First Impressions, Stationery and Otherwise

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A new country, a new continent, a new hemisphere. It is now our second week in Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay, 34 degrees south. When we departed Montreal there was light snowfall, but upon arrival we had to pack away our winter coats and change into short sleeves. It is late summer here, with brilliantly clear skies, and upside-down constellations at night. The weather does seem to influence one’s first impressions: we find the city pleasant and the people friendly. The food is wonderful. I did have one disappointment, though. From looking at the map, I was expecting a sort of Mediterranean-style seaside town with sparkling blue waters, but it turns out that the body of water surrounding Montevideo is actually a river called Río de la Plata, which is an alarming shade of brown. Watching the muddy brown water swell and crash upon the beach can give you an eerie feeling, like you’re on Mars…

More importantly for this blog, I had to shop for my son’s school supplies the first week of our arrival here, so to my delight found myself in several stationery stores :) The biggest chain here seems to be Mosca, but because it is back-to-school season right now (the Uruguayan school year seems to start in March), there are stacks of notebooks and pencils available in ordinary supermarkets too. The selection here is very interesting. For starters, Faber-Castell is everywhere! Stores are literally swamped with FC products, manufactured in Brazil (colored pencils) and Peru (markers). They look familiar but not quite. FC’s great rival Staedtler is sadly missing except for the Tradition; however, Stabilo is a surprisingly strong presence here, with blister packs of Othello and Opera pencils and of course their highlighters. I don’t think I’ve seen this many Stabilo erasers up till now.

You’d think that, being so far away from Asia, there would be less Japanese products, but not exactly. Pentel is surprisingly visible. In fact, one of my first stationery shocks was seeing a Pentel ad on a city bus. I believe Korea outspends Uruguay on stationery items many times over, but we still don’t have ads for markers and mechanical pencils on public transportation! This may be a more enlightened continent than ours. Also, it looks like Stabilo has a back-to-school campaign going on with a car as a first-place prize, but I’m not 100% sure as my Spanish is currently nil. (I wish I could show pictures of this poster and other display stands, but here most big stores have security guards posted at the entrance and I didn’t want to attract any undue suspicion.) And I found Olfa cutters here! Bravo Olfa! Now I can get my own egg-yolk-yellow Olfa classic cutter that they didn’t have at the Kyobo Book Center in Seoul!

My son is using smaller notebooks with more pages here. I found the paper quality interesting too; it seems to be in general much thinner (60g/m2) and fluorescent white, compared to the slightly thicker and warmer-toned paper used for student notebooks at home. But I will have to try one myself before posting anything more. I hope I will have some time during the following weeks to sit down and scribble.

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10 thoughts on “First Impressions, Stationery and Otherwise

  1. 풍광이 좋습니다 ^^

    저도 며칠 전에 돌아왔어요. 문구류 쇼핑도 틈틈이 하고 보람찬 여행이었죠.
    짧은 만남이지만 정말 반가웠습니다. “발신” 관련해서는 조만간 메일로 소식 전할께요.

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    1. 오!! 문구선진국에서 어떤 물건들을 사 가지고 오셨을지 궁금해요^^ 여기는 며칠 돌아보니 풍광은 좋은데 문구 쪽으로 발굴할 만한 건 거의 없을 것 같다는 예감이 들긴 해요. 민족지 쓰는 기분으로 연구해 봐아죠 ㅎㅎ

      발신 기대할께요 특유의 날카로운 안목과 유려한 필치로 풀어내는 연필이야기가 많이 그리워요^^

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  2. Exciting times! Please post more stationery updates here…
    Are the notebooks imported? I am just asking because there must be some stationery being made locally, so I thought it might be notebooks.

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    1. Hi Matthias, yes that is one aspect I make a point of finding out. The notebooks are (for the most part, I think) made in Uruguay, but I did see some Argentinian ones, and at least one “Hecho en China”.

      BTW I’m seeing Chinese-made cars and buses for the first time here! @.@

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  3. Interesting! Thanks for sharing your observations, Sola! It’s always fascinating to read what “normal” in other countries is like. Good luck settling in and take your time!

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    1. “Normal” is indeed very different but still interesting :) Today I visited a store which carried Montblanc pens, and they told me they didn’t import bottled inks. Oh my. More surprises to come ;)

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  4. FC is always the biggest stationary brand in Brazil. But the quality is not good like the Germany pencils (Brazilian FC 9000 is so depressing).

    I hope there is quite good Brazilian products (not good if you compare with against Germany or Japanese products) there in Uruguay like the Trident-Desetec rulers and compasses and Cicero notebooks.

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    1. Thank you for letting me know! I will definitely look for Cicero notebooks. I’ve seen a lot of FC school pencils but I didn’t know there were Brazilian-made 9000s too.

      My focus is less on what is available here in terms of my own shopping needs but more on how the selection here impacts stationery habits formed in childhood. I am very curious about what the “staple” items here are like and what people take as the “default”. Sort of an anthropological approach to stationery, in a way? ;) It’s still early days but I have the impression that the presence of big neighbors like Brazil and Argentina and the whole Mercosur arrangement influence the stationery situation to a large degree.

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