Double Standards

2009.Apr.28 Tuesday · 12 comments

in Life, Popular Posts

“The ‘double speak’ in tourism material, in a country as new and immature as Argentina is to tourism, is lamentably common, much like the “double price” (for foreigners versus locals) that many practice since the devaluation of the peso, starting with our own Argentine government. That ‘native cunning’, along with the inefficiency of domestic air transport is in my opinion, the major threat to the future of tourism in Buenos Aires and Argentina.

– Diego Bigongiari, BUE, Buenos Aires and Surrounds, Traveler’s Guide [my translation]

Buenos Aires – Most of us have gotten used to the double pricing for many things here in Argentina and particularly in Buenos Aires. However, the majority of those have been things that have some level of government sponsorship or ownership, or at least patronage – museums, state theaters, domestic airlines, national and state parks. The general approach is that legal residents (which includes foreigners who have a national identity card and residency visa) get a 50% discount – the tacit assumption being that they pay some level of taxes and that that entitles them to a better rate. The truth is, those without simply pay double – the unspoken part being “they’re all rich foreigners and we poor Argentines deserve everything we can take from them”. The monetary effect is the same, the psychological is not.

I’ve even seen or heard of the occasional foreigner who gets hit for “the same price” but gets told that the “$” in front of the price stands for dollars, not pesos. Not true – the standard here, and anyone who lives here knows it, is that if the price is in dollars they use “US$” or “U$” or even “U$S” in front of the numbers – a dollar sign by itself is a peso sign. Period. Punto.

Today, a friend who is headed down to visit sent me a query, as one of the hotels that I’ve recommended, many times over the last few years, seemed to be charging him an exhorbitant rate. Indeed, it was easily double his last visit, less than two years ago. The hotel, the Juncal Palace Hotel, here in my ‘hood. And, I went to their site…

Juncal Palace rate sheet
…and, right there, in black and white (and, by the way, illegal here for a private business, I should point out), a rate sheet giving, basically, one-third off to residents, or, more accurately, charging foreigners a 40% upcharge, simply because they’re foreigners. Needless to say, this place just came off my recommended list. Now, I know they’re not beholden to me, but over the last four plus years I’ve probably sent them 25-30 customers. No more. Same goes for anyplace else I find doing the same thing. Period. Punto.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Conor April 30, 2009 at 09:50

I could understand after the economic collapse the necessity for two separate prices but certainly not now. It beggars belief that it is now so engrained in Argentina and now as you stated open for abuse and used to simply rip off foreigners, which does the whole country disservice and grants it a bad reputation.

Just out of curiosity, is it enshrined in law that anyone can charge a premium for foreigners. Furthermore is it enshrined in law that if it states $ it is in pesos and if a person is charged in dollars for a $ price there is a right to question this?

dan April 30, 2009 at 11:44

To the best of my knowledge, other than something that is government supported, where the theory is that residents are paying taxes and therefore are entitled to a resident discount (something that’s common in many countries around the world), I believe it’s illegal for a private business to do this. I doubt it gets enforced, but I recall a big expose on it about a year ago in one of the major daily papers here, probably La Nación, where a bunch of businesses were fined for doing this. And, as you state, it feeds Argentina’s reputation as a country of thieves, one which, for the vast majority of the population, is undeserved, but there are enough of them around that it tarnishes the whole nation’s image.

As it turned out, this led me to another local hotel Lion d’Or, at which my friend was able to book at the rate that they offer to all visitors, regardless of where from, and for less than the resident rate at the Juncal Palace.

As to the dollar/peso thing, I don’t know if there’s any legislation about it, but it’s certainly standard practice that the symbol with nothing else refers to Argentine pesos, the local currency. It’d be sort of stupid otherwise to use the symbol. It’s a leftover from the days when the peso and the dollar were pegged together financially, Argentina started using the symbol (prior to that there was a different peso symbol – A). It’d certainly be less confusing if they went back to the peso symbol, on the other hand, the last couple of generations have grown up with $ sign and are used to it. When it comes down to it though, why would any little neighborhood store be stating their prices in dollars here in Argentina (although a couple of things, like real estate and cars, are always priced in dollars – though they state that specifically)? The people who fall for this… shouldn’t, if they stop to think about it.

