Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I had a new student today at the Banco Francaise (interestingly enough there are many "international banks" here and all of them are actually Argentine banks who use a European country's name to help people have faith in the institution holding their money). The building was beautiful and old. So old that the marble stairs I climbed to get to my class were worn with the indentations of many feet. That's old. It was also kinda pimping because they gave me water in a real glass and not in Styrofoam or plastic.
My student is an intelligent man who works in acquisitions and mergers for the bank and spends most of this time in Brazil since that's where most of the work is right now. Apparently no one wants to merge or acquire with Argentina right now. This was elaborated on as our conversation progressed as he explained some of the intricacies of the money situation here in Argentina. He seemed very informed and explained things very clearly, so I now relay things to you as he did to me.
So, we were discussing the differences between the US and Argentina. While I focused on the relaxed life, maté and other customs that I love about this place he shed some light on why Argentines can't understand an expat's desire to leave the land of the free. He explained that in the States progress is possible. I think this is something we take for granted. We go to school, maybe get some loans, get a job, pay them off, then we buy an apartment, a car, and our savings grow and grow. Here that is impossible for most people even though University is free. Before the crisis in 2001 people had a lot of money. Their salaries were the same, but the peso was equal to the dollar so many people were making much more money than people in the States. The devaluation of the peso meant that everyone had one third the money they thought they had, and its only gotten worse since then. Annually, the interest on your money in the bank is seven percent. But if inflation is fifteen percent (I'm assuming he was using that real data and not the made up data the government spits forth here) then everyone is really losing seven percent of their money every year. Many people can never save anything at all. Oh, that sounds familiar, I though. I was thinking of my roommates, Uli and Santi. Both over the age of 25 and with nothing to show for it. Neither of them have savings to speak of, and at the end of the month things are tight because they live pay check to pay check (like us). Uli just turned 30 last week and he is sharing a bedroom for 450 pesos a month and he is often strapped for cash at the end of the month like we are. Another point Pedro made was that the Kerchners run on a platform to support the poor, but all of their policies hurt the poor. It sounds like a hopeless situation.
This explanation also explains part of what motivates porteños to live the way they do. He said that while people in the US live by the predictions they make for the future, this practice has been proven impossible in this country. You never know what will happen from one day to the next. One day you have a private pension, the next its has been taken by the government. One day you have a house, the next you don't (something that is becoming much more common in the States). Therefore people live like there is no tomorrow because their might be no tomorrow! During the 2001 crisis this country had five presidents in three weeks, all who retired on a standard presidents salary. It was a good segway to the idiomatic phrase "it keeps you on your toes."
Anyway, it was a very interesting discussion that reminded me of Ivy Kenelly's class and the cake of capitalism that just grows and grows and everyone's piece of the pie gets bigger and bigger. In Argentina the tarta (let's say chocolate and dulce de leche flavored) stays the same size, and certain people's pieces get bigger and a lot of people's pieces are getting pretty tiny. The talk put things in perspective for me and explained my instinctive feelings that when its time for me to really think and plan for the future I will be planning it in the States and not here. However, I hope I can still preserve the things I love about this country when I leave. Ted told me that he was more culture shocked upon his arrival home than when he got here. He said "people just have so much here." That's not the first time I've heard that reaction from a person who has just arrived back in the States, and I hope that when I return I can keep in mind what is truly necessary and what we buy compulsively in the States to keep up with appearances, or just because we can. For now though, its eating out once a month and no clothes shopping while our meager savings are saved for a future vacation. Thanks to Pedro I am now aware of how awesome it is that my savings are in a "hard currency" and not the Argentine peso.


erin said...

Great post Julia - thanks

Ann Behar said...