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Saturday, June 10, 2006

70. To all the haters (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

It's funny this old blogging game. Over the past year and a half I've received many emails from readers out there, all of them in praise of the blog, and many have asked me a question or two about their upcoming trip to Buenos Aires. I've always responded courteously and have always taken the time to answer any questions as fully as I can, which often meant a long email reply, and usually a bit of a conversation would start.

However, ever since I've started writing more about the negative aspects of Argentina, the questions have stopped coming in and I've started to receive negative comments posted here in return. No one's actually written me any hatemail yet, but one or two readers have left a few nasty anonymous comments. The needlessly nasty ones I've deleted but the others I've left in. Sure, I could disable the anonymous comments feature to stop the haters posting, but that would be annoying for those who wish to leave a helpful comment without signing up for a blogger account.

One such nasty comment was left in response to my last post a couple of days ago. Apart from being a character attack from someone who does not know me and is too cowardly to sign the post with their name, it does raise a few points which some of you are probably wondering about, so I will address it.

Reader's comment:

For someone who hates the country and complains about the people so much and hates everything that is Argentine, I cannot for the life of me understand why the hell you would (1) want to go back (2) spend so much time writting about it or should I say bitching about it.

I have a theory though;
1) Your Argentine friends obviously dont know about this blog (for sure your girlfriends parents dont know about it),
2) You must be such a pain in the arse in person that you are not really welcome back in Kiwi land.


I don't hate Argentina. A couple of posts ago I wrote a list of things I love about Argentina, including Argentine people. My main hates which I've already written about are the corruption and the bureaucracy. My latest peeve is the dire customer service that is so widespread.

The simple reason I returned - for love. For my girlfriend. And I had unfinished business literally, i.e. I'd started a business here which is still in the startup phase, and I wanted to see that through.

As for why I spend time bitching about it. Well, why not? I write about what I think and what I see. If things are good, I'll write it. If things are bad I'll write that too. Lately there's been more bad that good, that's all. I've always been one to speak my mind, and if something needs to be said I'll say it. And if it doesn't need to be said I'll probably say it anyway. Even Argentines who read this blog have sent me feedback agreeing with the negative things I've written.

My Argentine friends do know about my blog, and the ones that understand English read it from time to time. I know they really enjoyed reading it when I was travelling around, as they could see what I was up to (hell, that's why I started it in the first place), but I haven't really heard any feedback from them about the negative things I've written. I'm not one to constantly bitch and moan about the state of things to them anyway, but if they ask me my opinion I'm not afraid to give it, unlike most foreigners here who are content to say it's a "linda pais" (pretty country) or "me gusta" (I like) and leave it at that. That's to my friends, though. To everyday Argentines that I encounter I always just say I like the place. No one likes to hear bad things about their country from someone they don't know. EVERY local I meet always asks why the hell I'm here, and many shake their heads in disbelief when I say I like it here. So then I mention my girlfriend and they understand.

I don't think I'm a pain in the arse in person. I know I used to bitch a lot to my friends, which was a negative trait of my personality that I've tried to address. In person I think I've cut that down a lot. Now the only ones who hear me bitching like I used to are my girlfriend and you blog readers out there. This blog allows me to vent a bit of frustration about the things that piss me off. I still write this blog as if I'm writing it for my friends back home, even if now a lot more people read it.

Reader's comment:

I am a foreigner and have spent a huge amount of time in Argentina the last 5 years so I will give you a bit of free advice ... Open your mind!!! You may see what is so wonderful about the country and the people, nobody is perfect, but at least the Argentines dont screw their pantuflas dreaming they are sheep.

Oh and one other thing ... If you think Aerolineas is so crap, get the couple of extra bucks out of your tight ass and fly LAN.


