Photo: Alexandr Vorobev/Shutterstock

5 Uncomfortable Truths About Living in Buenos Aires

by Meaghan Beatley Mar 11, 2015

1. Skyrocketing inflation and economic instability

At approximately 40%, inflation in Buenos Aires is enough to give even the healthiest person a stress-driven stroke. Rents spike, the price of food is constantly on the rise — so much so that many restaurants have stopped printing their menus and write them on chalkboards instead, considering they are forced to change prices every month.

Given the economy’s volatility — Argentina just defaulted on its debt this past summer — many Buenos Aires residents, both Argentines and expats, put their stock in the dollar, hoarding the foreign currency and exchanging it at the “blue” rate. Yes, Argentina has two different exchange rates. The peso’s constant devaluation makes it basically impossible to save, so unless you find a way of procuring dollars, which, let’s face it, just feeds into the country’s economic mess, you can kiss long term plans and travel goodbye.

2. Rampant crime

If you haven’t been robbed in Buenos Aires, count your lucky stars and knock on wood. Better knock a few times, for good measure. Petty crime abounds in the Argentine capital, from pickpocketing in the crowded subte (metro) to muggings at bus stops. Thieves on motorcycles have been known to speed by and snatch iPhones out of unsuspecting tourists’ hands while they are in a taxi with an open back window. Locals quickly learn to exercise basic precaution, such as storing cash in shoes, bras, and other less accessible parts on their person or driving through red lights at night in order to avoid car jackings.

A 2014 OSAC report classifies crime in Buenos Aires as a “serious problem” and warns against armed robberies as well as schemes such as “mustard on the back,” in which a seemingly helpful person offers to help you clean off mustard that’s magically appeared on you while an accomplice snatches your bag in the few seconds you are distracted. I hardly know what’s worse: the anger you feel at having been robbed, or the overwhelming stupidity you feel for not having seen it coming. A one-time victim of this stratagem, I’m still working on that one.

3. Poverty

Following the 2001 economic collapse, many Argentines were forced to abandon their homes and relocate to villas (slums) dotted around and throughout the city, often right next to some of the capital’s wealthiest neighborhoods. Over the years, these villa populations have only increased — and dramatically so. According to a 2010 census, Rodrigo Bueno villa’s population increased from 350 residents in 2001 to 1,800. And today, there are more than 10,000 villas within Buenos Aires Province and 56 within the capital, harboring approximately 325.837 and 73.325 families, respectively, Argentine nonprofit TECHO claims. According to Index Mundi, that’s 30% of Argentines living below the poverty line.

Poverty may be most visible in the villas, but it’s by no means contained there. Riding the subte, one becomes all too accustomed to seeing children robotically hand out trinkets — hair pins, religious cards — to metro riders, asking for a few pesos in exchange. Homeless men nap beneath doorways of posh edifices in Recoleta, one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods.

4. Lack of transparency and corruption

As the Nisman affair unfolds, one thing becomes all too apparent: an overwhelming lack of transparency and public accountability within government permeates Argentine politics. Biased media and coverups make it almost impossible to sift fact from fiction.

Transparency International awards Argentina 34 out of 100 (0 representing high corruption and 100 representing clean) for its corruption-perceptions index and claims that 77% of Argentines believe their government’s effort to fight corruption are ineffective. In a 2013 survey, the organization called Argentina and Mexico the most corrupt countries in Latin America.

5. Racism and cultural insensitivity

Porteña society, with its roots largely in Italy, Spain, and other Western European countries, is fairly homogenous. As an expat, if you fit that European-descended mold, chances are you’ll fit right in (superficially, at least). If you hail from more “exotic” climes, however, expect to receive some unwanted attention. I’ve frequently heard black acquaintances — of both African and North American origin — complain of porteños’ lack of awareness and insensitivity when making reference to their cultural backgrounds.

Terrible stereotypes about immigrants from the North — Peru and Bolivia, primarily — also proliferate. “Bolivians are dirty” and “Peruvians don’t work” are comments so commonly dished out you’d think they were empirical assessments regarding avocado prices.

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