Ignacio April 30, 2009 at 15:51

Just a little clarification.

The symbol “$” represents the Argentine currency and the currencies existing in the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata since, at least, 1776. The $ was a commonly used notation in Spanish America for representing the “real de a ocho” or “peso de ocho reales” since, it appears, the XVI century. Why? There are several theories: one points to a commonly used abbreviation of the word “pesos” “PS” which degenerated into “$”; another one, to the markings used by the “ceca de Potosí” in the coins minted there.

As a matter of fact, the USA used the “peso de ocho reales” as currency during the XVIII century and therefore, it kept using the “$” symbol for the US dollar when it replaced the Spanish “pesos” as currency.

All legal regulations existing in Argentina since the Independence identified the different “pesos” with the “$” symbol, either alone or in combination with other symbols/letters (there have been different “pesos” due to changes in the currency due to general policies or, generally, inflation, such as (i) “peso moneda corriente” or “$m/c” (from 1826 to 1881); “peso moneda nacional” or “m$n” (from 1881 to 1969); (iii) “peso Ley 18.888” or “$” (from 1969 to 1983); (iv) “peso argentino” or “$a”(from 1983 to 1985).

The only period in which the Argentine currency was represented with a different symbol was from 1985 to 1991. During this period, the currency was the “Austral” and the symbol representing it was an “A” with an additional horizontal bar over the regular one for the capital “A”.

¿Confusing? You bet!

Currently, the symbol “$” refers to the “peso” due to article 2 of Decree N° 2828/91. The current “peso” was born then as a “convertible” peso due to Law N° 23.928.

So, when in Argentina, “$” means -legally- Argentine pesos; as you correctly note, here “US dollars” would be “US$” (U$S is incorrect, though widespread). When you refer to Argentine pesos in the US, in another English speaking country or in a country which has a “peso” as local currency, you should write “AR$” (this is the standard usage in bond offering prospects, etc.).

Best regards,

Ken Sternberg May 1, 2009 at 09:50

As the friend in question, I suppose this sort of thing happens in many other places, too. But to me, the only result of such discriminatory pricing will be to convince Americans not to visit Buenos Aires or maybe not even anywhere in Argentina. This would be bad because Argentina could benefit from an influx of strong U.S. dollars.

Remember the old myth about how the French are cold, stuffy and dislike Americans so don’t travel there? It may not be true, but when a perception becomes widely held, reality becomes unimportant. I’m lucky to have visited Argentina and BA before, so I had a broader sense that gouging norte americanos was not practiced by everyone.

dan May 1, 2009 at 13:47

Igancio, thanks for the clarification – I guess I’d seen the A symbol before and hadn’t realized that it hadn’t been a long term usage. Indeed, looking it up, prior to the austral, the $ symbol was used regularly, at some periods with various letters following it as the currency name changed.

Ken, exactly – and the point of the quote, which is from a local friend’s book that was just published last year. It is indeed unfortunate that some people will only get to experience this practice when they visit – and I think it’s becoming more and more prevalent with the declining ratio of the peso to the dollar as it approaches 4:1 instead of 3:1 – locals want dollars!

Evan May 2, 2009 at 20:19

I hope that you informed the hotel that you have stopped recommending them and that you have in the past sent 25-30 people to them. The following is the law (article 8 ) regarding this issue.

Trato digno. Prácticas abusivas. Los proveedores deberán garantizar condiciones de atención y trato digno y equitativo a los consumidores y usuarios. Deberán abstenerse de desplegar conductas que coloquen a los consumidores en situaciones vergonzantes, vejatorias o intimidatorias. No podrán ejercer sobre los consumidores extranjeros diferenciación alguna sobre precios, calidades técnicas o comerciales o cualquier otro aspecto relevante sobre los bienes y servicios que comercialice. Cualquier excepción a lo señalado deberá ser autorizada por la autoridad de aplicación en razones de interés general debidamente fundadas.

dan May 3, 2009 at 11:37

Evan, I didn’t, though I may now, having this bit of law in hand. I’m assuming this comes from some sort of Hotel Code?

