[US to Argentina ’15] Andrew Kovalcin: “11 Things You Should Know About Argentina”
One might think of Argentina as just another country in South America but it’s much more than that. Aside from the beautiful landscape and the acclaimed wines, there’s much more complexity and depth to the country and its people. After having the opportunity to travel to various parts of the country for two weeks, I wanted to put together some interesting facts you might not know.
Top 11 Things You Should Know About Argentina
- Affection: Compared to Americans, Argentinians are an extremely affectionate people. Whether it’s a double cheek kiss as a greeting, men kissing their sons on the cheek, or couples holding hands and embracing on street corners, you only need to spend a short time there to recognize this culture of affection.
- Passion for Sports, Particularly Soccer: Many know that Argentina is a world power in futbol (soccer), but what you might not know is how passionate they are for the sport generally. Many clubs have restricted traveling teams from even attending away matches due to safety concerns. Fans are so passionate that this excitement sometimes boils over, creating a competitive environment that is safer watched on television.
- Cellphone Etiquette: While in the United States it’s not uncommon to check your email on your phone during a meeting, and maybe even send a text, in Argentina people actually take calls during meetings. It’s not a problem to keep your ringer on!
- Exchange Rates: After landing in Argentina, travelers may want to visit an exchange booth or hit up an ATM to get some local currency. This might not be the best approach. One of the first things to know about Argentina before traveling here is that there is a parallel market for dollars called the “dollar blue.” In May 2012 the government restricted the ability for Argentinians to buy dollars, which was a very normal practice as no one wanted to save in pesos and lose around 30% per year to inflation. Since then, there is a “black market” for dollars, actually dubbed the “blue market.” While this trading is technically illegal, it is so ubiquitous, so open, and so important to the local economy, you could almost forget that it is. This exchange provides the ability to exchange dollars for as much as 30-40% beyond the exchange rate just by not using the government regulated option.
- Political Husband & Wife Teams: You might recognize the name President Cristina Kirchner from her striking looks or her ever-present news coverage, but you might not know who preceded her: former President Néstor Kirchner, Cristina Kirchner’s late husband. Cristina took over after his death to become Argentina’s first elected female head of state. Also, in the Province of Santiago, Claudia Abdala succeeded as Governor after her husband Gerardo Zamora. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of these political power couples in the future.
- Buenos Aires vs. the Rest of Argentina: While rivalries are expected in sports from different areas of the country, it came as a surprise that there was a palpable rift between the urban and rural. The charge was that citizens of Buenos Aires were in a different class than the rest of the country, and that those citizens believed it. Whether this is true, and who is responsible for peddling this message, I’m not one to determine. Hopefully, with the growth of the country, this is a rivalry that will eventually wane.
- Time (or lack of): Have a meeting at 9:00am? Take your time. Argentinians are regularly, and casually, late to meetings. It’s just a way of life.
- Debt: The debt topic plagues Argentine conversations – both political and personal. In 2001 Argentina defaulted on their debt and it’s been the worst economic crisis in the country’s history. This is a topic of extreme controversy, and while there have been attempts to restructure this debt, there remains a holdout approach from bondholders and a reluctance by the government to deal with these “vulture funds.”
- Late Night Life: Want to meet someone for dinner? How’s 11:00pm sound? In Argentina it’s commonplace to meet for late dinners and then have drinks and dance late into the night, sometimes ending a night just as the sun is coming up. No wonder you need a siesta!
- Press: In Argentina the press is funded by the government. The government doesn’t necessarily pay the newspapers directly, but they take out advertisements to promote government-funded projects and initiatives, leaving papers that oppose the government out in the cold. I wonder if this influences what is being reported?
- “It’s Complicated:” Like many things in life, there are many factors that create the “norm.” In Argentina this is particularly true. I learned to appreciate the commonly and repeatedly used term during my time there, “it’s complicated.” Indeed it is!
Andrew Kovalcin is the senior director of advocacy and external affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce