t exist.

[12:18]: I’m just speculating. The Amazon thing, though, is a bit confusing in my research. I really couldn’t make much sense of it. I guess I’m just going to find out once I need to. Some things do ship, but not everything. I’m guessing it’s like living off in Alaska or Hawaii. Some businesses just don’t want to deal with the expensive shipping to those places. And that’s understandable.

[12:40]: But I’m going to let you know right now that as someone doing business selling shirts, that there is shipping to Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico, as well as the rest of the United States, all for one flat fee. So don’t hesitate to get one. Remember, they’re limited edition. So once they’re gone, they’re gone. Anyway, back to Amazon. I’ll leave you a link to an article that seemingly breaks it down and can do it more justice than I can for you right now. Check that out in the show notes. And finally, the electrical grid debacle.

[13:10]: Look, I know I said I was going to keep it light (that’s a pun) light-hearted, but this is a big deal, so I’ve saved the biggest, if not the worst, for last. The thing to know is that there’s a huge issue with electricity on the island. It’s a highly charged situation, if you’ll excuse the pun. To my understanding, somewhere between the ancient grid that was, of course, partially destroyed by both Maria and Fiona, bankruptcy, and then private ownership between an American and a Canadian company, there lies a juggernaut of corruption that somehow fixes nothing, but keeps raising the prices on its citizens and turning the lights off pretty regularly. I mean, Bad Bunny made a whole ass video about it. I’m going to leave you a link to watch it. And yeah, you should watch it even though it is over 20 minutes long. Please watch it.

[14:01]: Yes, there are solar panels and gas generators and water cisterns. That’s mostly in the touristy areas. What about where the rest of the island lives? Like the other 3 million people who live here? I’m going to leave you a few articles that I found in my research on this. But here’s a quote from an article on WBUR’s website which also had a podcast episode about this. Interestingly. They’re based in Boston. Here’s a quote: “it’s an equity issue, says Ruth Santiago, a lawyer and activist who lives in Salinas. We’re developing a separate and unequal electric system here, where poor communities that have less access to the financing or the loans or there is no public funding for these kinds of installations for low income or middle income people, well, then they’re left behind.” From the audio of the article she also added, “and it’s costing lives.”

[14:50]: Here’s some more. “We’ve got to get out of this vicious cycle of depending on the centralized grid that gets knocked down with every hurricane or every other hurricane. It’s a matter of the government listening to communities and people who are aware of the need for this transformation.” All in all, it’s a dire situation, and the hope is that by 2050, in 28 years, the island is on 100% renewable energy. I certainly hope that’s the case for them, because climate change is real, and hopefully by then they’ll also be able to clear up their political situation of whether or not they’re a state or an independent country. Okay, I know I went on a little bit of a rant there. Let’s burrito this up. The seven things you should know before you visit Puerto Rico are one, where it is.

[15:33]: Two, Spanish. You should know some Spanish. Three, the metric system. Four. Some Colloquialisms like buen día. Five, there’s a fantastic drinking scene here. Six, no Target stores, though, and seven, the electricity might go off a lot. I’m sure I’ll have a follow up episode for you after this trip is over.

[15:55]: So tell me, what would you like to know about, to quote Bad Bunny from his song El Apagón, la P motherfucking R, eh? I don’t know if I can actually pull that off. You tell me anyway. That’s a burrito. Do you got something to say about this week’s episode? DM me on instagram at @Paulette. And if you’d like to be a guest on La Vida Más Chévere, check out the guest form on my website at PauletteErato.com. All of these links are in the show notes. While you’re at it, can I ask you a favor? I’d really appreciate your helping spread awareness about the podcast, so could you please share it on your socials or even send it to a friend? New episodes come out every other Tuesday. You can enjoy them with tacos or burritos. Muchísimas gracias for your support, y hasta la próxima vez, ¡cuidate bien!

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