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The Things I will Miss and Not Miss about Living in Argentina
Province of Buenos Aires
I came to the southernmost country of South America in February 2010 and lived in Argentina for three years. Being German and used to things being organized, on time and regulated, it was not easy, not easy at all. But I remember I was yearning for an adventure in 2010. I wanted to escape the rainy everyday life in Germany and the moodiness of the people. I wanted to be in a warm, friendly country where I could be somebody else and become somebody else. I did become somebody else indeed. And I learned to appreciate my home country and everything we have which I was complaining about before.
Unlike most foreigners, I don’t live in the capital of Buenos Aires. I live in the province of Gran Buenos Aires and I can tell you the differences are extraordinary. The province of Buenos Aires is nothing like the capital. It is like two worlds co-existing next to each other. The Americans and Europeans coming to Argentina don't cross the borders of the capital. There are basically no Germans or any other foreigners living in the province. According to native Argentineans living in the capital, the province is an extremely dangerous place and should be avoided at all times. Frankly, nothing has ever happened to me in the province apart from an ATM swallowing my money. They money was debited from my German bank account although there had been no payout. I am still trying to solve that issue with my bank but I am pretty sure I will not get my money back. Apart from this issue, I have been safe though (Knock on wood!). The thing is I don’t like big cities. This is why I decided to live in the province of Buenos Aires after suffering 4 months in Palermo, which is an expensive neighborhood in downtown Buenos Aires. I could hear ambulances at night and I had trouble sleeping. I think it is a good thing that I don't like big cities though, otherwise I would never have come to know Argentina the way I did. After having lived in the province for more than 2 years, I really got to know life in the land of the Gauchos. I was not enjoying the nice pubs and bars in Palermo and hanging out in Recoleta and Puerto Madero and the top tourist locations of Buenos Aires. I was living in a real Argentina province, where tourists don't dare to go.
The things I will miss
Argentineans become your friends instantly. There is usually no personal distance between people and they might call you “mi amor” (my love) after having known you for only a minute. It think it is sweet and I love being able to start a conversation about basically anything with a salesperson in a store or just a perfect stranger on the street. You really have the feeling they are ready to adopt you.
Argentineans tell you they don't speak Spanish but rather "Castellano" which is the language with which they associate their accent, their colloquialisms and their modified use of grammar. Argentineans use the second person singular pronoun "vos", not the Spanish "tu". In Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, vos is even used in formal writing as well as in the television media. Vos even has a different conjugation. I will definitely miss hearing the "vos". Whenever people heard me speak with my German accent they asked me "De donde sos?" (Where are you from?). In Spain they would say "De donde eres?". You can see the verb changes completely. "Mira vos!" was one of the first words I heard when I came to Argentina. It can be translated as "Wow, look at you!" or "that's pretty amazing". I will also miss the Argentinean accent. In Rioplatense Spanish, the "y" and "ll" are pronounced like the two "s" in the English word mission. Those of you who know some Spanish will understand the difference.
Argentinean Reggae Band using the Argentinean "vos" in one of their songs
Argentineans are very helpful towards foreigners. At least I made that experience. If I hadn’t been offered help many times, I would have left the country a long time ago. Without help you cannot survive in Argentina. Argentineans and people from Latin America in general are group-focused. They believe that the group is more important than the individual and that the group provides help and safety, in exchange for loyalty. This culture is referred to as a communitarian culture. Communitarian cultures include countries in Latin-America, Africa, and Japan. In contrast, in countries such as the US, Canada, the UK, Scandinaiva, New Zealand, Australia and Germany, people believe that it is good to make your own decisions. They believe in freedom and that you have to take care of yourself. I also noticed this difference between my culture and the Argentinean culture. Argentineans are very much emotionally attached to their families and few of them would be ready to live in another country away from their families, even if they had the chance to, financially speaking.They are not lone fighters like in Europe or the US and they depend on each other. I can say that this really helped me significantly. When I needed to rent an apartment, I needed a guarantor who would assume responsibility for my debt obligation towards the real estate company. This is very common in Argentina when you are renting. You either pay an incredibly high rent or you have a guarantor. However, I don't have any family member in Argentina who could have been my guarantor so I thought my case was hopeless. I was talking about this issue with the taxi driver who always took me to the airport and home and wherever I had to go. Without hesitating, he offered himself to became my guarantor, as if it was nothing. I was very grateful to him. This is actually a very generous act as the real estate company legally has the right to touch the guarantor’s property if I weren’t able to pay my rent. I learned that there was nothing I couldn’t have asked my Argentinean friends and I know that when I am in trouble, they are there to help me as much as they can with the limited resources they have. I could count on my neighbors and friends and even my taxi driver. They were always there when I needed them.
