I am floored, absolutely flabbergasted. Get ready because this is going to be a rant. I am going to attempt to not use foul language or be unfair, but the lack of common sense in customer service in this country is ASTOUNDING. If you want to hear a truly well balanced, in depth analysis of the culture of service in Argentina, plus which nationalities do the best service and make the best customers, listen to my podcast in Buenos Aires, The Buenos Aires Podcast in about 30 days, when we will be uploading a documentary on this subject replete with interviews, chamullos, songs and skits.
Yesterday I went by Las Cortaderas in Las Canitas, which is basically the only good place that has pies and cheesecakes, to see what they had for my wife’s birthday. I spoke with the owner, who told me I could get a lemon pie if I come by in the morning and that it cost 80 pesos. Expensive, but what the heck.
What is astounding is that I call this morning, because I know that in Argentina it can’t just be as easy as “come by and its all good”, so I call. I tell the person who answers the phone that I had come by, that the owner told me that a small lemon pie costs 80 pesos, and ask them to confirm that they had it there, ready to go. Here is the dialogue that followed:
Him: Did you want the big or the small?
Me: The owner told me it cost 80 pesos, whichever that one is.
Oh I don’t know which one that is.
How many different ones do you have?
Large and a small. For how many people is it for?
What do the large and small each cost?
How many people is it for?
It does not matter, I want the one that costs 80 pesos. Which one is that?
Hang on let me ask the kitchen if we can make one. Do you need it today?
Would you like me to check to see if we can make one today? (WHAAAAT!!!?!?)
(5 minutes later) We can have one for you after 2pm.
I need it before 3pm though. Can you make sure it’s done by 3pm?
Let me check…. (5 more minutes)… You can come by after 2pm.
But WILL IT BE DONE BY 3pm!!!???
Yes, I think so. Now did you want the small or the large?
I want the one that costs 80 pesos. I don’t understand what is so hard about this. I spoke with the owner yesterday and he told me that the pie I looked at cost 80 pesos. Which one is that?
How many people is it for?
OH MY GOD!!! I thought, how can this person seriously not understand how stupid they are being. But this happens over and over and over again! Why? I am sure at this point that it only has to do with the fact that Argentines get used to this at such a young age. When you are disappointed over and over again, repeatedly, and recognize that your institutions fail you constantly, you get numb to it. So when there is a little bad customer service like the above, you don’t sweat it as much as we Americans do.
Another warm and humid Thanksgiving has come and gone, which right away describes how I feel about certain aspects of the Holidays down here in Buenos Aires. No turkey (unless you search high and low), no easy way to make pumpkin pie (you can but you have to actually take real pumpkin and make it… imagine using fresh vegetables!), no stuffing in a box, no gravy mix, no canned cranberry. But you know what? I’m over it. I worked on Thanksgiving, and thought nothing of it. I didn’t even call my family (that day… I called them on the weekend).
So what does that mean? Am I becoming Argentine? No, I don’t think so. I am just lazy. Thanksgiving is not easy in the USA, you do have to go to the supermarket and do some cooking, but it is so soo soooooo much more easy to do in the USA than it is here. Here, literally, you have to fight for every single step of what you would consider to be a standard piece of Thanksgiving dinner. Except mashed potatoes. Unless you wanted to make whipped potatoes (which include sour cream)!! We don’t have sour cream!
And this leads me to think of Christmas and New Years TRAFFIC in Buenos Aires. Yes that is the first thing I think of when I think holidays in Argentina. Well the second actually. The first thing I think of is heat. Oh so sweltering, sweaty, humid and sticky heat. Air conditioning is such a must during the Holidays here. Because there is still all kinds of hot and heave food you eat.
And the third thing I think of is noise. Fireworks and explosions straight out of Lebanon in the 1980s. It seriously feels like a warzone on Christmas. So much for the sober holiday we are used to in the USA!!
I almost forgot the 4th thing: Christmas is at night! And its not on Christmas! It’s Noche Buena, which is the night before!
Now that I have bitched and moaned, let me tell you about what I love love love love about Christmas in Buenos Aires! LOVE… I love the fact that people don’t go ape shit over buying presents. This makes up for literally everything else above times a million. Easily. I hate, so much, the ridiculous, obnoxious, entitled and spoiled society of the USA between about November 15 and January 2. There is so much hype about Holiday shopping that nearly all retail companies plan their entire fiscal year around this. It is insane and should be put in check.
One of the most frequently asked questions I get as a long time expat living in Buenos Aires is how much does it cost to live there? Well like any other city you can make it much cheaper or much more expensive based on how you live and where you live.
Also, since many expats recently have been complaining about how inflation is eating into their budget and how Argentina is less of a deal than it once was, I thought I would dispel the rumors and put a stop to this nonsense of people saying that Argentina is expensive.
Argentina is CERTAINLY *NOT* EXPENSIVE. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Not compared to any major North American or European City, at all, in any way whatsoever. How do I know. I have recently traveled to the UK, France, Italy, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Oregon, Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Tokyo.
The only ones of these cities that are even close to the same category as Argentina are the cities in Thailand that I mentioned.
But here are the numbers for how a young couple could live in Buenos Aires.
