I’ve been in Argentina the last 1.5 weeks. Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls, and Cordoba. It’s a beautiful country, inexpensive, good food, friendly people, and functional transportation infrastructure.
It is not exactly undiscovered land. Buenos Aires has become the go-to place for laid-off Wall Street financiers to keep up their lavish lifestyle at half the cost. Argentinean women capture the imagination of men the world over (most recently, Mark Sanford). Even Iguazu Falls has become a stopping ground for Japanese tourists toting fancy cameras. (The litmus test for whether a non-Asia country is tier one is simple: Do Japanese tourists go there?)
Nevertheless, for those new to the country, here are some random high level thoughts and lessons from Argentina. Wield a salt shaker over the massive generalizations to follow.
1. National Pride and Brain Drain: Argentinians love the culture of their country – they especially love their beef and beauty. They do not love their country when it comes to politics or economics. Both sides of this sentiment coin seem well-informed. But the negative stuff is more consequential. When the people don’t trust their politicians or their banks, instability on both fronts follows, which slows overall economic growth and development. Slower growth means fewer opportunities at home, which means the most talented young people in Argentina want to leave for greener pastures abroad.
2. No Means “Not Yet”: The machismo of Latin men is legendary. Argentina does not seem exempt. The men are ridiculously forward in their advances on women. “No” means “not yet.” The women ask for it, though: they reward persistence, and will often decline advances three, four, five times before acceding, just to make a point.
3. Why Do the Buses Play TV Audio on the Loudspeaker? One of the more memorable experiences was taking a 20-hour bus from Iguazu to Cordoba. Steve and I had never taken a bus trip this long; we were sold on the novelty of it all. Novelty aside, the bus experience itself has much to recommend: comfy seats, professional staff, full-service amenities (two meals, drinks, snacks). The big downside? English language movies and music played for hours…on the loud speaker! No headphones requires. Passengers become an involuntary captive audience to the TV. Reading’s impossible.
Is it a stretch to draw a larger conclusion from this practice of blasting the audio through the loudspeaker, which I hear is the custom throughout all of Latin America? It would never happen in the U.S. Imagine getting on a 12 hour flight to Europe and having the TV audio playing loud the entire flight. People would go apeshit. What explains this? Do Americans prize individual preference more? Do Americans read more books or otherwise watch fewer movies and thus less interested in the TV?
4. Creativity and Culture. Buenos Aires likes to consider itself the Paris of South America. Visitors rave about its “creativity” and culture and cosmopolitanism. I noticed the European-esque architecture, but that’s about it. I personally have a low tolerance for self-important, self-styled “artistic” cultures, especially those with a hipster streak. I caught a whiff of this in BA.
5. Nightlife, Schedules, Work Ethic. Everything in Argentina starts late. On weekends, you’ll have dinner at 10 or 11, pre-game at 12:30 or 1, and get to a club around 2 AM and leave at around 5 or 6 AM. This is not an exaggeration. It’s insane. Meanwhile, the business world continues to operate more or less on international time standards – 9:30 to 6:30 workday. Ex-pats tell me being sleep deprived is just a way of life. Also, Sundays are spent sleeping. Of course not everyone parties and goes to clubs, but most young people do, and in the aggregate this must do serious damage to the country’s productivity.
6. Walk Aimlessly. Repeat. This was my travel philosophy in Argentina. Wander the streets and just look at stuff. Talk to people. There aren’t any must-sees in Buenos Aires or Cordoba, at least in my book. This lowers the overall stress. In Paris, if you don’t get to the Eiffel Tower, you’re pissed. You won’t have that feeling in Argentina. You walk around, eat steak, eat ice cream, and observe portenos do their thing. Day-to-day life seems quite pleasant and relaxed.
7. Non-Existent Banking System. Want to buy a house with a mortgage? Tough luck. All cash up front, baby. Want to do a commercial real estate deal in BA? All cash. U.S. dollars. In a briefcase. At the meeting.
Travel strengthens existing relationships. I have fond memories traveling through Japan with my Mom, Costa Rica with Stan and Maria, Prague with Massimo, Spain and Portugal with Austin, and Ecuador with my brother. In Argentina I traveled with Steve Dodson, a friend from San Francisco. We got along famously and the good times were non-stop. (Note: the overriding factor that determines whether a friend would be a good travel partner is his/her flexibility.)
Travel has also birthed new relationships with both locals in other countries and American ex-pats abroad. In Argentina I was grateful for the hospitality of reader and entrepreneur Nathan Labenz, and I’m looking forward to our new friendship. Nathan hosted me in BA and organized our trip to Iguazu. Also thanks to Carlos Miceli and Santiago L. for showing me around town.
