Last week a friend of mine shot me an e-mail out of the blue inquiring about his options in Buenos Aires, were he to give up his life in NYC and move down here. He mentioned that while he´s been reflecting on his circumstances for awhile now, what brought Buenos Aires in particular to his attention was this article in New York Magazine from late February.
Without going into too much detail, this article, which is now somewhat infamous in various expat-circles down here for its hedonistic and overly self-indulgent view on living abroad, goes on to tell the story of a guy ¨who would be nothing¨ if he were back in NYC, according to his (tactful and surely likeable) best friend, but because of his good fortune in being born in a country that now has a very favorable exchange rate, can pretty much live on his own terms, ostensibly assuring he remains far from ¨nothing.¨
Now, it seems, everyone´s getting on the bandwagon: just a few weeks ago came another piece on the dramatic increase of visitors and expats to Buenos Aires, this time from the Washington Post, which hailed the city for its great value, and claimed the driving force behind it all is ¨$250 (USD) rents.¨
I get a fair amount of inquires from people asking about moving to BA all the time, so I´ll try to clear up what I think are a few misconceptions about the whole ordeal.
Just so nobody gets offended, let me stipulate ¨all views expressed in this blog are strictly the opinions of the author¨ (duh).
Anyway, as I see it, the majority of long term expats living down here fall into 1 of 2 camps:
1) Burnt out middle-aged person, either:
- Looking for a less stressful environment or career change that will be much less riskier here (because the dollar, euro, or pound value) than at home
- Someone who has ¨come to,¨ having some sort of spiritual, self-growth or existential experience beckoning them to indulge their passions, whether it be art, tango, music, etc.
- Divorced, bald, or otherwise ¨normal¨ male who believes his nationality and portfolio will instantly compensate for his deficencies, and, in a land of economic stability and a weak currency, will parlay itself into dividends much greater than back home – namely attention from attractive females
- Just to be fair: middle-aged women with the same agendas…see “Under a Tuscan Sun,” or “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” (I much prefer Stella…that Taye Diggs…whooo weee)
- Or any combination thereof
2) Young people fresh out of college or just a few years out, either:
- Looking to delay the inevitable for a year or two under the guise of ¨learning Spanish¨
- Beating the ¨system¨ by living in splendid poverty, all in an expression of solidarity with the world community at large
- Trying to kick-start a career doing something they like and make it happen while they can, before (more) debt and obligation piles up, in art, tango, writing, film, etc.
- Or any combination thereof
It´s the Economy, Stupid
Obviously I´m only being half-serious here, but I think the underlying point is the same: money talks. No matter what anyone tells you, and I´ll highlight this in bold just to underscore its significance, If someone tells you money has absolutely no bearing on their decision to move to Buenos Aires, either they´re filthy rich or they´re lying.
But ¨nooo¨ you say, ¨money has nothing to do with my decision to move here. I love Buenos Aires because it´s beautiful – I love it so I can dance tango every single day for the rest of my life.¨ Wrong. If you didn´t possess the critical advantage of having stable work in a country with a stable currency (and as a result, being able to accumulate at least some sort of modest savings) there´s absolutely no way you could come down here and while away the afternoon sipping maté and listening to Carlos Gardel – you´d be working in an office making Xeroxes, cutting up meat, or doing something else boring and nomal like almost every regular Argentine person does. That´s the bottom line. I´m not any better – I came here because I wanted to live abroad for a year after I graduated, and it made perfect sense to come to South America, where I could realize that possibility, as opposed to Europe, where I´d likely only be able to last a few months. Sure, I chose Argentina over, say, Peru, because I was attracted to what the country had to offer. But people come to live here – perhaps not always first and foremost, but make no mistake it´s an integral part of the decision-making process – because of money, dinero, plata.
So that´s the background. Now I´ll post the letter that my friend sent me, and my thoughts on it. Here´s what he wrote:
Que Pasa Amigo? I asked x to email me your blog site and email address when I heard you were living in the south pole. I had no idea that you were moving down there. Reading your blog has given me fresh insight as well provided some decent distraction and daydreaming (about B.A., not you, don’t get any ideas). After reading an article in New York Mag about Buenos Aires and pondering about my situation in New York I started considering making a move like you did. New York and maybe the U.S . in general is such a dog eat dog atmosphere that I am looking to go to a laid back place where quality of life and personal enjoyment takes precedence over efficiency and profit. If I had any sort of built up capital (like most of the expats mentioned in the NYMag article) I would move down there asap and live like a king, maybe start my own business. Unfortunately I don’t though, so I can only dream about what might be in the future and live vicariously through other people in the meantime. Here comes the barrage of questions: What made you move there? What is your plan while you are down there? Is this a possible permanent move, or a year off type deal before law or some other sort of graduate school? I apologize for that, I’m just facinated with the decision. Enjoy your time down there my dear gringo.Respek,¨
Now, my 2 centavos.
- It´s unapologetically shallow. God forbid some of us aren´t coming down just to chase skirts and pad our self-esteem because of favorable exchange rates; maybe we´re actually trying to learn another language, meet interesting people from all over, and just get a new experience out of life. Yes, the women are pretty down here. But guess what – there are alot of really attractive girls in the U.S. too.