My mind's wide open man. I don't know why you think it's closed. Look, most foreigners who visit here leave loving the place. Those that come back might spend a couple of months living in an apartment with other foreigners in a nicer part of town like Palermo or Recoleta, sleeping until mid-afternoon, sipping coffee with medialunas by day and dancing Tango by night. They might even study Spanish part-time but what with all their foreign friends they'll get so few opportunities to speak the language that they'll have to resort to advertising to find a local to practice Spanish with. After a few months they'll go back home and tell everyone what a great time they had. All of which is fine by me, they can live how they like.
But I actually tried damn hard to immerse myself in the Argentine culture. I worked for a living, and earned a measly wage. Although I had money in the bank, I tried living off my wages only, to see how locals struggle to get by. I lived in a pension full of Argentines just getting by, with a shared kitchen but no fridge, and cooked for myself every night. I distanced myself from the foreign friends I'd made and made Argentine friends. I sought out a girlfriend who didn't speak English (we're still together).
And now I've spent the last six months struggling to start my own business in the transport/tourism industry, and have documented in this blog how tough that is too. Man, I only just skimmed the surface on that! I could have written a blog entry every couple of days on the hoops I've had to jump through for the last six months. As I said before, it wasn't any tougher for me to get started than a local because I'm a foreigner, as I did everything in my girlfriend's name. I haven't just read about how hard it is to live here, and how frustrating it can be to get ahead, I've lived it. So don't tell me my mind's closed!
It seems to be those who fit into the aformentioned stereotype of foreigners living here who are posting negative comments, yet they haven't seen a side of Argentina I have. The closest they'll come is they'll try to find an apartment here without a garantia, so they'll have to rent one at foreigner's rates but since they're only here for a few months before they go back to their real lives, that probably won't bother them anyway. This IS my real life.

Finally, the last time I looked, LAN was about the same price as Aerolineas. I flew Aerolineas because I didn't know better, and the dates and arrival times were more convenient with my schedule. I still haven't heard anyone saying LAN's better than Aerolineas yet.

28 Comments:

  • Everyone has an opinion and it's obvious that some readers can't accept that.
    I can relate to what you're saying. I've been traveling for 6 months, have a blog and know I'll get attacked for anything I say that I'd classify as "honesty" or an emotional "purge" but could be taken as being negative. My advice is to stop trying to be nice and just speak your mind. Otherwise you'll just be more of the phoney lovey-dovey sheep that populate the blog world.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:29 AM  

  • Well said Matt.

    For all the playa haters out there, I've known Matt for 10 years and can honestly say that this blog is a really good reflection of Matt as a person. If anything he often shows a more reflective, sensitive side than he would in person. And after living in Argentina for about 15 months, in 3 different trips, I think it is an honest reflection of the country.

    So derelect my balls.

    By Blogger Nasty McFly, at 9:56 AM  

  • I never thought that your blog was negative. You just state the realities of living in Argentina. Porteños know that.

    Lately, there seems to be a backlash from some in the BA expat community against other foreigners living here who profess anything less than their full love and long-term commitment to Buenos Aires. That reaction seems to stem from those articles in the US press that portrayed foreigners coming to live in BA as trendy, shallow hipsters searching for the next Prague.

    Anyway, I like your blog and always look forward to reading your postings. Welcome back and good luck with your business.

    BTW, LAN is one of the best airlines I've ever flown. Really nice planes, excellent service. I agree about Aerolineas and try to avoid them. But, LAN is one of my favorites.

    By Anonymous Jeff, at 10:17 AM  

  • One of the things about living in a different culture to your "native" one is that there are things that piss you off about the new one. most of my friends who are living here (India) have a love/hate relationship with the place.
    We are always bleating to each other when we meet, but we never ask each other why we don't bugger off home if we don't like it. the love part of the equation is just assumed.
    Don't let some sanctimonious prat stop you from expressing yourself - if we want saccharine we'll read guide books.

    By Anonymous Bruce, at 10:36 PM  

  • My friend, as we say in Argentina..."un pelo de concha tira mas que un yunta de bueyes". Ask your girl to translate it. Hope you start doing better in Argentina. Enjoy.
    Alex, an Argie living in Miami, USA.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:19 AM  

  • 'sall good Matt.. of course the bitching is a critical part of your writing! I mean that in a good way, but hearing in detail the things that frustrate you on your travels, along with the fun & games & beautiful scenery etc, is what makes it good reading for me! Anyway, thought I'd throw in my (not exactly backhanded) 2c as I really value your blog and wouldn't want the negative comments to start to really outweigh the good...

    By Anonymous reginald, at 11:28 AM  

  • Well said KIWI. And I bet you're backing the Argentinians all the way in the Cup.

    Remember the Allblacks are on their way over.

    Dad

    By Anonymous Dad, at 9:39 PM  

  • My experience with Argentines has been that they're at once very proud and extremely self-critical -- so I'm sure that many are already well aware of the critcisms you level and more than a few would agree whole-heartedly. That said, I never have gotten the impression you're complaining very much.

    As for the small business angle, good luck. After freelancing for a year, I spent the last month pitching in at a friend's small business and it was very eye-opening to see from the inside the difficulties of being an entrepreneur in this country.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:41 PM  

  • Allow me to echo pretty much everything above, and to add that those little (and sometimes big) things that annoy us are a vital part of our experiences.