Muchas gracias a todos!
10 comments on “Impressions and Lessons from Argentina”
Berlin has a similar late night culture, with some of the “Best clubs” not starting until 4-5am. Young friends in startups here say that it’s acceptable to show up as late as 10am, but still there is a general feeling of sleep-deprivedness for those that try to balance social fun and work success.
Even without workplace timelines, I find it hard to be productive when in the “party timezone.” Starting to work at noon just never feels right!
“Do Americans read more books or otherwise watch fewer movies and thus less interested in the TV?”
This can’t be true can it? I always figured we were the most tv centric culture going.
No meant “not yet” in college as well. I didn’t figure that out in time.
Even in an Argentinian club, your shirt is Sand Hill Rd appropriate! Steve looks like he got some dancing in. Nice!
Surviving in Argentina: http://ferfal.blogspot.com
As to the tv on buses things: happens all over SE Asia as well, not even movies but just blaring local pop music, even on night buses when you’re typically trying to get some sleep. Sometimes the locals would counter it by blaring music on their mobiles w/o headphones right beside you. All in all makes for a horrible bus experience. There could be any number of reasons but maybe in some places that are typically loud regardless (either bc the people speak louder, road noise, etc) it’s probably tolerated. I think it’s more a decision of the company than the passengers as well. In most other countries there’s little idea of customer service as we in the US perceive it so its doubtful people will complain to about it.
As to 4 – everywhere with a larger young population does that or they have a ‘burgeoning’ this or that type of scene. I guess it’s all in how you view it. Pretentiousness is a disease spread worldwide and usually takes larger hold in capitals.
Sounds like a decent trip all in all and always best to be a flâneur in foreign lands.
In the U.S. there is an equally annoying tendency to have music playing all the time everywhere. Ski resorts (even on the mountain, but most noticeably at the base), restaurants, sporting events. No wonder we all need iPods, just to drown out the annoying public music.
Looking forward to doing that 72-hour, SF -> DC bus ride on Greyhound when you’re back in the US. You know, for comparison’s sake.
DaveJ – also true. Most insidious being Muzak. I also find it strange people who can’t sleep w/o a tv on.
Stephen – the only scary thing about Greyhound is some of the downtown bus stations one pulls into
I did find the Argentineans to be movie-obsessed.
One random Tuesday night in BA I went out looking for something interesting to do and saw a bunch of people filing into a bar. I figured there was going to be some music or something, so I wandered in.
Turns out that they were there to watch a movie. They hung a sheet at one end of the bar and watched a film using a projector, so they had to stop every 20 minutes or so because they only had the one projector.
That was helpful, because it was an old film noir classic, in French, with Spanish Subtitles. So every 20 minutes I got to ask for some translation help.
The guy who helped me was originally from BA. He went to school in Europe, had worked at the UN in New York. Very bright guy, and could work anywhere in the world but he chose to live in BA.
They have some serious economic problems there now, but people really love it so I have hope they will figure them out.
I would agree that a serendipitous approach to exploring Buenos Aires can be profitable, but even I was more purpose-driven there than you and your friend Stephen.
I went on a whim with some dorm-mates from my hostel in the trendy middle-class Palermo Viejo (that’s where all the parks are) to Tierra Sante (‘The Holy Land’, a theme park), home of the 18 meter-high fiberglass Jesus who is ‘resurrected’ as he rises with outstretched arms from a fake mountain.
Despite the tawdriness of the concept and the tackiness of its kitschy presentation, a wise-ass like me had to suppress his snickers and check his mocking remarks when he observed that the locals were visibly moved by the spectacle and some even became quite emotional.
I couldn’t help but think that I’d gained some insight into the fervor that lower income and working class Argentines must feel in their devotion to the cult of personality surrounding that Cinderella of the tango, the sainted Eva Perón.
But being a pagan and an unabashed hedonist, afterward I felt that I had to go to a club and cleanse myself.
Surviving a wild cab ride with a gorgeous French brother-sister team, we made a suitably flashy entrance and I ended up dancing with a British footballer.
You might say I got baptized in sweat. Praise be!
Unluckily you didn’t call me.I could have shown you some more things about my city Buenos Aires.I don’t agree with some of things pointed out in your post, but it’ll take along time to discuss it.
Thanks for your visit and don’t forget drop me a line next time.It’ll be great to spend some time showing you around.