Impressions and Lessons from Argentina

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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.

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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!

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