    To leave them out would be dishonest, boring and inaccurate. Your ability to not just relate facts, but to tell interesting stories as well relies on including those annoyances.

    To those who object, may I suggest self-censorship as an alternative to carping?

    Also, as someone who's stayed behind in NZ, the downsides of expat living give me some justification for remaining here!

    Keep up the good work!

    By Blogger Slag, at 11:29 AM  

  • fucking right. argentina's a great place to be but the vast majority of foreigners here are on holiday and have absolutely no idea about the real culture of the country-the corruption, the pride in screwing people over (otherwise known as 'la viveza criolla'), the bureaucracy, the inability to drive a car in a straight line etc. trying to set up a business here is enough to make you top yourself. Living in buenos aires is great fun until you actually have to start living here, making money, dealing with the bureaucracy, queueing up for 2 hours for no other reason than to get a number so you can come back in 3 weeks to queue up for another 2 hours. It's a frustrating place once you scratch the surface, something 90% of foreigners here do not do.

    on the other hand, if you changed all this shit, then you wouldn't have the argentina that we all love. you'd have chile. and that would be no fun at all.

    every country has its pros and cons, the reason i'm here and not living in england. the point i believe mattyboy is trying to make is that almost all the cons about argentina are the truly basic things that we take for granted in the developed world, like setting up a business, opening a bank account, paying your taxes, posting a letter and being 99% sure it'll arrive, not having to wait 2 months for your new sofa to arrive.

    keep up the posting, pal and don't let the whingers put you off.

    By Blogger chematuco, at 12:15 PM  

  • oh, don't ever, ever fly aerolineas if you have the choice of lan...it's the best example of how crap the argentines are at doing business and how good the chileans are. now if you could just mix the argentine 'couldn't give a fuck-ness' and the chilean lack of corruption and business sense you'd have a world beating country here...

    By Blogger chematuco, at 12:22 PM  

  • I just wanted to say that I really enjoy your blog and your perspectives. As an American who has lived in Buenos Aires for 5 months and will be returning again for another 5 months, I know full well what you're talking about when you are bitching. There is a lot to bitch about in Argentina. BUT, there is a lot to love, and that's why I always come back. I just wanted to say that I always think of Argentina and Argentines as a country and people of extremes. It always seems to fit the situation. Even with Aerolineas, I can say that I've had a wonderful experience (girlfriend got sick on the flight and their medical attention was excellent) to a horrible one (went on strike right before my flight from New York, delaying my trip two weeks). You just have to roll with the punches, as you know. And as for the expats in BsAs, who knows man, some I'm sure are cool, but most seem pretty pretentious to me. I just have to say that I try not to be judgemental when meeting one, its always nice to speak a little ingles every now and then. Anyway, just my two centavos. Keep up the great blogging and just remember, if you are pissing people off out there in the blogosphere that means you are doing a damn good job. Peace

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:39 PM  

  • hmm the fact that the vast majority of argentines cant wait to flee the "country" will give you an idea of how things really are.

    like matuco said, just LIVE there for a while, try to operate on a daily basis and after a while you will understand.

    to all the foreigners willing to settle there, boy oh boy are you in for a rude awakening when the money runs out.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:55 AM  

  • I'll be one of the anonymous cowards who chimes in here if only because I don't want to take the time to register for anything. I can identify with what you are saying and in particular with what this poster said:

    "Lately, there seems to be a backlash from some in the BA expat community against other foreigners living here who profess anything less than their full love and long-term commitment to Buenos Aires."

    Nothing could be further from the truth. I have lived in BsAs for almost 2 years now and I have had enough! I have sucked the marrow from this city so to speak. I was never looking for the next Prague because BsAs wasn't the "hip" city it is today, but I was looking for a place where I could get away from the states for awhile. What I haven't gotten used to is the well below adequate service in all facets of life. I am tired of being cheated and lied to on each and every occasion I call someone for ANY service.

    I am lucky in that I bought an apartment in Palermo Soho while the prices were still reasonable. I am going to unload this place for a 35% markup and head to Florianopolis, Brazil and get back to some people who may rob, cheat and lie like Portenos but at least they do it with a smile and don't seem to have giant fucking chips on their shoulders all the time. You all will leave in turn when you realize that Portenos aren't the friendly, wonderful people you all make them out to be because you feel like you are obliged to protect them out of some misguided sense of guilt or something.

