It could quite possibly be the best feeling in the world when you get that phone/Skype call/email/Facebook message from your loved ones saying ‘hey…we have decided to come and visit you in Buenos Aires’. Images of all the fun times you are going to have together start to whirl around in your head, transforming yourself into a renewed and fresh faced tourist rather than a somewhat rundown Buenos Aires expat. Just when your imagination runs away with itself you read the next line ‘can you be a darl’ and find us a flat to rent?’ and you come crashing back to the dog poo smeared sidewalks of Buenos Aires. Ouch. And so the process begins; trawling through page after page of apartments, trying to find the perfect combination of location, amenities, quality and price.
OK, the chore doesn’t sound THAT bad, especially as said love one’s are mostly likely paying a bucket load of money to fly to the other side of the world to come and visit you but it can work out to be a rather time consuming exercise. First you find at least 10 apartments that you think will fit the bill, so you link an email up and ship it out. You hear back from your nearest and dearest almost a week later, who are only listing 2 apartments as suitable options. You contact the agent and its no surprise that those were every man’s and his dog’s favorite apartments; FULLY BOOKED! A red line is drawn through and the process starts again.
Maybe, if you are lucky, on your third attempt you’ll have a winner; the family like it, good price and it’s available. YES. ‘Can you go and check it out for us?’ the family says. So you rally with the agent, use sweet pervasive language and flutter some eyelashes and they unwillingly let you view the property. Photos lie. Sooooooo, you start again….
It’s not always this complicated and to make it lest so here are my favorite websites to look to give you a head start!
Oasiscollections.com: luxury apartments spread all around the city catering to every taste but mostly to the traveler that has a pretty penny to spend. Excellent, efficient staff that make the entire booking process an absolute pleasure.
Friendlyrentals.com: Simple to luxurious apartments with a simple online booking process.
Airbnb.com: this is a given, the world over. Private homeowners take to the World Wide Web to promote their humble abode as a great base to enjoy vacations. A huge variation; the good the bad and the ugly are definitely in there somewhere.
Poetrybuilding.com: These luxurious apartments meets boutique hotel. This building is home to a small selection of apartments based in Recoleta that boast total elegance and taste.
dulcehogarbue.com.ar: Not an English speaking friendly website, with a smallish selection but a good variation of accommodation.
santelmoloft.com: 6 great options for all budgets and travelers. Super friendly owners go out of their way to make your stay comfortable and will be able to point you in the right direction for things-to-do in Buenos Aires.
Christmas. It has been the latest entry to add to my list of grumbles about my life as an expat in Buenos Aires. Christmas (to me) means cold weather, twinkling decoration lights hanging from each street corner and lamp, cheesy Christmas tunes blurring out of every shop front, crap Christmas films on the TV schedule and most importantly the food and the booze. Pink Champagne, mulled wine, turkey, stuffing, brussel sprouts, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, pigs in blankets, Christmas pudding and brandy.
Apart from the odd bit of sad looking tinsel hanging from the rafters, a viewing of Home Alone 3 (not even the original goddamnit!) and ONE Christmas song on the radio on Christmas eve, a Christmas in Buenos Aires involved none of my ‘What Christmas Means’ list.
It was hot and sweaty for starters; and I know many people will be thinking ‘oh, how nice, I could do with a bit of sun right now!’ but this was just unpleasant, you know, that kind of hot when your eyelids sweat even at 12 o’clock at night…which is another thing. They celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve here rather than Christmas Day. I know it’s a tradition for many Latin cultures and probably for the best considering it was a whole 2 degree cooler at night than in the day, but I still can’t get my head around it. The music is Argentine folklore, old school cumbia and even the national Anthem thrown in because why not. Where the heck is ‘All I want for Christmas’ and ‘White Christmas’?
And the food…pah! You would think in the the heat they would go for lighter options, cooling for the body…but no. Just stodgy cold cuts of meat like matambre, thick creamy (cold sauces), heavy potato salad and deviled eggs. If you are going to be stuffing yourself with all that I don’t get why they don’t just prepare a real hearty turkey dinner and be done with it? At least the wine is good. That is something that Argentina does do well, thank goodness, so let it drown my bah humbug sorrow’s.
Of all the things that I miss about Christmas at home, nothing could beat watching my husband dress up as Father Christmas to surprise the little people after midnight. With a HO HO HO and red jolly (somewhat strained) face he burst into the scene with bundles of gifts at the ready. The absolute wonder and joy spread across every child face was worth missing out on all those things I know and love about Christmas and maybe one day, this will be my kind of Christmas too….but with bread sauce on the side please.
So you did it. You were bogged down in the day to day routine that was slowly sending you mind numbing mad, so you said ‘to heck with all you and everything I know, I’m outta here’. You packed up your life and moved to shiny new lands afar and you have become an expat or, if you are going to be grammatically correct an expatriate.
Maybe you didn’t do this, but I did; three years ago I said goodbye to my British life and moved it to Argentina, making me a Buenos Aires expat. It was great; I could get my hands on the best Argentine wine, abundant sunshine and a sexy Argentine man to get me all hot and bothered, but after two months of being drunk, sunburnt and stuck to this guys’ face I realized something; I was lonely. Where the blooming heck are my friends? On a rainy little island called England, that’s where!
So I took it upon myself to get off my arse and find some! If you are in the same boat as I was, then a few of the following tips might help you to reconnect with society:
- · Join BAExpats.com and write a sad post stating you want to meet people
Yes, it embarrassing but there are people out there who feel the same, so just bite the bullet and do it. You will meet freaks, men who want to jump your bone and people that stalk you, but somewhere in there you might just meet a gem of a person.
