I was fortunate to have an invite back to Mendoza and live the dream of Argentinean living for three weeks. When you are in one place, living life you begin to realise what it is like to live in a different country and its little idiosyncrasies. Here are some that I came across that make it a different place to live than in the western world.
Shops open at 0900, perhaps 1000 or maybe 1100. Depends. And they will be shut by 1330. For siesta. Hopefully they open at 1700 but it could be later than that. They will stay open till 2000 or 2100. Depends… on how they are feeling.
As a westerner, this is the time to go out and do your grocery shopping and go to any other shops that maybe open at this time as there will be no queues. If you get to the supermarket after 1700, then be ready to stand in a queue down the aisle of the shop.
Owning a vehicle
Due to inflation, cars actually go up in value in Argentina – where else does that happen in the world? The other thing about owning a motor is the annual tax on your car. It is dependent on the value of your car and with inflation, if the value of cars is going up then the more tax you need to pay; and that percentage is pretty high. Owning a car is not common place. There are bangers galore.
Be ready to queue. On one occasion that I had the pleasure of being in the truck, we just turned to go into the forecourt; it was full with cars. Well, we were honked out of it. It transpired that they were queuing across the street and down the road to get in.
Here in Argentina cars are expensive, it is not common place to use a car. Petrol is cheaper in Argentina than in the UK at 75p for a litre, but when you are not earning much, you only use your car and fill it up when necessary. Public transport is essential. People can’t get into work without the buses so they need to put petrol in their cars.So if the buses are “on strike” then they need to get their cars out, hence the queues for hours. Whoah betide you if you try and push in in the petrol queue!
Forget about the customer
I organised a cash transfer in from the UK. Within an hour of making the request I was advised that I could pick it up. I head down to Arpenger to pick it up on Friday. I ran after class in case they closed for siesta, I needed the money to be able to leave that weekend. Chance would be a fine thing… they were shut. Not for siesta, but I think (!) for a family bereavement. A note was left on the door saying that they would not be open until Monday morning. So no one was going to be able to get money or pay in!
Come Monday morning, I make my way there, about an hour before siesta, and guess what? The shop was full and a queue outside going down the mall. People accept queuing here. It is the norm. Just get in line and wait… They haven’t got to the stage of opening up all the cashiers in the shop to keep people happy and the money flowing in. If you’re in the shop, ready to spend money and its 1330, they will send you away and close up. Forget about the money.
They like paper. The system works with paper. Low and behold if you don’t have your papers to add to the piles of it already on the desk, forget it, you need to go and get your photocopies and come back. They haven’t moved over to electronic systems yet.
Anyway, back to my electronic transfer… Arpenger are actually open during siesta, but they close at 1700. I go back during siesta time thinking the queues would have died down (people go home for siesta no matter what and everything becomes quieter), queued for 45 minutues, get to the desk and she tells me, in very fast spanish, translated by another customer in the shop, that I need photocopies of my passport and stamps into Argentina. Rubbish! Its gone 1400 and of course all the photocopy shops are shut; its siesta! Not opening again till 1700. I’m ready to give up. I start to head back to the hostel and just by chance I come across a small kiosko that does them.
Back to Arpenger I head with my pieces of paper and there is no way I am not going to queue again… I go straight up to the desk, much to the dismay of everyone else sitting in the shop and fortunately she now gives me my money. What the heck! Bloody paperwork.
You can only pay a certain amount on your debit card when you come to the till, but you can do that transaction 10 times if need be. In some areas you can also pay your bills at the till, so you think you are in a queue with people who have few items; forget that, they have all their bills to pay, usually with their debit cards.
Often the cashiers don’t have coin or note change to give you. Fear not, they will give your sweets or stock cubes to compensate you! Or a good one I just heard, go into the pharmacy, not enough change? They will give you band aid (aka plaster) or two to compensate.
The largest note in Argentina currently is 100 pesos, the equivalent of £5. Your wallet maybe full of paper but it’s got very little value to it.
Going to the cash machine can also be a trial add you are limited to how much you can withdraw. There was the conspiracy theory that this was so the banks could charge you more bank fees but it is actually because they don’t have that many notes in circulation to keep up with demand. Later this year they are sure to release 200 and 500 peso notes, which will be a relief for all.
But feel sorry for the locals. When they get paid towards the end of the week, they queue down the street to access their money. All patiently waiting to get to that elusive cash machine.
Renting a house
Specifically in Mendoza, you can only rent a place if you sign up for a two year contract. With that contact you must also get two guarantors – one who owns a house in Mendoza and the other who has a job there. Should you default on your rental payments, these guarantors are liable to pay the rest of term for you. If you’re a foreigner new to the city, you either have to rent a room, find an expat who is forward thinking enough to realise if you pay 6 months up front in US$ you are good for it.
The other thing is, with inflation, they can put a clause in the contract that your rent rises by 15% every six months to cover the possibility of inflation. Your wages may not be increasing, but your rent certainly could be.