Argentines are incredibly resilient and creative
D 111 of lock down... I tend to spend a little more time reading the Sunday paper these days and this week I was reminded of the exceptional creativity of Argentines. Argentina is considered one of the most creative countries in the world in terms of advertising for example. According to the WARC (World Advertising Research Center), that awards the creative excellence in advertising, the country is currently ranked 6th (out of 50) behind US, India, UK, China and UAE. Much of this talent is likely due to the difficult circumstances in which the population has learnt to live throughout its history and although it is not a very joyful reason, it does give hope in today's somber situation.
Here are the ideas that prompted this post:
- shops are not allowed to open, so Aldo's wine store has transplanted all its goods outdoors, on the sidewalk (and it is winter here!)
- Bartender Mona Gallosi is selling vacuum packed cocktails that are delivered directly to your doorstep
- if you don't have a place to work at home, you can get a portable office module
- and if you want to look fashionable and environmentally conscious when you do get out, you can buy a raincoat made of recycled linen, with matching mask!
They even get creative with economics. Remember the "blue" dollar I mentioned in my post about the financial bicycle? Well, it used to simply be called the "black" dollar but when the government announced at some point that they were going to start cracking down on the Black market, the Argentines immediately created the Blue market! Imaginativeness also appears in humor and religion:
Closer to home, Alex decided last Saturday that he wanted to do something special to escape from the dreary lock-down routine, so we went for a very long (slightly illegal) walk, with the dogs of course: to look like neighborhood residents in all places. To make the walk more exotic, he wore a cap that read "Chile" and we went to the shore of the Rio de la Plata to try to see Uruguay on the other side. So basically he traveled to 2 border countries in one afternoon. Uruguay by the way is a real escape for many Argentines who are looking for the greater stability and lower taxes that the 3.5 million Uruguayans enjoy. As a matter of fact, Maria Gabriela, a very good friend of Alex' who lives in Buenos Aires, just obtained the Uruguayan nationality as a back-up plan, and the brother of my friend Ines (who published the beautiful article about our house) relocated to Montevideo recently with his whole family.
On the picture above, you can see the Rio de la Plata and the Buenos Aires skyline which lies to the South of where Alex stands. Uruguay is to the East. Below you can see what the view looks like from Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay, or at least what it looked like in 2014 :) Apparently they call the water "the sea" over there, but it really is the same wide and fresh water river which only reaches the Atlantic a few hundred kilometers further to the South.
To end this post, I will leave you with the chapter of my book which deals with Argentine creativity. It is my little theory #4. Just one "small" update is needed (remember the financial bicycle?!): this was written in 2014 when the Argentine peso was worth about 10 times (!) more than today, meaning that the AR$11,000 that are mentioned would be worth about AR$ 110,000 today (i.e. approximately US$ 1500 at the official rate).
Theory#4: Argentines are everyday superheroes
When I arrived in Argentina, I took interest in the country’s history. This society has gone through a lot: the hardships of the first settlers, the long wait for ships from Spain, violent government changes, dictatorships, cyclical economic crises… A true roller-coaster for which the locals are well-prepared, but which completely surprises foreigners.
Argentines are “resilient” and “invincible” superheroes. They are incredibly creative as far as survival is concerned.