Rent for a 2 bed/2 bath apartment, in the Palermo area (a top neighborhood), of reasonable to nice ambiance/amenities, about 70 square meters, will cost about 700 to 900 US dollars per month. More if you want bigger and nicer, less (WAY WAY LESS!!!!) if you go to another neighborhood and have modest accommodations. You can still easily get an apartment like this for 500 dollars per month in many parts of the city and in the interior in Mendoza or Rosario you can get apartments for 300 easily.
Food: here is where you win the most compared to the USA and Europe. Supermarket shopping, especially for meats and produce is super cheap. I estimate that all of our food costs are about 15 US dollars for TWO people per day (excluding dining out). That is 450 per month for TWO people!!
Transportation: another huge win! Argentina has the cheapest public transportation in the world without exception. It costs 25 cents US for a bus ride. Taxis are still cheap too at about 5 dollars for a 15 minute taxi ride.
Dining out: I have heard so many people complain about this… well yes prices have risen, but in 2004 through about 2008 they were just giving stuff away! It was silly and ridiculous the prices they were charging for things. I could pay 8 US dollars for a massive steak dinner with wine and dessert. Now I pay 20 to 25 and a *very nice* steak house with wine and dessert per person. Where can you get that in the USA or Europe? NOWHERE!!
Health insurance is a joke! It is soooo cheap here! Recently I didnt have health insurance and I started having severe headaches and so my Doctor in the USA told me I needed and MRI immediately to rule out the possibility of an aneurism. I was very afraid of how much that would cost. But anyway, I found a specialty lab and convinced them to let me pay out of pocket… how much did that cost? about 90 US dollars. In the USA out of pocket this would cost 1000.
And monthly insurance is the same: about 100 dollars per month for tremendous coverage that even goes so far as to *include* an aesthetic surgery *for free* every 2 years. Are you kidding me?
Suffice it to say, yes, Argentina has gotten more expensive from 2004, when I got here, but it is completely incorrect to say that it is expensive because it just isnt. It is still a great deal in many categories, especially the basic ones like rent, food, transportation and health care.
Now, what is a terrible deal here? Electronics, clothing, household appliances and furniture. All of that stuff is 2-3 times more expensive here than in the USA. Fortunately, these are the things you can make due with less of.
It always cracks me up when I see portenios bundled up in two scarves, a hat, a sweater and a jacket, when it’s 60 degrees Fahrenheit outside. The truth of the matter is that it never really gets that cold here! The weather, judging by how much people in Buenos Aires complain about it, you would think is awful, but it is actually super mild. I go workout nearly every morning in Palermo park (Los Bosques de Palermo) and I wear jogging pants and a long sleeved shirt. This is what a person in Portland would wear to go running outside when it’s 35! Check out www.bacast.com for some funny comments on this topic.
The best months to come to Buenos Aires, however, are always the transitional ones: March April May and October November. In these months it is still dry enough to not get the infamous torrential downpours that Buenos Aires can have, and warm enough to wear light clothing (no matter where you are from (unless you are from a tropical country!)). You can do an outdoor asado (Argentine barbecue), go visit an Estancia, and on some days its even warm enough for a swim.
October and November are also the months when everyone in Buenos Aires starts going out and socializing more. They have been cooped up inside for too long and want to go out and hang out… as only portenios can: with hours upon hours of chatty, gossipy (“chusmeando” in River Plate Spanish) conversation.
This is also when I personally love trying the latest vintages of all the wines at a wine tasting in Buenos Aires. As I’m sure you know by now, I am fascinated by Malbec, Torrontes and especially Bonarda and since the harvest season in Argentina is in March, usually the young wines come out in the springtime here. Salud!
YES! This is one of the most awesome events out there… why? It is a mix of many of my favorite things: different cultures (American food in Buenos Aires), different ingredients, competition, charity, social gathering… what’s not to like.
You can see the event on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/events/157926251004661/
This Sunday, July 1, Borges 1750 just off of Plaza Serrano at 2pm prompt! We are expecting a huge turnout so come early because we will definitely run out of Chili.
[Guest post by Spencer Omuemu who arrived 3 weeks ago in Buenos Aires]
When I boarded my flight for Argentina I thought I knew how to speak Spanish. By the time I arrived in Chile for my layover and was sitting in the airport waiting for the flight to Argentina I knew I didn’t know how to speak Spanish. Sitting in the airport and listening to everyone around me speak in Spanish was intimidating to say the least. Little did I know that I hadn’t even seen the worst of it yet. This was the one aspect of Buenos Aires tourism that you would only understand if you actually came.
When I stepped off the plane and entered the airport terminal everything was in Spanish. Everything from the bathroom signs to the direction signs were all in Spanish. Nevertheless, I could still read them so I was ok. After leaving the airport I got into a conversation with the taxi cab driver named Ernesto and that is when I realized I was in trouble. When he began speaking I could only pull out one or two words and I couldn’t formulate responses. I finally realized what it felt like to be international. One thing I did understand is when I asked him “How do you think my Spanish is?” and he replied it is ok but here you will improve a lot. After that I realized I didn’t have to understand everything right away and it was not the end of the world if I could barely articulate myself to local argentines for now.
So for the past few weeks, while working at a Buenos Aires wine tasting company, I have been trying to practice speaking in Spanish whenever possible. Whether it is going to the grocery store and looking for Malbec wines or taking to every taxi cab driver I run into whenever I am able to I have tried to speak with a local argentine. I hope when I leave I will eventually sound like one.