- It just generally sugarcoats everything. Moving abroad anywhere is alot more difficult than just plopping down and expecting everything to work out. I´ve been here almost 8 months now and while I have a few close friends, I still don´t really have the connections I have with people at home. Though, I’ve been focusing most of my efforts on meeting locals, so it’s been more difficult – it’s not so easy to just move to someone else’s city and integrate yourself seamlessy into their group of friends and family, when everyone’s known each other their entire lives and you for 5 minutes. Ask anyone who’s changed cities in elementary school or high school. Now consider language and cultural barriers. Also, there are cultural differences in food, language, bureacracy, transport, etc. etc….it´s not just a big fairytale. This article tries to sum up everyone´s honeymoon period at the begining. If not that, it interviews people with alot of money who live it up and do almost nothing, aside from their hobbies, which is far from my situation (and yours, I´d imagine).
- In regards to the Washington Post article, the article quotes a woman who says she’s living the good life on only $6,000 a year. Then it says she pays $250 a month in rent. So, let’s break it down. $250 x 12 = $3,000. That leaves $3,000 to live ” the good life.” Or, $250 a month – 750 pesos a month. Not exactly balling out of control, unless you consider Pizza and Empanadas haute cuisine. It’s difficult enough to maintain even a most basic standard of living – even by the standards of a young person from the US without much money – on 250 a pesos a week. And that’s almost exclusively riding buses and taking the subway. I find it hard to believe one can live “the good life” on 188 pesos a week, and this is coming from someone who thinks 2-ply toilet paper is an indispensible luxury. At any rate, I assume the woman isn’t lying; so I can only conclude that the whole story isn’t being told. Probably her fiance brings as much as she does or more into the household, thus enabling them to do Buenos Aires up proper. What’s more, because of the bureacratic leasing process, it’s very, very difficult for foreigners to obtain the same rent prices on apartments that locals get, which explains the absolutely booming apartment buying market, and the booming short-term renting market. But if you think you’ll be able to rent a decent apartment, short-term, for $250, think again.
The whole point of this isn’t to disparage some poor woman or the Washington Post; it’s just to make clear that in reality, things cost alot more down here than everyone seems to think – especially if you are here alone. And what about inflation! Back in the day, Argentines like (or hate) to tell me, you could go to a grocery store, get a jug of milk off the shelf, and by the time you got rung up the price had gone up.
So enough ‘hating for one post. Now onto the good news: Buenos Aires is a nice city. It´s probably the most cosmopolitan, sophisticated, and perhaps fashionable city in all of Latin America. The people can be flaky and can be really irresponsible – unfortunately I have way more than a few anecdotes on this – but they are nice people overall and very friendly. Yes, the prices are nice too, especially coming from NYC, but there is so much tourism right now apartment prices are being inflated almost every month. But it´s a cool city and offers nightlife, concerts, restaurants, and cultural events that rival almost any city in the world (against Bmore no contest though, obviously – as Mayor Martin O’Malley says, “Best City in the World.”). For example there’s a Jazz festival this week. For the past few weeks there’s been a book festival, and three weeks ago there was a fantastic independent film fest. I saw a really great series of shorts by – get ready for this – a surrealist Czech animator living under the Iron Curtain, Jan Svankmajer (he’s no joke though – Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton both cite him as a major influence), and an interesting anti-US propaganda piece. The point is, the city always has things going on.
So, why’d I choose Argentina?
I wanted to come here because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and the only interviews I got at school – not that I tried to get too many, but still – were basically sales gigs selling computer software or industrial hardware…not exactly where I saw my life headed. I studied in Spain and I´ve been to Italy a few times, so I really dug on the Latin culture. It was obvious for me that I should at least try to enjoy my life and do what I want when I can – before kids, cars, debts, women, etc. make this impossible – and what I like to do, what I f*ing love to do, maaaan, is travel, meet people, and have an interesting time.I came down originally as an English teacher, but as you can read here it´s near impossible to make it down here as one without dipping into your savings, at least if you want to live a semi-enjoyable life and not work 50 hours a week – I assume from your email this is precisely the situation your coming to escape from, not to get into. I´ve done alot of other random things along the way, and now I´m looking into starting something up with a friend. As it is my flight back home is scheduled for August – have to be back for a very important wedding – but if our biz proposal looks like it has potential I would definitely consider coming back. All negativity was meant to be directed at the magazine, and at the *illusion* that I think it tried to pass off – in my opinion – as a general reality.
Now that everything´s cooled down let me be the first to say, if you make a decision like this You Are the Man. I´m happy I did, and it´s exactly for all the reasons that you just gave me. In short: what´re you waiting for? Don´t sign a new lease. Save all your pennies – just think every $10 glass of beer in NYC you spend could buy you 5 1-Liter bottles of beer down here! Start taking some spanish classes. Start reading about the city. You won´t regret it for a second. And so what if it doesn´t work out? For God’s sake you’re 23 years old, and you have your whole life ahead of you, blah blah blah. But it’s so true. You can always go home, or maybe go to Rio, or Spain, or wherever you please. Well, why not? If you´re young, and don´t have any (or perhaps minimal) obligations – porque no (read up on that)? Ok buddy. I hope I didn´t break up the fantasy too much – I suppose I´m way past the honeymoon stage. But it is a great place and you should really come see it for yourself.
Tags: Argentina, Buenos Aires, expat, Moving, New York