“I admire their patience; I wouldn’t be capable of that kind of strength. On the social and political level, any sort of “shit” happens: they accept it and start over again. Like during the 2001 crisis: we’ll just put our money someplace else… they always find individual solutions. When there’s a problem, it’s all right, life goes on.” (woman, from France, 7 years in Argentina)
“If it doesn’t work one way, they try another way, and they only stop in front of something forbidden. What capacity for adaptation!” (woman, France, 1 year)
“They have a certain optimism which, when things go wrong, enables them to rise above the situation. They let the storm pass and try to make things better. They don’t sink along with the ship.” (man, France, 1 year)
“When Argentines decide to go live in another country they often do very well: if you can manage to survive here, you can make it anywhere.” (man, Holland, 2 years)
“When they fall, they start over.” (man, Taiwan 20 years)
“They are smart and creative businessmen.” (man, Italy, 7 years)
“They’re very innovative. It’s a dynamic society.” (woman, Uruguay, 6 years)
Ricardo from Brazil recalls
I’ve been in this country for a year. I arrived on a sailboat from Sao Paolo and I live on it with my family, in a boat club, surrounded by Argentines who love sailing. The other day I had a problem with the device I use to measure the wind. I feared having to buy another one (the device costs around $11.000!). But one of the Argentines from the club told me he was going to give me the full device for free. And he did. He gave me a little strip of cloth that costs about $6 and that solves the problem: it measures the direction of the wind and tells you whether it is strong or not. Sure, it doesn’t tell you the exact intensity of the wind, but “why do you need to know the exact intensity of the wind anyway?” he asked me. “It only influences you psychologically…” And he was right. Argentines look for simple solutions, more practical and cheaper. Why would you make everything more complicated? I see great strength there.
That’s probably why, in the face of a situation which personally would take me to the limit of my patience, Argentines are usually pretty relaxed. “It’s as if they were made out of rubber”, a Russian interviewee perfectly described. “You stretch, stretch, and they don’t break. I would already have exploded”.
“Frenchmen would jump off the Eiffel Tower if they were confronted with the 2001 Argentina crisis… Argentines know how to swim in troubled waters.” (man, France, 15 years)
“In Holland everything is planned in advance: if you want to see someone you have to schedule it three weeks in advance.” (woman, Holland, 4 years)
“One day I wanted to watch a soccer game and my (Argentine) girlfriend had invited 30 people over for a party. It didn’t bother her at all: she just called all the 30 people and told them the party would be the next day.” (man, Holland, 2 years)
“If they have a problem, they don’t sweat it. Whenever I need to cancel something or am unable to go somewhere, people adapt. In Europe, it would be the end of the world, people feel you’re making their lives more complicated!” (woman, Spain, 2 years)
“Family relations in Argentina are very different from the WASP culture where even with your most intimate family members get-togethers are always scheduled, planned… Here there is much more social flexibility and people are happy when a family member shows up, it’s not a big deal.” (man, United States, 6 years)
“My Argentine family makes fun of me because I like to plan: They always ask me “So, what are we going to plan now?” (woman, United States, 2 years)
I admit that for someone like me, who has neither the Argentine resilience nor their experience, things can be a bit harder. In the twelve months since my arrival [in February 2013], not only did I have to take on all sorts of new challenges on a personal level, but I also had to learn about the official dollar vs. the blue dollar, the green dollar and the tourist dollar; I had to get used to high inflation, subsidized prices and shortage of certain products; to the significant discounts when you pay with this or that bank’s credit card, the smaller discounts when you pay in cash, to trains without a schedule, to “A-receipts” vs. the “common receipts” in stores, not to mention the effort involved in knowing on which day I should use which card in which supermarket or with which dollar-rate I should convert the price of an item…
Until one day, when I finally thought I had it under control, the cashier asked me: “en cuotas?” (in installments?). And then, it started all over again: the confusion, the math (interests and inflation vs. cash), and the feeling that I would never, ever, understand how it all works. (Although I admit I have found a few strategies for situations when I am unsure what to do: the first one consists in saying “yes” with a big smile when asked to choose between 2 options – knowing the other person will end up picking the more logical one when they realize I don’t understand anything –, and the second is to say that I want whatever most people choose. Ha!)
“People are really smart here, they calculate extremely fast”. (man, Holland, 15 years)
“They have great financial skills, the delivery boy knows more about finance than I do.” (man, Spain, 2 years)
I also remember the first time I was asked to give my ID number in the supermarket. One item more on this long list of disorientation: common receipt? cash or card? ID number, please. Help! I had never been asked to give an ID number in public. Sometimes I was asked to show identification (called “document” in Argentina), but never to say the number aloud and by heart. One of my Dutch interviewees described this feeling very well: in Argentina, it’s as if you are “guilty until proven innocent”.