Argentineans love to invite people over for "asado" (Argentinean barbecue), a wholly ritual where Argentineans eat fatty meat that is grilled for up to three hours on their "parilla", the stone grill that everyone has in their backyard or terrace. "Merienda" takes place in the afternoon. During merienda, Argentineans drink "mate" which is a traditional South American infused drink. It is very popular in Argentina and Uruguay. What shocked me at first is that several people drink this tea from the same "cup". They pass around the cup and everyone sips the tea through a metal straw until there is no more liquid inside the cup. Then they refill the cup with hot water and possibly add sugar or sweetener and the cup is passed to the next person. Sharing mate with friends is very common among young as well as old people. Argentineans loved offering me mate when I went to their house and if I wasn't a vegetarian they would also have loved sharing the grilled meat with me. My friends also invited me to their house in the province of Cordoba where I stayed for a week during the Argentinean summer and I was able to get to know “the interior” of Argentina, where the afternoon siesta is even whollier than in Buenos Aires and they speak stretching the vowels and swallowing the "s".
Small shops and relationship between salespersons and customers
In the province where I live, the owners of the shops still have a special relationship with the customers. They know each other, they greet the customer by his name and they have a nice chit chat with each other during the entire purchasing process. In Europe and the US, you are just one of hundreds of anonymous people shopping in the huge super- and hypermarkets. In Argentina, every customer is very special and there is no need to rush, even if there are 20 customers waiting in line. And customers wait in line patiently, even hours. You won't hear a complaint from them. This is something I will truly miss. I will miss the place where I buy my fruits and vegetables every day. My boyfriend and I always have a friendly chat with the lady selling the vegetables and she often offers us to taste some of her food from the country where she comes from: Bolivia. She is a real sweetheart and I will miss the way she greets us when we pass sometimes by without buying anything.
Argentineans admiration for Europe
Once I went to buy a watch for my boyfriend and I got along really well with the saleswoman who was also the owner of the shop. She was asking me: “What are you doing here? You are from the first world. Get out of here! Everything is screwed up here!”. Many people I met showed the same reaction when I told them where I am from. Argentineans really admire Germany and Europe in general. They dream of traveling to Europe and seeing all the wonderful places they only know from the media. I was surprised to find out that many Argentineans have never even left their own country. Distances are much greater in South America than in Europe and plane tickets are expensive, especially as the Argentine peso has so little value compared to the Euro and the Dollar. The native Argentineans who are lucky enough to possess the financial resources to travel to Europe are considered to be one of the “better ones” and belong to the upper middle class.
Official and unofficial increase of consumer prices
First they confirm, then they cancel
Argentineans prefer confirming they will show up after receiving an invitation and canceling later then canceling right away even though they already know they won’t show up. This has angered me quite a lot of times and it is something I definitely cannot get used to. I really need people around me that I can rely on and unfortunately, I was disappointed a lot in Argentina. Because quite a lot of times I invited my friends over to have dinner with us and many times, they just canceled on the spot. And this is not pleasant if you prepared a nice barbecue and bought the food and got really excited and then they send a cancellation by text message.
The things I will not miss
No Cash at ATMs
This was one of the biggest and most annoying problem I encountered. Whenever it was time to pay rent, which meant picking up a larger sum than usually, I had a problem. Because no matter how much money you have on your bank account, there is always a limit you can pick up every day. And it is a very small limit in Argentina. I learnt that this is an unofficial way of controlling inflation in Argentina. Now if you haven't exceeded that daily limit and you go to an ATM, full of hope of being able to get money today, that ATM might not be equipped with cash. It could happen that all three ATMs in your neighborhood won't have cash and if you don't have a car, this could really cause problems for you. As it did for me many times.
