Things I Will Miss and Not Miss About Argentina
The political crisis
Argentina is facing another political crisis. The last few weeks have been marked by protests of hundreds of thousands of civilians against the head of state Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, strikes and paralysations of the entire public transport systems, power cuts of large areas of the downtown area as well as many suburbs and inundation of streets and private houses, the latter of which is nothing out of the ordinary in Buenos Aires.
There are 6 days left before I will leave Argentina for good. Last time I wrote about what I will miss and not miss about Argentina was in May 2012. Since then, things have not become better, but worse.
The middle class in the cities is fed up with corruption and the rise of money devaluation and crime. It almost seems ironic that in the midst of all these problems and the population’s dissatisfaction with the system, the president of Argentina is trying to introduce a constitutional reform under which the president may stand as a candidate for a third term of office. The first general strike under C. Kirchner was founded on the high tax burden of up to 25% for salaries equal or higher than 5800 pesos (approximately 1000 Euros). This salary is hardly enough to pay the costs of living for a family of 2 adults and 2 children in the downtown area. With constantly rising prices of food, products and services, the quality of life is degrading significantly over time. The population is desperate.
Against inflation, the government has banned the purchase of foreign currencies, restricted imports in order to avoid currency drains and is thus limiting investments that are absolutely necessary. The antique electricity network in Buenos Aires has collapsed numerous times in the last few months due to heat waves during which all air conditionings in the town and suburbs are running at full blast. The canalization is rotten and a water runoff during heavy rains which have occurred on many days is not taking place.
The president’s reaction was self-praise and inflexibility. She published on Facebook: Argentina is experiencing a freedom of speech never experienced before and no one should ask her to contradict her politics that she has been defending since her 16th birthday. The problem is that there is currently no strong opposition in Argentina and they do not seem to reach any common denominator.
Blackout in Buenos Aires
The things I will not miss
Hard living conditions
Living under these conditions, it has very difficult for me to work. I work as a freelancer translator and foreign languages teacher from home and I am dependent on the internet. With power cuts several times a month, unexpected floods in our apartment, I am wasting a lot of time and money for services that I am dependent on.
When it rains for a day, it is almost impossible to go out and run errands. You need to be able to jump across little rivers that have formed on streets but sometimes the rivers are so big that you will definitely have to walk through them to reach the other side of the street.
It almost seems like prices are increasing every day now. I paid 3.50 for a liter of milk a year ago. The price then rose to 4 pesos, 4.50, 5.00, 5.50 and has now reached 6 pesos. An inflation of 10%, as claimed by the government, cannot be further from the truth.
The Argentinean Tranquility
As my schedule is filled, I try to use the little breaks I have during the day to take of things like going to the bank or paying bills which you have to do at the local post office in cash. I have already written about standing in line here for 30-40 minutes at an ATM. It doesn’t only seem to be the machines that are working slow though but also the people. In average, I take between 30 seconds and 1 minute at an ATM. I press an average of 4 buttons and can take my cash. Argentineans take 3 minutes in average and when you have 20 people waiting in line, this can be a real pain.
Argentineans prefer to confirm when you ask them whether they will attend your birthday party, meet you at a place or help you with something you have to do in your house. However, this confirmation is by no means a confirmation in the German sense. The Argentinean confirmation is simply a gesture of politeness in order not to hurt the other person’s feelings. They prefer to say yes, already knowing they are not going to show up, rather than say no and being honest. Most of the time, Argentineans show up late without letting you know in advance, send you a message 5 minutes before saying they will be 2 hours late or not show up at all without sending any message.
Germans are known to be too honest and direct sometimes. This is perceived by other cultures as rudeness. In Argentina, the opposite is the case. Argentineans tell you they love you, they adore you, they feel like you are their brother or sister and the next day, they have already forgotten you. They treat you like their best friend when they see you and tell you you look beautiful, have never looked better and your outfit is fantastic. Most of the time, they don’t really mean it or at least they are exaggerating to a great extent but they just wouldn’t tell you the truth.
A lack of Christmas feelings
This is my third year with temperatures of over 30 degrees and an air humidity of 90% in December. No hot chocolates or “Glühwein”, no Christmas carols, no Advent calendars and wreaths, like the ones Germany is famous for, no cuddling at the fireplace or running and playing in the snow. In Argentina in December, I just feel hot, my skin is sticky, my head turns and I have to take a shower at least twice a day to feel comfortable. I have not had a real Christmas feeling for 3 years. I miss the freezing temperatures, the Christmas decorations on windows and in back and front yards, which are very scarce here as well and the baking of cookies. Of course I could be following all of these traditions here as well if I wanted to but it just doesn’t feel the same and I prefer to leave the oven off to avoid raising the temperature in the kitchen even more. (Not every room is equipped with air conditioning here and as electrical devices are mostly imported and expensive here, buying them wouldn’t make sense).
Argentineans don’t know how to produce chocolate. Their chocolate usually has a high proportion of sugar and fat but lacks high-quality cocoa powder and milk. And the international chocolate they offer here is extremely expensive. They only chocolate I buy here is Milka, Kinder and Nutella, but when I consider what I would pay for this in Germany, I sometimes avoid buying it in the end.
The things I will miss
Argentineans adore children. And Argentineans adore parties. There are party rooms and shops selling party equipment and accessories on every street corner. So when they are organizing childrens’ birthday parties, you would think they are expecting the president to show up. Their cakes look like they were taken from picture books and the entertainment program includes loud music, clowns, games and dances. Parties are also especially loud. While at a German kid’s birthday party you would see a maximum of 10 children, there are no less than 30 children (the whole kindergarten group) including their parents, siblings and grandparents at an Argentinean kid’s birthday party. Argentineans have children when they are young and it is common to see families with 3 children. It will be the extreme opposite when I go back to Germany. I will be encountering 40-year old parents who are having their first and only child, a general hostility towards children and a large proportion of the population older than 50. The German population is dying out and this is not at all ironic. We can learn from Argentina that even though the country is currently having so many problems, they know how to reproduce and maintain their population.