    I remember walking into the local grocery stores and restaurants and for the first 6 months I would always use pleasantries that most civilized people use like "hello", "thank-you" and "good-bye". After 6 months of NO RESPONSES, scowling and downright hostility I have tired of it and the Portenos can take their city and stick it . . . .

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:32 AM  

  • quit your bitchin...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:44 AM  

  • Hey man, don't worry about the Argentines bitching about what you say about their country.

    I'm a "Norte Americano" living here and have for 4 years. The country is basicly one big corrupt fuck up. They know it. (The Argentines)

    They say it all the time themselves. The problem with Argentines is they don't feel you (meaning us) have the right to say it because your not from here.

    Well I say to them and any Argentine reading this who doesn't like it...My wife is Argentine, my daughter is Argentine. I have a legit interest in this country and I do have the right. If you don't like it, I tell you in the nicest way possible, kiss my ass.

    I'll lose my right to speak my opinions about Argentina right after all the ILLEGAL Argentines get out of Miami and the rest of the USA.

    By Blogger Mad_Maxx, at 2:30 AM  

  • argentines are a butch of arrogant unitelligent motherfuckers who think they are better than others even though most are living in poverty compared to western standards.

    I lived in argentina for a long time and i found them haughty pretentious and dishonest people.

    Stop blaming the argentine government for your problems when most of you do not want to build a healthy functioning society

    Chupame bien portenos

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:42 PM  

  • Si la Argentina es un país difícil para los argentinos, ¿por qué debería ser menos para un residente extranjero?. Respeto toda crítica hacia mi país pues toda persona tiene libertad para expresarla; los insultos dicen más del que opina que del tema.
    Personas diferentes viven experiencias diferentes. Por cierto les informo que Aerolineas Argentinas es una compania...Espanola.

    By Blogger Juan, at 8:27 PM  

  • So much hate torwards our country!

    Many of your criticisms are correct. Argentina still is probably the most developed country in south america, but the corruption, bureaucracy and poverty are serious issues that should be acknowledged.

    The problem we have with taking criticism is that we are not used to it, it really hurts us.
    And that's because ten years ago, argentina barely had any of these problems. In the 1970's our standards of living rivalred with those in Europe, and in the 1930's they were even higher than those in France or Spain.

    What hurts us is that argentina was a developed country that lost its status. So that's the reason of the resentment.
    Unlike people in, say, India, we are still not used to seeing beggars and "cartoneros" on the streets, much less to foreigners commenting on them.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:29 AM  

  • Your blog is interesting and helpful. Props to you for mentioning the good and the bad. You wouldn't be having an honest experience unless you were addressing the negative aspects in addition to all of the positives. On a side note, I have a question about visas. I've heard that a non-citizen can't get into Argentina without a round-trip ticket (to prove that you will be leaving after the 3-month time limit). Is this true? Do I need to purchase a round-trip ticket or can I get a one-way? I'm fairly certain that I will be in BA for longer than three months. Thanks for your help!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:55 PM  

  • no idea about the real culture of the country-the corruption////// ----> men! this was really hard! i mean (and sorry for my english) but that is the same to say all the germans are nazis, all the muslims are terrorists or all the english have bad teeths! im argentian and im not a corrupt, i do my best for me, my family, my friends and my country.

    argentines are a butch of arrogant unitelligent motherfuckers who think they are better than others even though most are living in poverty compared to western standards.----> lol mmmm bertrand russell spoke! hahaha i have no words for this.

    anyways go on with this matty . very good

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:59 PM  

  • Foreigners in Buenos Aires City are:

    1) 1st world foreigners living/staying in rented furnitured appartments, bought appartments or Hotels in Palermo, Recoleta, Barrio Norte, Belgrano or San Telmo "for export" spending their 1st world gained Dollars and Euros.

    2) Peruvians, Paraguayans, Bolivians, etc. living in Pensiones (shared kitchen, sometimes shared bathroom) in Villas, or in "Casas Tomadas" in Almagro, Boedo, San Cristobal, Once, Constitucion, Monserrat, Balvanera, La Boca, San Nicolas, real San Telmo, etc. living on the hard work for which they recieve little pesos.

    The north side of the City and their inhabitants does not reflect the reality of this city and this city does not reflect the reality of the country as a whole.

    This is a 3rd. world country. Palermo Soho looks nice and it is cheap only for first world countries visitors, not for the majority of the Porteños who cant afford a dinner or buy a pair of jeans in the so called Palermo "Soho" or Palermo "Hollywood".

