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Post Thanksgiving Thoughts from Argentina

November 28, 2012

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.

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Cost of Living Update in Buenos Aires Argentina

August 12, 2012

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.

On Our Way Out of Winter in Buenos Aires

August 8, 2012

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!

The 2nd Annual Buenos Aires Chili Cookoff

June 26, 2012

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.

You Don’t Know Spanish Till You Get Here

March 9, 2012

[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.

Landing Pad Buenos Aires: Use It!

February 3, 2012
So you have arrived in the the buzzing, cultural nucleus of Argentina, otherwise know as Buenos Aires. Tourists flock here in the hundreds, drawn by its eclectic mixture of classical charm, vibrant night-life, alternative trends, straight-laced tradition, heated passion and fascinating but turbulent economical and political history (oh, and let’s not forget the red meat and red wine!). And even though you are one of those hundred tourists visiting, it doesn’t mean you want to be surrounded by them.
Of course when you are preparing for your forthcoming trip you will be scouring the pages of tour guides, and website, enticing yourself with the hundreds of possibilities or tours that will introduce you to this intriguing Latin culture. Surely, your mind will be filled with images of some ill-lit bar littered with the authentic smouldering sexy woman and the beautifully melancholic man, dancing tango to Carlos Gardel’s “Por una Cabeza”; there you will be, in the midst of the ‘real’ Argentinean scene.
The honest truth is it doesn’t quite work like that. As many before you have most likely pictured the same elicit setting, it should be no surprise that most of the tours you consider, restaurants you dine at, bars you booze at will be filled with other tourists gazing at a tired, unauthentic performance, hoping to discover a original life altering Argentinean experience.
How do you avoid a head-on collision with this heart breaking disillusion, to find something a little different, exciting and outside of the ‘tourist-filled Tango house norm’? Well, unless you are prepared to perfect your Spanish along with memorising a copy of the appropriately titled book ‘Che Bouldo’, (which has become a essential expat staple) to speak like a true Buenos Aires Porteno, your best way forward would be to check out Landing Pad BA, offering you an alternative guide to Buenos Aires. Not only do they offer you the more traditional tours such as Buenos Aires wine tastings and visiting Tango houses but also intriguing and colourful tours, that will break you away from the masses and lead you to places you might not have considered without their help (I was certainly interested by ‘The Man Tour’ and ‘The Argentinean Cooking Lessons’!) . Oh, but that is not where it ends. Landing Pad BA offers all kind of insights of the city of Buenos Aires, advice, information, the dos and the don’ts making it easy to you discover this vivacious city and more importantly, how to have fun!

Real Estate Dealings in Argentina

October 22, 2011

In Argentina, real estate is a funny thing. Buenos Aires has seen a boom in real estate since the economic crisis of 2001-2002. But buying and selling real estate in Buenos Aires has to be one of the most ridiculous processes in the history of the world. And I mean that.

First, an inmobiliaria (real estate brokerage) in Buenos Aires are the biggest bunch of crooks out there. They do precisely nothing to help either buyers or sellers to get what they need out of a deal. They are only looking to make money. Not only routinely, but as a RULE, the do not know such simple things as square footage (actually square meterage), the reglamento (zoning) for the property, whether or not the zoning could be changed, and even the price! How could you not know the price of a property you are selling!

Second you have the problem that there is no such thing as escrow in Argentina. This means that literally cash has to be counted out for the purchase of a property. Yes hundreds of thousands of dollars, US Dollars, have to be counted out in order complete a transaction. This is such a simple problem to solve.

Third, all property prices are routinely published in US Dollars yet legally, Argentines are required to do official escritura (the deed to the property, or sale contract or title depending on the context) in Argentine pesos. WHAT?!?! If this is not direct evidence as to the contradictory nature of this country I don’t know what is.

What my business experience has taught me is that clarity and accountability in every possible manner are the keys to success, ease and efficiency. It disappoints me greatly when I see that there are so many obvious solutions to problems that don’t get done. These solutions are not even hard!

More on this in another post as this is truly illustrative of Argentine culture.

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