- · Get a Job and smile nicely at your new work colleagues
I’m sure that was pretty high on the list of thing to do anyway, but not the easiest task to complete if you don’t already come to Buenos Aires with work sponsorship. Teaching English is by far the most popular option for an English speaking expat but there are other options out there for you. Go check out craigslist Buenos Aires…ok, ok, you have to really rummage through the sea of turd that are supposable job offers, but you never know. You might just find the job of your dreams!
- · Join a Club
There’s something for everyone out there. Hockey girls, get your sticks to the ready, Rugby boys’ time for some male groping…sorry, I mean tackling. All local clubs will allow us foreigners to join in to the daily grunting and battering that come with both sports. Into yoga? There are plenty of options out there for you; a person favorite of mine is BuenaOnda Yoga, run by a group of lovely Expat ladies. Or are you Cross Fit obsessed? You are in luck; Cross Fit is taking over Buenos Aires as we speak. Not one of these athletic types? How about joining a book club or a writing class at Walrus book store.
- · Wine and Dine yourself at Buenos Aires closed door restaurants
Closed door restaurants have been taking over Buenos Aires for the last couple of years and guess what….most of them are owned by Expats. The setup is normally like a dinner party, where you can meet fellow dinners allowing you to make buddies while enjoying some delicious scram AT THE SAME TIME. Some of my favorites in are NOLABuenosAires, iLatina and Steaks by Luis.
….and if all else fails, get dolled up and get drunk. Your inner phone number whore will be released upon the Buenos Aires society and do the rest for you.
Americans! URGENT! Get your visa to come to Argentina *before* you go to the airport! There are tons of people who are being sent back to the US from Argentine immigration because they did not bring the proof of payment of their visa. Please do not try to use logic to understand the wherefore’s and what-have-you’s of this situation. It is completely ridiculous (not the reciprocity fee, the how it is enacted). The reciprocity fee to enter Argentina is, just this, reciprocal to what Argentines have to pay to go to the USA. However, since Argentina is only interested in collecting the money (fine by me!) and not in the immigration aspect of whether or not Americans are staying in Argentina illegally, one would think that you could simply pay the fee upon arrival. This was the case up until about 6 months ago. Now, however, you must go to Provincia Pagos, part of the Argentina Immigration (Migraciones) website, which allows you to pay the fee and get the crucial and required proof of payment with barcode (barcode needed!!) in order to enter Argentina.
Here are the gory details, WHICH YOU SHOULD READ, since in Argentina it always comes down to the gory details that will prevent you from some major ordeal.
1. The proof of payment will only be emailed to you ONCE. It will NEVER EVER be emailed to you again. Not ever. Not if you log into your account that you create via the Provincia Pagos website.
2. When you pay the reciprocity fee / visa to enter Argentina you have to create an account to do so that asks you for some basic info. This account is then WORTHLESS afterward because it does not in any way corroborate the proof of payment of your visa. If you happen to accidentally delete the email with the proof of payment, send it to the wrong email address or otherwise mess it up, look forward to a long, arduous, tortuous process of calling Migraciones en Argentina in order to try to get another one, which they will undoubtedly NOT do (I just went through this with my mother who was visiting!!). Instead they will simply look up whether you paid the fee on their system and say “don’t worry just come on through.”
So why, you ask, am I ranting about this? Well…
3. The airlines have been misinformed by Migraciones (Argentine Immigration)!!! They have been informed that they should ONLY ever let people on the plane who have the receipt of payment with barcode. They detained my mother in Atlanta because of this and she had come TWICE before in this year (2013). Why? They were only doing what they were told by Migraciones. So it will be the airline who will likely detain you since they feel you have adequate paperwork. Why?
Well it turns out that the Argentine government is fining the airlines $10,000 usd for every single person who has to be sent back from immigration upon arrival, so the airlines have a big incentive to be strict about this.
Can you say quilombo?
Let’s start with a basic concept that works all around the world: don’t be stupid! Use common sense. The only times I have ever had stuff happen to me in Buenos Aires is because I was being stupid and I gave a criminal an opportunity.
Every big city around the world, regardless has bad neighborhoods, pick pockets, and criminals who are waiting for opportunities. If you walk around texting on your iphone, wearing jewelry, at night, in La Boca (not a good neighborhood) then your chances of getting robbed are way way higher. If you are sitting at an outdoor cafe, with an ipad or laptop and your cell phone at your side and you are gabbing away in English via skype into your computer, you are making yourself a very obvious target.
I look like a foreigner, and despite speaking perfect Spanish with a near perfect accent, most portenos can tell within the first conversation with me that I am not from here. That means that I need to take extra precautions.
I was robbed in my apartment, while I was there, in early 2007. It was an extremely traumatic experience to see a stranger at the foot of my bed at 330am with my laptop. When he saw me wake up, he ran onto the balcony and basically jumped down the 20 or so feet that it was to get to the ground because by the time I got to the balcony he was gone.
But this robbery happened because I was careless with my windows on my balcony. We had left our sliding glass door open to let the air in on this 100+ degree day, and had fell asleep with it open. My wife, who is Argentine, had repeatedly told me that if we did that that we would be robbed.
But besides this one incident I can categorically say that I have not had one other single run in with thieves or criminals. But I can also tell you that this is because I take precautions to protect myself. Stay in groups. Don’t walk home alone at night. Don’t speak English super loud on the bus or subway, which is obviously a place where pick pockets can thrive. Lock your windows and doors. Keep your purses, wallets and backpacks strapped to your front, diagonal across you, or when sitting on the street, looped through the leg of a table or chair. Just don’t be stupid!
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.