Buenos Aires: Why Are You Here?

Gringo in Buenos AiresOpinions22 Comments

It’s a puzzle to many Argentinean people. Why do so many people from so-called ‘first world’ countries such as the UK and the USA choose to leave those countries and live in Buenos Aires instead? A lot of Argentines would give their eye teeth to live in a first world country – with the standard of living that entails – so why is there so much traffic in the opposite direction?

Three reasons for becoming a BA expat

For foreigners who have a lot of savings denominated in a first world currency, or for anyone able to earn an income denominated in a first world currency while they live here, then the answer might be simple: in order to enjoy a higher standard of living by leveraging off of a favorable exchange rate. In other words: money.

(Interestingly, a recently published ranking of 214 world cities in order of how cheap they are for expatriates put Buenos Aires at 161, the third cheapest South American city behind only Bolivia’s La Paz at 211 and Paraguay’s Asunción at 204.)

So there’s that. But that can’t be the only reason, because many expats who live in Buenos Aires don’t have that much money. In fact, many work for local wages and just barely scrape by, with inflation squeezing them further all the time.

What about love? In any expat crowd there’ll always be a significant fraction of people who’ve fallen in love with a local and stayed in their country in order to be with them.

Money, love…then there are the people who are here just because they wanted new experiences. Extreme familiarity with the country of your birth can, at least for some people, breed contempt. Living in a different country means that things aren’t as predictable day-to-day as they are back home, and while that’s scary at times, it also makes you feel alive and fully engaged with your surroundings.

A different way of life

We’re still missing something though, and maybe it’s this: living in a first world country is not all that’s it’s cracked up to be in the first place. Sure, if you’d never been to (for example) the USA, and most of your information about it came from movies, music and TV shows, then you might think it was some sort of paradise where everyone has great teeth and lives in an amazing apartment in a big city despite having a menial job (…Friends, I’m looking at you). The reality, as anyone reading this will know, is somewhat different. For example, there are still lots of poor people. Living in a rich country doesn’t automatically make you rich. Wages are higher, but so are living costs.

And even if you are rich you might not be happy, because the fact is that having two cars and a flat screen TV in every room doesn’t make you any happier. What does make you happier is more time spent enjoying life with friends and family, and that’s exactly what many people in the first world sacrifice in order to work hard enough to get a lot of material possessions.

Life in Buenos Aires is a little different. The pace is slower, the day is longer. Different things take priority: in many first world countries, it’s all about the ‘5 Cs’ – Credit Card, Condo, Car and Cash. Here it’s the ‘4 Fs’ – Fútbol, Family, Food and Friends. Many people would prefer the 4 Fs to the 5 Cs, or would if they tried the switch!

Ultimately, if it’s a different way of life that you’re looking for, then living overseas as an expat is a win/win: either you’ll find something that you like better and stay, or you’ll return home with a new appreciation of your homeland.

Finally

Money, love, new experiences, a different way of life…yep, that sounds like a pretty good list. And surely reason enough to put up with a little bad pizza and dog shit on the sidewalks!

22 Comments on “Buenos Aires: Why Are You Here?”

  1. Russ

    I would have to say one of the winning factors is that I don’t have to feel guilty about eating meat. In England I’m forever surrounded by vegetarians while in Argy I feel I am letting the side down unless I’m eating two steaks, half a pig and a choripan for lunch!

  2. LC

    I just came across your blog. I am an Argentine living in the states (almost 8 years) and my family and I are finally moving back at the end of this month. Having moved here when I was pretty young, I feel very familiar with American culture and I was trying to find blogs that would help me substitute certain cooking items or maybe even tell me where to get certain items that i know won’t be easily available when I move back. Nonetheless, I long for my homeland, the people, and of course, the food 🙂 Ever since we moved here we have been trying to find a way to describe why we don’t feel at easy living in the states and why we want to go back so badly. And of course we get the whole “first-world” talk each time we bring it up to those who were fortunate enough to never have to leave (I do not mean to offend you by saying this, but it’s just so difficult being far away from home). It is only once you move away and look at everything from an outside perspective (and the real “first world”, as you explained it) that you realize what a good thing you had in the first place. I love what you said, “Different things take priority: in many first world countries, it’s all about the ‘5 Cs’ – Credit Card, Condo, Car and Cash. Here it’s the ‘4 Fs’ – Fútbol, Family, Food and Friends.” It sums up what I had been trying to come up with for years and years to summarize my feelings. Glad you like it there. I can’t wait to come back.

  3. Janis

    I visited BsAs five times in three years before deciding to move here. I fell in love with the city and its people. Family and friends are important. Tango was my reason to come, and I’ll never leave. I’ve been through it all in 11 years and have managed to survive without working. I never could afford to own property in Chicago, but bought an apartment in BsAs. I can live on social security here, but if I lived in the States I’d still have to be working.

  4. Julie

    LOVE your quote “…in many first world countries, it’s all about the ‘5 Cs’ – Credit Card, Condo, Car and Cash. Here it’s the ‘4 Fs’ – Fútbol, Family, Food and Friends.”

    Very well said! Would love to hear which camp out of the ones you describe you’re in (what brought YOU here? 🙂

  5. Ana

    Bad pizza? I beg to differ… It’s way better than American pizza, you just have to know where to look for it 😉

  6. Vale Golden

    I am an Argentinian, still living in my country, but I feel like an expat in Buenos Aires, because I’m a Cordobesa born and bred.
    Is so great you’ve said those things about here!!
    I am one of those Argentinians who “would give their eye teeth to live in a first world country”, asi you said, at least a couple of years. But I think is just for the same reasons you’ve mentioned before. changing my rutine, money, love, and loving more my hometown.
    hope you have fun here!
    love!!