The inflation is a huge problem in Argentina and prices are constantly rising. Recently the taxi prices were raised by 35% and you really feel this in your pocket. Groceries are also becoming expensive here, especially meat, milk products and grains. The National Statistics and Censuses Institute (INDEC) is an agency run by the Argentine government that is responsible for collecting and processing statistical data, including the inflation rate, the consumer price index and unemployment figures. According to INDEC, the inflation in the first half of 2012 was at 9.7%. However, there are private-sector economists and statistical offices of provincial governments that show an inflation two to three times higher than INDEC’s number. Surveys have shown an inflation running at 25-30%.
Dulce de Leche Muffins
- The Things I Will Miss and Not Miss About Argentina Part II
Argentina has been marked by rising inflation, continuous blackouts, floodings, protests against the governments and strikes of public services. It has been getting harder for me living in Argentina and my life quality has degraded. This is an update
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Dulce de Leche
Dulce de Leche is a sweet substance made by slowly heating sweetened milk to create a product that tastes like caramelized sugar. It is very popular in Argentina and Uruguay and is contained in basically any type of chocolate bar, muffin, cookie, alfajor etc. Now if you are not such a huge fan of dulce de leche, you will have a hard time finding sweets that don’t have it. Being German, I am more of a Nutella fan, but unfortunately, Nutella is expensive here and I would have to pay 5 Euros for the smallest glass here.
The Afternoon Siesta
Argentineans don’t like to feel stressed. They really consider their afternoon siesta to be holy. And this is nice if you are one of those people that like to take a nap in the afternoon. However, in the province of Buenos Aires, you cannot buy anything between 1pm and 5pm. Stores are closed and they are really serious about it. And don’t count on them opening punctually. 10 or 20 minutes later is nothing, but yes, they do close on time, maybe even 2 minutes earlier. When I say Argentineans don’t like to work, I don’t mean to offend them. It is just that they have a different understanding of discipline and commitment than Germans do.
The Plastic Mania
Don’t expect to be able to use a cotton grocery bag to carry your groceries in. If you go to a supermarket here, plastic bags are forced upon you, so you can forget caring about the environment. Once I refused to put my groceries into a plastic bag and I was asked: “Why don’t you want a plastic bag?” And I was like: “It is not good for the environment." The reaction was bewilderment. I don't know if we exaggerate with saving the environment in Germany but I still think everyone should join in at least as much as they can.
The meat addiction
“Si no comes carne no podes estar de pie” is something every Argentinean would tell you. It means if you don’t eat meat you don’t have the strength to be on your feet. And this statement really reflects the Argentine meat-eating culture. Argentinean cities are divided into “cuadras” which means blocks. In every block, you will probably find a “carniceria” which is a butcher’s shop. They are more common here than pharmacies, supermarkets, home improvement stores or clothing shops. When I tell Argentineans that I am a vegetarian, a very typical answer is: “That is why you are so white”. Or “And what about chicken?” Yes, some of them don’t consider chicken to be meat. Nevertheless, my Argentinean friends are very understanding when it comes to my special “diet”. When I am invited for an “asado” which is the Argentinean barbecue, my friends usually prepare a salad for me (as this is really all vegetarians eat). And I can see the pity in their eyes when they pass around the meat and dig into a piece of fatty grilled meat. I always want to say: “There is no need for pity. I am a very happy vegetarian”. But they wouldn’t believe me anyway.
All in all, I can say I don't regret coming to Argentina. It is another world and another mentality and you need to go through quite a lot of adjustments in order to be able to live and work here. But I made it and I can say I am another person now, with different expectations and a different view of the world. I am leaving Argentina stronger than I ever was before and ready to take on any challenge that comes. I have learned that there is no perfect country and no perfect culture in this world and that we need to respect and love each other, independent of the country of origin and cultural background.