Gold Rush Fever

2006.Sep.12 Tuesday · 9 comments

in Life, Popular Posts

“The true secret of giving advice is, after you have honestly given it, to be perfectly indifferent whether it is taken or not, and never persist in trying to set people right.”

– Logan Pearsall Smith, early 20th Century American Essayist

Buenos Aires – Giving and taking advice is one of the most dangerous passtimes that occurs on this planet, that’s my view. If you think about it, in one form or another, it’s at the root of much of the “evil” in the world, bad marriages, family breakups, bar fights, and who knows what else. One could make a case that whole portions of major conflagrations like the euphemistically named “Middle East Crisis” are the result of advice giving – Islamic extremists giving (and insisting, often violently) advice on moral conduct of not only their people, but others as well; I know my people over there in Israel can’t resist not only telling ourselves how to live, but no doubt a few years back some yenta along the border tried to meddle in the wedding of a nice local Arab boy; and, of course, the U.S. is famous for jumping in and advising (often violently) folk on “the right way to live” – after all, we know somewhere in our collective American souls that “democracy” is the only valid approach, and we’re not shy about inserting ourselves into affairs of others.

Obviously this is brought on by thoughts after the big anniversary yesterday, scenes of the towers burning and collapsing were broadcast on many of the channels here – along with various looks back, looks forward, and glances cast askew – all stuff that brought back still fairly vivid memories of watching it all from my living room window in lower Manhattan. Pundits are offering up their advice to world leaders on how to behave (why yes, of course, the elected and/or ascended heads of state are all eager to run their countries based on the opinions of journalists and bloggers…). A local friend compared it to the “day that will live in infamy” – Pearl Harbor, which, as I pointed out, for anyone who wasn’t actually there, has become nothing more than a holiday and an extra day off of work for most folk – a generation from now, most likely, that’s all that 9/11 will be.

So why this little ramble through my subconscious? Well, it’s more conscious, as apparently, I am becoming regarded as an advice giver. Not on matters of state, thankfully; not that I don’t have my opinions on the such things, but even though I have a cousin who worked in the White House up until recently, I wasn’t able to get him to slip notes in front of GWB at the time, so it’s unlikely I’ll get anywhere now. No, it’s on matters of food, wine, and moving to Argentina. The former two I can carry on at length for, as you all know, and I’m always happy to answer questions when they come up (and they do, not in great number, but I probably get half a dozen e-mails after nearly every post asking for some sort of further info). The latter is a bit tricky.

Moving to Argentina has become this amazing dream, perpetuated by the media, and probably by a few blogs. Every major newspaper in the U.S., England, France, Australia (and probably other places, and “minor” newspapers as well) has carried stories about the cheap real estate, the cheap food, living the high life, easy girls, easy boys, great steaks, hanging out with other expats, teaching English, learning Spanish (of a particular sort), artwork, antiques, and a dozen other things that have been pounced upon by one writer or another as the reason to pack up and move halfway across the globe. There are websites and blogs that glorify the lifestyle, making it sound like a golden opportunity. There are expat and tourist forums on yahoo, msn, fodor’s, tripadvisor, and probably multiple other hosting venues where much the same occurs. And you know what? It’s all true. But…

“It’s much like the gold rush. It starts off with quite a few honest, hardworking prospectors who strike it rich now and again. And then you get the hangers on, the camp followers, the hookers, all the rest of the garbage that comes along because they think the streets are lined with gold.”

– Frank Griffin, Partner, Bauer-Griffin

What’s often missing, and what I think some of us in the blogosphere have tried to slip in here and there, is that there are some harsh realities to the whole thing. It means giving up your comfort zone in a lot of ways, or as a friend back in the States who I was talking to last night put it, “It’s much safer if things just stay the same.” Picking up and moving here means giving up a lot of stuff you’re used to, and that’s obviously variable depending on your lifestyle – but it can include things like getting used to irregular mail deliveries, if things ever arrive, or having to go pick up packages at the central post office, an often several hour and costly process, lack of landline telephone service, cellphones that you still pay by the minute – no “calling plans”, electricity that goes off at random times, front doors on apartment buildings that require a key to not only get in, but to get out, pickpockets on the streets, poverty, counterfeit money scams, taxi driver ripoffs, surcharges on purchases for being a foreigner, learning a new language, trying to fit into a new culture, odd hours for dining, rampant smoking, dog poop on the sidewalks, feral cats, cracked and broken sidewalks and street paving, a subway system that shuts down at random intervals (and only runs during the day and early evening), buses and cars belching black smoke, litter, armed police on the corners, corrupt armed police on the corners, cheek kissing amongst all genders for greetings and goodbyes, hugs for the same, lack of things you’re used to being able to buy easily (peanut butter, tylenol, cheddar cheese, for example), the metric system, expensive electronics, 50% import taxes on, well, imports, overcooked pasta, overcooked steaks, no choice of brands, sushi that’s only salmon, visa renewals, red tape, multi-hour-long lines for anything and everything, weeks or months to get services connected, being a yanqui or gringo, open racism, more open classism, and you know what? Some of those expats that you were thinking about hanging out with because they were so cool, aren’t; and maybe, just maybe, they don’t want to have anything to do with you.

