I've traded in gray skies and the chill of winter for a healthy dose of sunshine and the long days of summer; the Southern Cross for the Big Dipper; and sandwiches de milanesa and helado for cheesesteaks and water ice. In just 24 hours, I went from being a foreigner with a funny accent to a native with a Philly accent – from a yanqui to a Yankee.

After a year and a half, I have returned to the City of Brotherly Love for a long-anticipated visit with my family and friends. And just to make things more interesting, I even managed to surprise a few people – in particular, my stepdad at his 50th birthday party.

Of course, in addition to enjoying the company of my loved ones, I'm also indulging in some of the foods I'd been pining for and shopping for some items to keep my clothes and shoes company inside my suitcase on the plane ride back to Argentina.

I know my time here will fly by, so I'm bent on making the most of it.

¡Saludos desde EE.UU.! // Greetings from the USA!

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Product Branding in Argentina

With numerous multinational corporations peddling their products here in Argentina, scores of familiar brands such as Dove, Oreo, Hellmann's, Colgate, Gillette, Raid, Glade, Pampers and Pantene compete for consumers' attention and pesos in the local supermercado.

In some cases, your favorite products might be hiding in plain sight right there on the shelf because those clever marketers have rebranded the name and/or logo to make the item more appealing to the sensibilities of Argentine consumers. 

Here's a sample of some products that have undergone a branding transformation for the Argentine market:

Pledge – Blem/GloCot [SC Johnson & Son]
Tide – Ace [Procter & Gamble]
Clorox – Ayudín [The Clorox Company]
Snuggle – Vivere/Comfort [Unilever]
Crystal Light – Clight [Kraft]
Surf – Skip [Unilever]
Degree – Rexona [Unilever]
Sunsilk – Sedal [Unilever]
Vive – Elvive [L'Oréal]

By the way, if you find yourself in a pharmacy or other store where you must ask for the product instead of merely plucking it off the shelf, make sure you pronounce the name in Spanish-inflected English or no one will have a clue what you're asking for. Tragically, the pronunciation of some brand names is often a shot in the dark. Colgate, for example, is pronounced according to the rules of Spanish [kohl-GAH-tay] while Dove is pronounced closer to how we say it in English.

Mr. Clean vs. Mr. Músculo

It's also amusing to compare the differences in brand mascots across cultures. Let's put Mr. Clean (U.S.) and Mr. Músculo (Argentina) head-to-head to see how they size up.

Mr. Clean Image [Mr. Clean takes the no-nonsense approach to cleaning.]

Procter & Gamble's iconic Mr. Clean, with his gleaming bald head, impressive biceps and gold hoop earring, looks as though he can get the job done. According to our friends at Wikipedia, "the original model for the image of Mr. Clean was a United States Navy sailor from the city of Pensacola, Florida." Mr. Clean has been banishing grime since 1957, but he's yet to travel to South America.

Mr. Musculo [Mr. Músculo, a science geek with six-pack abs, has the answer to your most difficult dirt dilemmas.]

Mr. Músculo, brought to you by the folks at SC Johnson & Son, sports washboard abs, a white lab coat and a slicked-back 'do. With the slogan "La ciencia de la limpieza difícil," it appears that Mr. Músculo favors the brains over brawn approach to cleaning, though his physique says otherwise. The brand was created in 1986, but the superhero mascot didn't come about until late 2008; Mr. Músculo is clearly an upstart. The Mr. Músculo brand is sold throughout Latin America.

For those of you who live abroad, how important is brand recognition for you? Do you find that you gravitate toward familiar brands that remind you of home?

[Mr. Clean image © Procter & Gamble / Mr. Músculo image © SC Johnson & Son]

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Foods of Argentina: Higos de Tuna

At a recent Sunday lunch with Daniel's family, I excused myself briefly from the table after we finished our pasta, and when I returned I saw that Daniel's stepdad Tomás and great-aunt Rosa were eating some unfamiliar, fuchsia-colored fruit. The two of them explained that they were sampling a fruit known as higo de tuna, and Tomás asked me if I'd like to try one. Without hesitation, I replied, "Of course," and I reached toward the bowl to grab one of the innocuous-looking ovals. Rosa and Tomás practically leapt out of their chairs as they both screamed in unison, "NO, DON'T TOUCH THEM!"

After the heart palpitations, shortness of breath and sweating eased up, I found out just why they both went berserk. Unbeknownst to me, the exterior of the higo de tuna is covered in hairlike spines called glochids that become lodged in the skin and produce an intense burning sensation.

I imagine that the spikes on fruit purchased at a greengrocer or supermarket have already been removed; however, since Tomás gathered these from a cactus in the middle of a field somewhere, they still had their full complement of tiny daggers. I actually did get a pair of spines stuck in my fingers before I jerked my hand back from the bowl, but the discomfort I experienced was minimal. I think the fright that Rosa and Tomás gave me inflicted ten times more damage than those two little barbs, which I successfully removed with tweezers.

Tomás pierced an higo de tuna with a fork and showed me how to peel it, cutting through the fruit lengthwise and peeling away the skin to reveal deep pink flesh and hard black seeds the size of peppercorns. The flavor reminded me of kiwi fruit with a hint of melon.

Opuntia ficus indica - Indian Fig - Tuna - Higo Chumbo by Carlos Lorenzo on Flickr [used under Creative Commons License] [Fresh higos de tuna or prickly pear fruit]

Higos de tuna (also known in Spanish as tunas, chumbos or higos chumbos and in English as cactus fruits, cactus figs, or Indian figs) are the fruits of the prickly pear cactus, which grows wild in the U.S., Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. Although originally from the Americas, the cacti were carried to Europe by the Spanish explorers, where they are now found in Spain, Italy, Greece and even North Africa.

The fruit of the prickly pear cactus can be peeled and eaten as is or used to make jelly. The fruit may also be boiled down into a thick syrup known as arrope de tuna, which is sometimes served with goat cheese in Argentina's northwestern provinces. Higos de tuna boast a high nutritional value, and according to traditional wisdom, eating them helps with various gastrointestinal maladies. Although prickly pear cacti grow in abundance in many parts of Argentina, consumption of the fruit tends to be rather low.

Prickly Pear Fruit, So Ripe! by cobalt123 on Flickr [used under Creative Commons License][The tuna or prickly pear cactus with fruit]

If you're interested in sampling all things tuna, mark your calendars for the Festival Nacional de la Tuna, which takes place in the town of Icaño in the northwestern province of Catamarca in late February. You can also get your tuna fix at the Festival del Arrope de Tuna in Infanzón, also in Catamarca. [In case you haven't noticed, the Argentines will use almost any excuse to party – yes, even prickly pear syrup.]

Have you ever tried an higo de tuna?

[Photo credits: Carlos Lorenzo and cobalt123]

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