    Nothing in Buenos Aires is cheap. Try to work and live as an argentine on your wage only. Or try to start a business with Argentine gained pesos and no properties or money inherited from your parents.

    Basic salary: $800 12 hours work.
    Who makes that money? an employee in a Locutorio, cybercaffe, supermarket, bookstore, restaurant kitchen, shop, etc.

    What this Kiwi Boy has been doing here is worthy of meditation.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:05 AM  

  • I love the fact that someone told you to "open your mind!!!!!" You emigrated to Argentina + started a business there - could it be any more open!

    Love the blog - well done,

    Laurie

    (Originally UK, currently Seoul)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:48 PM  

  • i want to answer to the norteamericano.
    in argentina you want have to join the army so that you can afford to pay for the education for your children
    you should not critisize because everone knows the failures in the american health system . i mean there is no health care system.
    in argentina you can be sure that the undeground is not going off or that bin laden is about to explode a building .
    we are not invading another country to save our economy.
    and matt when you talk about pollution , dont forget that australia and us are the countries that don join the keoto agreement,that contaminates more than any buss.
    us is the 3 world is the must corrupted country in the whole world

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:20 PM  

  • Argentines,

    US foreign policy does not explain nor excuse what happens in your own country. Argentina is one of the most corrupt countries on Earth. FACE IT. Plus, you can't deny the fact that Argentine culture is based mainly on inefficiency, incompetence and CORRUPTION. I think it's time to look yourselves in the mirror. Also, it would be good if you stopped blaming other countries for the evils of your own society. All that happens to your country is entirely YOUR responsibility. Stop pointing fingers and GROW UP. When you start behaving like a mature society, things might get better.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:47 PM  

  • I have been living in Argentina for 1½ years + and my experience is somewhat different from yours.

    E.g. today I had a problem with a cajero automático, asked for help in the bank and a submanager found someone with knowledge of the thingummyjigs.

    As he was unable to solve the problem, he actually took me to a competing bank, half a block away where things got fixed. He probably spent 20 minutes helping me, warning me of pick pockets (don't I know), etc. etc.; polite, extremely friendly, very considerate and helpful.

    I have made myself a good customer in the small tiendas (local shops) where everybody are polite, helpful and very friendly and definitively don't cheat. I have been cheated once - once - in a supermarket (14 pesos, dirt cheap for the experience) and after I told the manager that if it happened once more, I would take my bussiness elsewhere, it stopped dead.

    I ask for prices in advance, check my bill when I get home (naive guy) and never have again found "errors".

    AND the girls in Western/North Western Argentina ARE among the prettiest in the world (together with those from Salta, Mexico, Scandinavia, Thailand, France, Italy, and several other places :-D ) while e.g. in the south of Argentina (Bariloche, Junin de los Andes, ..., and in Chile) well, least said, the better.

    But then of course I am living in beautiful Illustre Ciudad de Mendoza, and under no circumstances in BsAS, which I loathe since I worked there in 2002 and watched people fighting over the trash bins outside restaurants - not as bad as, but almost, as shit city in Mumbai (Bombay).

    By Blogger John.St, at 7:29 PM  

  • Buenos Aires has so many things to offer that at first, you will not even know how to start. Well, I would begin with the zoo, the museums in Recoleta, have lunch at those beautiful restaurants in Puerto Madero with the sight of the river, also the Obelisco and some shopping in the well-known stores in Palermo Viejo (fashion neighborhood)
    Last year I rented an apartment in buenos aires and I felt as if 2 weeks were not enough for this city. I will go back!
    Summer

    By Blogger Summer, at 12:51 PM  

  • Hey, I just want to say I like your blog... it's the first one where the person isn't just saying "yeah, this place is amazing and blah blah blah... Buddy that told you to "open your mind" needs to take his own advice and not pretend that everything is only rosie and the whole world is perfect and "la di da" otherwise things don't change.

    Most of the locals I talk with are very opinionated on their own culture and government and not happy about precisely the same things you or any of the people that agree with you on this site. The corruption, polution and general 'no smile on a portenos face" are not good.

    The people are great people and once you start talking with them you see that, but there are definitely negative aspects and it's good that outside foreigners can know these things to help them make their decisions on whether to stay here or not.

    I'm pretty sure you're not really updating this site anymore, but thanks for having it. I knew I wasn't alone in how I felt just from talking with other foreigners here, but it's good to be able to read detailed logs of your situations you dealt with. It's helping me make a decision as to whether I call B.A home.

    Saludos from a gringo still in B.A

    By Anonymous El Gringo Kevbo, at 12:34 PM  

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