It’s a lot to consider, and if you want my advice, and I don’t have any attachment to whether or not you follow it, come here on vacation first. Make it a long vacation, or come several times. Or at least for a trial period of several months without giving up everything back home. Or not, it’s really up to you. One of my friends here packed up and moved here because someone she knew told her she’d like it. She’d never been here before and never thought about it before, but here she still is, two years later. [Edit: Two years later, after coming home to find a burglary in place and getting herself tied up at gunpoint and threatened, she packed it in and left within a couple of weeks, vowing never to set foot in this country again.] Others came here and visited on and off for years. Some folks have moved back to the U.S., England, or other places, after giving it a shot – you don’t read about the folks who came and gave it a try but didn’t stay. But still, I get two or three e-mails a week that are embodied by the one I got last night:

I’ve never visited Argentina, or traveled anywhere else outside the U.S., and I don’t speak Spanish, but I’m seriously thinking of selling everything and relocating there. I hope to learn Spanish and sell real estate to rich Americans. What do you think of this idea?

Can you tell this is a person (multiple people really) who read one or more newspaper articles and has some sort of fantasy life in mind? Selling real estate to Americans? Line up behind the hundreds of folk who got here before you did with the same idea. Second most common brilliant idea after “I’m going to teach English to the natives”. The natives??? This isn’t an outpost in the jungle…

What do I think of the idea? Not much.

Back to food and wine, mañana.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

wrighton September 12, 2006 at 23:00

Hahahaha That’s what I’ve been thinking for awhile. I’ll just link here whenever I get one of those mails.

Last week I was with some tour people from last October (they’re back for the second time around), & of course most of the convo revolved around real estate. They speak absolutely no Spanish, & I had to be honest with them & said that they’d probably get ripped off sooner or later without any language skills. Heck, even with, there’s stil a good chance of it happening. I don’t think they believed me.

I’m very glad that people are discovering Argentina, but I don’t know how many of them are able to deal with the reality of living here.

dan September 13, 2006 at 07:42

I received this by e-mail, and thought I’d add it in – oddly, I was just sort of feeling cranky yesterday and wrote the piece as a bit of a rant!

“I just finished reading your latest. It is very well written, thoughtful, brilliant really. I am often asked about living in Argentina. Today I was asked if one could live well in Argentina without speaking Spanish! And it occurred to me that you are the only one I know of in Buenos Aires that speaks English. I had cancer surgery some months ago and even my doctor,speaks only a few words. Do people really attempt to make a new life in South America,without at least a semblance of fluency?On account of supposedly cheap real estate!? Amazing! It is my humble observation that Argentinian “girls” are as complicated as anyone anywhere. Pero que se yo!”

Now, I have to go stand in line at migraciones for the rest of the day hoping to get a longer term visa….

Saratica September 13, 2006 at 11:20

Ditto Costa Rica. We did move here without ever having been here and have thrived. Our situation was quite different than most, however. We had a “commitment” to the idea that was born of need rather than choice. My income at home ended abruptly (selling real estate to Americans as a matter of fact) and we were literally running away from the devastation of Wilma. This “commitment” has served us well in overcoming the hurdles you mention, all of which we’ve encountered here. And, of course, the list doesn’t end here.

I guess people don’t know when you teach English to the natives you are paid like a native…

dan September 13, 2006 at 15:18

Well there’s definitely the pay issue, I remember one young lady telling me she planned to charge US$50 an hour for her teaching services, since that’s what it cost for language lessons in Los Angeles where she lived. I pointed out that most teachers here operate on somewhere between 20 and 30 pesos an hour for private lessons, and that the average wage is about 40 pesos a day. On top of that, she kept looking around for “the natives” and couldn’t understand why there weren’t lots of little brown people running around, which was her view of what she thought she’d find here – I mentioned that the Spanish and British had kind of wiped them off the face of the map in the 19th Century, which seemed to shock her that such a thing could have happened. She didn’t stay.

ksternberg September 14, 2006 at 10:30

Dear Dan,

I am a complete idiot here in my hometown of [fill in the blank] U.S., but do you think if I sold everything I owned and moved to Argentina everything would change? My passion is to open a bagel bakery. Would the natives there like bagels? Oh, and I don’t speak a word of Spanish. Would that be a problem?

Thank you.

dan September 14, 2006 at 17:53

Given that what you think of as a bagel up there in Middle-of-Nowhere, Massachusetts, is about as close as what locals think one is here, you’d probably be a success!

ksternberg September 14, 2006 at 20:59

I retain my New York sensibilities, even though it’s painful at times. As luck has it, my town has an acceptable enough wholesale bagel bakery that passes as adequate to fair. Toasting helps.

dan September 15, 2006 at 08:22

Well, I’ll still reserve judgment until you open your bakery and I taste one of your bagels. By the way, your note, while in the same tenor as many that I receive, at least proposes to do something unique, even if the outcome is uncertain. If I received one like that, I’d probably be at least a bit more encouraging – the “I’m want to sell real estate to rich Americans” or “I’m going to teach English to the little brown people” are just pretty much guarantees of failure. At least a bagel bakery, if one actually had the talent to bake good bagels, would be something that didn’t have a legion of businesses competing in the same field. And who knows? I know I’m not the only expat who misses good NY-style bagels!

mkobrak September 15, 2006 at 22:22

There was once a bagel shop on the corner of Peña and Pueyrredon, and although I hadn’t tried the real thing for years, I thought they were more than half decent, but after less than a year they folded… Maybe someone should try again, not a get rich quick scheme, just to try something new. As to teaching English to the natives, as a native who teaches English, the competition is considerable, and I have heard of 15 pesos an hour English teachers, not enough even for most of us natives…

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