Each person I interviewed has experienced his or her own daily obstacle course and, leaving aside the language, here are the most common barriers they face:
The limited offer of products
“I don’t find the same products all the time in the supermarket – the offer is unstable, it’s strange. This doesn’t happen in Brazil, didn’t happen in Russia – so I hoard food now”. (woman, Brazil, 2 years)
“Variety is lacking in certain products compared to other places in the world. Also, the price of electronics is ridiculous because of protectionism….” (man, United States, 6 years)
"I've become a hoarder!" (woman, India, 2 years)
“I had to go to the courtroom three days in a row to get my car back after it was taken by the tow truck. Other foreigners I know had similar experiences.” (woman, France, 1 year)
“Bureaucracy, paperwork, everything takes a lot of time. The mail: you can’t get packages, either they never arrive or you have to go fetch them someplace far”. (woman, Spain, 2 years)
“Bureaucracy, paperwork, documents, signatures, stamps…” (man, Brazil, 2 years)
“There are new bureaucratic rules every month: for federal taxes, the bank…” (woman, India, 2 years)
“Chinese people don’t travel to Argentina for tourism because it’s very complicated to get a visa (and it’s far!). It’s easier for us to get a visa for the US than one for Argentina, which takes months and requires many more documents.” (man, China, 2 years)
“It’s hard to build a future here, there’s more economic stress, more problems… It reduces your independence.” (man, Holland, 2 years)
“We earn in pesos and lose a lot of money because of the official exchange rate.” (man, Brazil, 7 months)
“The feeling of economic uncertainty. I feel good here, I’m happy with my work and my income but there’s the fear of the Argentine peso. Everyone tells you to buy dollars. You’re never sure what to do. There’s no way to plan: if you start saving pesos, you feel you’re losing money.” (man, Colombia, 4 years)
“There are too many surprises with the administration: trains stop service, buses stop service, people stop traffic… In China we have one party, not so much administration. Demonstrations aren’t allowed and even if they were, people wouldn’t demonstrate because they listen to the government” (man, China, 2 years)
“The transportation. Whether by car, bus, subway or plane: you never know how long it’ll take you to go from point A to point B. The power outages.” (man, France, 1 year)
“Chaos, uncertainty about when things will start/end. In Mexico we got our foreigner documents within 3 months, here there’s always a problem…” (woman, Uruguay, 6 years)
Actually, the day-to-day problems in Argentina distract from – but also reflect - bigger problems, which are obvious from my outside perspective and that of the interviewees. I am referring to corruption, inflation, physical and economic insecurity, lack of trust in institutions, economic inequality and unequal opportunities. And there is real danger here, because the great enemy of heroes is known to be complacency: “In Latin America we specialize in waiting for our deus ex machina […] an Olympic divinity that will save everyone from their problems.” (Leila Marcor -a Venezuelan living in Uruguay-, Lamentablemente estamos bien, Bolsillo Editions)
“They are not very ambitious.” (man, Holland, 5 months)
“The problem is that the Argentine always adapts to the situation. An Argentine told me that!” (woman, Taiwan, 15 years+)
“What bothers me is that they don’t take action. When products are scarce, they whine: what will happen to us? But they don’t do anything.” (woman, France, 7 years)
“For such a wealthy country in terms of culture, minds, land, oil, they have so much to offer and the current political situation stifles their growth and their image on a global level.” (woman, United States, 2 years)
“They even boycott their own projects. They don’t try to unite to emerge from this situation. Instead of that, they blame each other or say they will never make it, no, no, no…” (woman, Uruguay, 6 years)
“They’ve got to stop psychoanalyzing themselves and start doing something.” (man, Italy, 3 years)
My dear Argentine superheroes: as Spiderman’s uncle once said (and before him, Voltaire): with great strength comes great responsibility. What if you saved some of that strength to start fixing some issues?