For those who don’t read Spanish, here’s my rough translation of what Evan provided – emphasis mine.

Fair treatment. Abusive practices. Providers must guarantee conditions of fair and equitable treatment of customers and users. They must abstain from allowing conduct that would put customers in embarrasing, humiliating or intimidating situations. They may not exert upon foreign customers any differentiation in prices, technical or commercial quality, or any other relevant aspect about the goods and services they offer. Any exception to this agreement must be authorized by the Authority and based on reasons of properly founded general interest.

Evan May 3, 2009 at 11:50

I believe this is article 8 of a national law. If you have a lawyer, why not ask him to check this. As for the “exceptions” I have a feeling that few have ever been authorized. I have been waiting for someone to start a test case, i.e. take someone to court for double pricing on the grounds that it is a constitutional violation. Argentina is very protective of the rights of non citizens so this sort of abuse would seem to be completely illegal even though it is practiced by government entities. Even the city owned/run Teatro Colon got into the act a few years ago with double pricing for non-residents. They pretended that local people got a discount when in fact they DOUBLED existing prices rather than lower existing prices for locals. The result was pricing as high as $1,000 pesos per ticket for a single opera for foreigners. The policy caused a lot of ill will and resentment and was dropped because sales went down.

Evan May 3, 2009 at 12:17

This should help:

ARTÍCULO 6°.- Incorpórase como artículo 8° bis de la Ley N° 24.240 de Defensa del Consumidor, el siguiente: (as stated above).

Double pricing is strictly illegal however its abuse is not only being ignored by the authorities but practiced by the authorities. Nevertheless, the courts often rule against practices by government that they deem unconstitutional, hence a test case would be worthwhile.

Conor May 3, 2009 at 15:31

It is going to be an interesting period now with tourist numbers dropping quite quickly. Coupled with the growing perception of double standards, it could have pretty bad results for the tourism industry and thus the Argentine economy as a whole. I personally believe that this double pricing was kind of necessary after the last economic collapse but now doesn’t seem right. A sharp depreciation of the peso since 2002/3 from 1/1 would have made the two prices a necessary thing but nowadays, with a more stable currency and increasing, yet albeit disproportionate growth, it doesn’t seem right. Especially with airlines flights (and what I find incredibly wrong from an international carrier like LAN) it is not right. It has become a means to extort more money or a simple, virtually stable cash cow.

dan May 3, 2009 at 15:43

The problem, I think, is one of very short-sightedness. It’s not really surprising, Argentina’s economy has been based on short-term view policies for nearly two centuries now, with no view towards what will benefit the country and its populace in the long run. It’s the economic model that people are brought up in, learn in school, is it any wonder that they adopt it in their personal lives and business dealings? It is, unfortunately, a Catch-22. The short-term model leads to repeated economic collapses, which justifies that the monetary system is unstable, and therefore props up the belief that you get what you can while you can, transfer it into more stable currencies and keep it out of this country as much as possible. The same model leads to the non-payment of taxes – after all, why pay into a system that’s going to collapse in a couple of years; why pay into a system where the government will likely change in an even shorter time, with no one looking to recover back taxes – often even flat out “forgiving” all past debts?

Evan May 3, 2009 at 19:08

Dan, you are 100% right in your assessment. I do not think the attitude will change in my lifetime. Business here is always done with the short term in mind. As you said, it’s a question of getting what you can now in whatever way you can. The system does not reward hard workers nor entrepreneurs unless they are well connected. It certainly does not reward the honest. Conor, I believe you are 100% wrong. There was NEVER any justification for double pricing. I’m sure you would not approve of it in your own country. You might as well hang a sign stating “Blacks pay a higher price; whites a lower one”. It is discriminatory, plain and simple. The sad thing is that a lot of people here have convinced themselves that this is a worldwide practice. Imagine being charged DOUBLE at Covent Garden just because you don’t have a British passport!

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