The Sport of Thievery

2005.Jul.18 Monday · 0 comments

in Life

Buenos Aires – If you were out to sell someone on moving somewhere, you’d probably emphasize all the positive aspects of life there. Things to do, things to see, the simplicity, the tranquility, the pace, the whatever it is that makes your country, city, or neighborhood an attractive place to you. Or at least that’s what I’d do.

Despite all those things being available to talk about in Buenos Aires, it seems that there is a different approach here. Expats and native porteños alike seem to revel in telling stories about what’s wrong with Argentina. It might be as simple as people who don’t pick up after their dogs. No one does here, it’s unthinkable – I mean, there must be someone out there who’s paid to do such things? That’s what taxes are for, right? Not that the majority of folk here pay taxes, but surely someone is paying them and that should cover city services in their view. It might be waiting in line for virtually everything (something I haven’t really found to be true, or at least not nearly as bad as it’s made out to be).

The most common stories seem to involve theft. Not the breaking into your apartment sort of theft, but a more involved, artful sort of theft. It seems to be nearly a national sport. Porteños tell me tales of people they know who make a living cheating other people out of their money. Often close friends. Some tell me about times they’ve done the same themselves. Expats tell stories of having their credit cards used by local friends as if it were just some sort of charming quirk. At yesterday’s lunch/wine tasting, between the couple of expats there who have been in Argentina for less than a year each, we were looking at well over $10,000 that had been stolen from them via various means – use of credit card numbers, a computer borrowed and never returned or paid for, service people who took money and disappeared. And while clearly not happy about these occurences, everyone there, locals included, seemed to accept this as natural.

Rules and regulations abound, often amounting to little more than sanctioned theft. I had a conversation with a local businessman the other night. None of his “employees” actually work for him. They’re all independent contractors. Why? Because if he actually hired them, first off he’d have to provide all sorts of benefits he’s just not willing to pay for – I mean, anything other than wages should be their problem, not his… And, if they were to actually be employees, on the books, they’d have to pay taxes, and so would he. And topping that off, firing someone requires that you pay them for a month’s wages, plus, an additional month for each year they’ve worked for you – and that’s even if you’re firing them for cause!

Renting an apartment requires stupid amounts of security deposits – it’s not out of the ordinary for a landlord to insist on six months or more, sometimes even a year, in security deposit. Rental contracts are virtually all for a minimum of two years, and they require a guarantor. That was the most interesting for me – in order to rent an apartment, you have to find someone who owns property within city limits who is willing to co-sign your lease and guarantee the two years worth of rent and the condition of the apartment (remember, you already have as much as a year’s rent down as security deposit) as a lien on their property!

My own experiences in the first couple of weeks here are limited – my landlord providing cable tv service – when I asked to add in cable modem service, her response was yes, but not for just the additional amount over the tv service that was included with the apartment, but only if I’d pick up the whole bill (still far less than I’d pay in the U.S.). BankATMs that only issue amounts in 100 peso amounts (and give you 100 peso bills) and then want to charge you to change them for smaller bills at the teller counter. No one here wants to provide change, you literally have to stand your ground in stores and insist on getting change for any bill that’s more than a few pesos above the amount of your purchases, they will, however, happily offer to keep the change (not you, them).

Top it all off with the most common comment you will hear from people here – expats and natives alike – “don’t trust anyone from Argentina, they’re all thieves.” (Except the person issuing this warning to you, of course.)

Life is interesting.

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