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Subtle and Not-So-Subtle Differences

Josh wanted to call this post: Argentina Smargentina. You be the judge.

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As we sit here in Abusto Shopping Mall sipping on our $7 bottle of Aberdeen Angus Malbec (i.e. house wine), which is quite good I might add, we laugh about the obvious and not-so obvious differences between our country and this one. I find that I have learned a lot more about our culture and our country by seeing the differences here. Here are some differences we have noticed:

  • Argentines don't believe in eating much more than a crusty piece of bread or calorie packed croissant for breakfast (medialuna). To ask for an egg, waffle, or even bacon is considered nutty. Their breakfast specials often are made up of orange juice, toast and jam, or, if you're lucky, a boiled egg.
  • Coffee: Here - 90% cream & 10% coffee vs Home - 10% cream and 90% coffee. Don't be fooled by the sound of Cafe con Leche, it tastes like steamed milk, however it's all they drink. Plus they are all named differently at each cafe, so if you order a cafe chico or grande it may be espresso or might be an Americano with water added. It's always an adventure.
  • Every restaurant is a different dining experience. Most of the time they don't acknowledge you unless you flag them down, and once you get their attention expect it to take another 20mins to get a menu. Once you know what you want you better be ready to wait 1hr for your food to come and pay once its delivered because you may never see them again. They really don't understand the concept of up sale. Some are better, but mostly they like you to take your time and give you your space (that is how I choose to see it).
  • Happy Hour is an odd concept down here. Some bars see it as a chance to bring in new customers with cheap drink deals (similar to the U.S.), but others miss the concept entirely. We did happen to find a place this past weekend with buy one pint get one free, that was a first. The best story was in Cuzco, Peru, when we saw a big Happy Hour sign and asked what the Happy Hour prices were and he looked at us sideways and said, "same." We tried explaining the concept in our terms, but he just wasn't having it. He probably thought we were trying to swindle a free drink.
  • Take out is HUGE here. Every single restaurant delivers food and even coffees to you at your house or at work. It's so cool. The best part is that it is cheaper to place an order for delivery than to eat in the restaurant, because in restaurants they charge a sitting fee to eat their bread and use a table cloth (another difference). Whenever we eat sushi we order it in because it happens to be $3-$10 cheaper than in the restaurant. Of course we figured this out when we found the take-out menu after eating a pretty expensive sushi dinner in the restaurant. They, also, make the take out orders first in most restaurants, and you can expect to get it within 30mins of ordering it, depending, while diners get to wait an extra 30mins for their food.
  • Wine is SUPER cheap and REALLY tasty. You can get bottles at the grocery store for as little at $4 and they are quite good. We prefer the $7-$10 bottles, but we have heard people say that they have had a $4 bottle that was awesome. Beer is also extreamly cheep. You can get a liter of their local beer Quilmes for $2 and if you return the bottle get $1 back. Cha. Cheap. We found out this weekend that if bars advertise Quilmes, they get it free, so they can charge what they want and usually make it really cheap. Win win.
  • On a similar note, their beer here is one note. I can't tell you how much I miss Blue Moon or Firestone's Double Barrel Ale. Their beer Quilmes tastes a lot like Miller Light and their other beers, if you can find anything else on the menu, rarely has a different taste. They don't believe in IPAs here. Well, actually, we did get to a bar at the start of our trip where they were serving an IPA and I convinced our new Brazilian friend to try it. As we all know it's pretty potent if you're not used to it, so needless to say he thought I was crazy for drinking such a "horrible" drink and let me have it.
  • They LOVE their sweets here. Every block, no exaggeration, has a small stand or kiosk, where they sell every possible candy ever made, including Ferro Rocher (Josh's fave), and it's cheap. If there isn't a stand close enough you can easily find a confiteria (pasty shop) to buy your fresh baked sweets. They are fantastic! They have every kind of baked good, sweet and otherwise, lining the walls and you fill up you bucket with whatever meets your fancy and it's never more than $20. Even for a whole pie! Bad for the waistline, good for the soul!
  • Public transportation is as good, if not better, than San Francisco, but totally chaotic. It seems that if you are not a local, you will never figure out the bus system. The buses are never on time and you may be stuck waiting for a while. Once it does come, you have to flag it like a taxi and jump on as quickly as you can. They usually start driving off and trying to close the door before you have both feet in. Plus, when it's your stop, be ready, because the door does not stay open for very long. Sometimes you have to do a duck and roll out of it to catch your stop. The sub is easy to use and cheap, but be ware of the weekend, some stops close down for the weekends and you have to walk and extra five or eight blocks to catch the next. Again, no time schedule.
  • An interesting non-difference to note is that they show all of the same shows that we have. We wake up to Two and a Half Men and Friends, and then catch prime time TV later in the day like Lie to Me and Law and Order (no country is safe from Law and Order, it's on all the time everywhere. How do they do it?!), and if I really want to I can catch up on entertainment news on E! I even watched the Emmy's from start to finish in English. They are even going to start showing the new fall season when it starts back home. It's dangerous because we are watching more TV than I expected to, but it's a nice taste of home.

That's all I can think of for now, but I may add as we get down to the last few weeks here.

Two more differences I thought should be mentioned after I posted the article:

  • The fresh food here is unbelievable and easily accessible. There are fruit and vegetable stands on every clock, sometimes 2, and most have a fresh meat stand in them. The fruit stands are beautiful displays of what is in season and each stand has their own cheap deals. The place we get our mandarins sells 2pds for $3 and the eggplant is less than $1 a piece. The meat stands are great too with fresh whole chickens, several types of meat, fresh eggs and seasoned chicken for quick dinners. It's easy to eat fresh food every day.
  • The biggest and most important difference that I should have mentioned before is the difference in economy. We recently found out that the local inflation rate is 25%! People do not trust the banks, so the often spend everything they make. When prices change their income changes at a much slower rate, and coupled with the tourism, it's really expensive for locals to live here. We have heard it's difficult to find a job and when you do, it's tough to get paid a good salary. On average they make about $6,000-$8,000 dollars a YEAR! At least that is what a local told us. The banks offer amazing interest rates to entice people to keep their money with them (we've heard as much as 25% interest!), but the people are just too scared that something will happen and the government will take their money, so they don't care about the incentives. It's pretty incredible.

Posted by JAM2010 07:44 Archived in Argentina

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