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Buenos Aires Dreaming

Dispatch from Buenos Aires | Published : 25/Feb/2006 23:00

You know you’re already too late to the game when the New York Magazine publishes an article↣ (newyorkmetro.com) telling you that you should be living not in New York, but in Buenos Aires, enjoying warmer temperatures, cheaper real estate and “girls in bikinis”.

Written by the GoodAirs.com guy, Ian, this article borders on advertorial in the way it unabashedly plugs the author’s expat buddies with their hobby-like business projects, while simultaneously propagating this whole myth of a warm, sunny, cheap New York (or Paris) on the other side of the globe. If you’re too lazy to follow the link and read it yourself, I’ll summarize it for you. The gist is that in Buenos Aires, even a “nobody” from Manhattan can suddenly and effortlessly become somebody. And, presumably, get to hang out with the “girls in bikinis” as a result.

Moveable Fiesta
The secret behind this miraculous transformation? Very simple: the exchange rate! Everything you’ve saved in Manhattan by denying yourself the pleasure of eating at Balthazar and Nobu can be taken to Buenos Aires and effectively, multiplied by three. If you’ve dieted for several years, you may even be able to buy a nice pad to which to invite your new friends (yep, I am talking about the “girls in bikinis”).

Just in case you were visiting the planet Mars for the past 4 years, I’ll explain the phenomenon. Argentina had a huge crisis in 2001/2002. As a result, its national currency, the peso, collapsed to roughly 1/3 of its previous level (which was a 1:1 dollar peg). Thus, in effect, (almost) everything in Buenos Aires became three times cheaper. At the same time, people with U.S. dollars in their pockets became three times richer. And, if you accept the argument which Ian makes in his article, some of them shot right to the top of the the social ladder.

The “look where I am while you’re rotting in your suburban quagmire” style of expatriate journalism is nothing new. The eXile guys have been doing it out of Moscow for a good decade now. Lacking their own newspaper, the Buenos Aires crew seems to have chosen to send articles to various U.S. publications. Yet other, less connected expatriates publish blogs. Whatever the distribution vehicle, this method is effective.

It works for several reasons. First of all, half of what these guys are saying is true – at least, to an extent. Second of all, personal experiences make for a great story - it’s not your average newspaper article rewritten from the wire. Finally, the “girls are prettier/easier elsewhere” thesis mixed in with the implied “you can be a star, too” premise is always going be popular, especially with those who can’t go near pretty girls at home. It’s just fodder for their fantasies.

Well, I hate to be pissing on the future expatriates’ parade, but in case you didn’t know, that’s actually my job at SiteBits. Not denying anything Ian wrote, I’ll tell you a few things that were glossed over in the article. Here’s a sentence in which the author writes, ostensibly critically:

Life in B.A. isn’t perfect by any means. The litany of expat complaints includes one-ply toilet paper; slow restaurant service; strikes that shut down subways, airlines, or highways nearly once a week; and, as LoTempio puts it, an embargo on cool shit like plasma TVs, which arrive six months late and cost twice as much.
By now, you’re probably thinking: “I can deal with that,” right? Just how slow can that restaurant service be? And wouldn’t I have all the time in the world if I lived down there, anyway?

I’ll extend the “litany” just a bit for a better perspective. First of all, (admittedly a relatively minor point for some) unless you’re a fluent Spanish↣ speaker, you’re going to have to do a hell of a job picking up the language here. Even if you consider yourself to be fluent, in your first few months you won’t be able to understand half of what people on the street are saying. It’s because porteños speak a very different dialect of Spanish↣, loaded with words that few Spanish speakers even recognize. You think your Spanish is good? Well, here’s a word you’ll definitely need in your daily life in B.A.: coima. Do you know what it means? I’ll give you the verb, too: coimear. No clue? What about “chala” or “cuerito”? No? Go ahead, Mr. Bilingual, look in your dictionary! Still nothing? Too bad, ’cause all of those were directly related to the triple amount of money that you’re bringing with you and the ways of parting with it. Trust me, you’ll need some time adjusting to the Spanish of Buenos Aires.

Secondly, regarding all those amazing rental deals. I had the pleasure of living in one of those swanky $600-a-month Buenos Aires apartments. And yes, my place was nice - much nicer (and bigger) than my $1,650-a-month rent-stabilized studio in New York. I lived in a good area next to the Teatro Colón. Just a couple of days before I moved in, though, our building was robbed. Not a particular apartment - several of them at the same time. Two cars pulled up in front, a few cool guys stepped out, guns and everything, leisurely walked upstairs, kicked out the doors of the apartments they were interested in (some neighbors had a suspicion that the doorman pointed them in the right direction) and took the shit they liked. All without too much of a hurry. And why be nervous? They probably had the badges of the Policía Provincial (or Federal) in their back pockets or at the very least, a few good friends with such badges. Admittedly, you are overpaying for your New York pad, but when was the last time something like this happened in your Murray Hill doorman building?

My last, and perhaps the most crucial point will be concerning the “girls in bikinis” promised in the NYMag article. I know how easy it is to fall for this kind of propaganda. After all, separating truth and legend here becomes very difficult. The girls do exist. And they’re pretty all right. I remember walking down Avenida Santa Fe at merienda time, half-consciously estimating the number of attractive women walking in the opposite direction (I think this activity is performed by the male brain almost automatically). There were no models on the street that day, but the “attractive” proportion was over 50%. Let me tell you, it never gets close to this good for me in New York, not even in SoHo.

But does that mean you can live your fantasy (love) life in Buenos Aires? It depends. Perhaps the party photo from my last trip to B.A. that I chose to include in this article is going to be deliberately confusing, but I am going to vote “no” on that one. No, because you’re forgetting about the other half of the population. According to my female friends from different backgrounds, (male) porteños are quite hot. Let’s face it - the bikini-clad models are not just sitting there waiting to be picked up by some paunchy American expat who couldn’t get laid in New York. They have all the hot Argentine guys going after them! (more aggressively, may I add, than anything you’ve seen in New York). And if you think that the pretty girls are going to ignore all the heartthrobs around them and jump on you just because you have more money in your pocket... well, may be you’ve been living uptown for too long.

With all that said, I do think that Buenos Aires is a great place to visit or even live in for a few years. You just have to be realistic. Today, over brunch, I proposed to the other Sitebitniks the very far-fetched idea of a Christmas vacation in B.A. and the response was cautiously positive. Granted, most of the others writing for this site are either dating steady or married, so I might end up being the one doing all the follow-up research on the bikini crowd. We’ll keep you updated, of course, but heeding my own advice, I am keeping my expectations low. Always worked for me.

Party Buenos Aires
Slavito is trying to be realistic. It ain’t easy. (December 2004)