  7. Majo

    lol, i always ask that at people on the subway or the train. whenever i found tourists speaking in english my curiosity forces me to ask them things. And one of the main questions (after where are you from) is why are you here?, i love my country, but i dont understand why do people came here xD
    I also dont understand people who came here, but keep living like if they were onm the state, turist who go only to mcdonalds, tg fridays, starbucks… Why did you came in the first place? o_o

  8. cami

    actually it isn´t the ‘4 Fs’..it is the ´5 Fs´.. Fútbol, Family, Food, Friends and Fernet.. byeee hope you had a good time in arg !!

  9. Vivi @ MyBeautifulAir

    Have you noticed when Argentines ask if you like BA, and you respond yes, they respond with the incredulous: ‘en serio, te gusta?’. Buenos Aires isn’t always the easiest place to live – but it is such an amazing city even without love or money!

  10. Alejandra Figueiras

    Hi! I am an Argentinian living abroad, in europe, -just stumbled upon your blog. I lived in BA all my life and I loved it, still do but there are certain things that make me mad about Argentina. these things made me leave and make me stay. the value of life and dignity, for example. Over 30 people were killed in the riots during the 2001 crisis. Nobody cared, nobody investigated. People get killed on robberies -nobody even bothers to go to the police. Nobody cares. My mother cannot go anywhere at night for fear that she will be mugged when she comes back and tries to open the door to her building.

    The government *not just this one, all the ones for the last 40 years* steals and everyone gets rich without accountability. Menem is still a senator so he can enjoy immunity, for example. Cristina just bought an apartment of over 3, USD in Puerto Madero. How is that possible on a president’s salary? Their official income before they became “presidents” was just abour 2m USD.

    My parents lost everything 3 times in their lifetime, to devaluation, Circular 1050 (ask around, this one is thanks to Videla) and the Corralito. I did not want to have to go through this myself

    Hope you are lucky enough never to have to go to court or the justice system. It can take years and then only to find out the other party bribed the judge.

    So…I still love BA, the four Fs and I can even tell you you should try “El Cuartito” in Talcahuano if you want unforgettable pizza.

    I wish things could be different, but they are not, and they aren’t probably going to change in my lifetime. This is why I left, and I really doubt I will return for good.

    I really value places where people are treated with respect, in all aspects -a proper health care system and pension plans, a justice that sworks, policemen who are not brutal and are respected, where justice is not meaningless and people genuinely care about how others are doing. Solidarity is a big word where I live and I never feel this is or was the case in Argentina.

    I sincerely hope you all enjoy your expat time in Argentina, it is indeed a wonderful country, full of wonderful people.

  11. Pablo

    Alejandra, i couldn’t agree more with you.

    I think we’re wrong in our interpretation of “solidarity”; we believe that giving away old clothes to poor people is a gesture of solidarity, whereas we don’t care if children are looking for food in our own rubbish (that’s what you can stare from my window right now…).

    Regarding the “pizza issue” that’s a sensitive issue: El Cuartito, Las Cuartetas, Guerrin, Angelini; I don’t know where you can find better pizza than here! Stay away from steak for a while!

    Saludos!

  12. tonyza

    Bad pizza? Obviously, the definition of god or bad depends on the culture. I have been living in the USA for many years now, and I cannot get use to the pizza here. They use this artificial tomato sauce that makes everything taste the same, pasta pizza etc. However, I have to admit that there are good restaurants where you can find good quality pizza.

  13. Me

    I will tell you why… Because the first world sucks. It’s plain boring and you feel more like dead than alive if you was born in Buenos Aires. I’m living overseas only because of my partner but I’m trying to convince him to move to Argentina with me. Argentineans are surprised of you people because they have never lived outside of the country and they don’t know what it’s like.

  14. Mark

    I was born and raised in NY then I moved to Puerto Rico when I was 23 and lived there for a little over 10 years and just last year I moved to Buenos Aires to be with my wife who is Argentinian. I like it hear. It took some getting use too at first, especially with food. It was difficult not to be able to go out and find a place with Caribbean food! I actually had to learn and start cooking for myself. I had to learn to get around, I already speak Spanish but it’s different here and I had a lot of trouble sometimes understanding people and they had issues understanding me sometimes as well. Although I had my moments when I wanted to leave I’m glad I’ve stayed because I have always been very dependent of my parents and my wife knew that and she was not going to just replace them. She wanted to see me fend for myself and learn on my own but of course she would be my safety net if I needed one. What I’m trying to say is that moving here has not only showed me what it ‘s like to be more independent but what it’s like to start over and not only see another country but see my own from a different view. Although I miss my family very much I know that they support my decision and that this change was something I needed.

  15. ElCatire

    As a VOB (Venezuelan Oil Brat)/ Canuck turned permanent resident here in Mar del Plata I also had to adjust linguistically and I realize I´ll always have an accent – somewhere between Caribbean Spanish and gringo. If some think the pace is slower in Baires try Mardel where most everything closes for siestas for at least two hours and where the less clients there are in the local verduleria the slower the service.And the folks are affable if a little closed and cautious … umm like some Canadians? Saludos to all from the cold and windy shores of the South Atlantic. Oh, my reason was all three of the above even if I´m not quite in Capital.

  16. grungebob

    I like this article, except, I truly have to disagree about the part about it being more relaxed and slow. I find the pace of the city quite fast, and the porteños quite serious. Different for the outside provinces, but within the city, I find the pace quite hectic.

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  18. lauren eaton

    i completely agree with you.. i’m studying abroad for eight months here in entre rios and i just finished my first full month here…i can’t go back!! who will share my mate and kisses with me??? 🙁

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