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Vail travel: Quick lesson in understanding Argentinians

Mark Cervantes
Special to the Vail Daily

To truly understand Argentina you must first have a perspective from which to view it. Argentina has almost 40 million people with more than half living in the capital, Buenos Aires.

It is bordered by Brazil, Uruguay and boasts the longest boarder in the world, with Chile. It has every imaginable terrain, such as arid lands, lush jungles, massive lake districts, a rich wine region and the enchanting city of Buenos Aires which lies along the banks of the Rio de la Plata River.

This river has played an intricate part in the nation’s history as it has brought it fame, fortune, war and even disease over the centuries. The British invaded this river bank and so did the yellow fever during the 1800s and both of these events shaped this country in many ways visible today.



The other side of that coin is gilded with riches brought by trading and centuries of immigrants that have had an even larger impact on the culture of this unusual country. Buenos Aires is a place of immeasurable beauty, great history, unique traditions and interesting people.

Argentina is also one of the only countries in the world currently with a woman sitting in the highest office in the land. Not only does she hold the distinction of president but she is also the wife of the former President Kirchner.



You should know that it was not the people’s deep rooted love of the Kirchner administration that placed President Kirchner in her position. It was corruption that is so blatant and obvious that the average Argentine has an enlarged vein in their neck when talking politics.

You have to understand that this country had an economic crisis in 2001 but the government handled it much differently than ours is. In December of 2001, they closed all banking institutions for a week and would not allow Argentines access to their money until they decided what to do to resolve the financial crisis.

The final decision was to reopen the doors to the banks and inform the nation’s people that their savings had devalued to the tune of 50 percent. Yes, there was mass hysteria in the streets, riots, looting and even a huge spike in suicide as many people were left with nothing.



As for the people of Argentina there is no one word to describe them. They are a collage that make for some of the most interesting and outspoken people you have ever met. Many that travel through here don’t feel the same welcome or friendly feeling as they do in other Latin countries such as Mexico. But let it be said that these people are warm, kind hearted and awesome once you understand them and their country better.

I think this can be attributed to the historical backdrop that has affected their lives, the distinct to Argentina Spanish or Castillano spoken here, the love for their traditions and the fast-paced attitude of the “portenos,” the word for someone born, raised or living in Buenos Aires.

Simply put, they are far too complex to get to know or understand in a simple exchange about your vacation or where you come from. I have been living with my girlfriend, who is a true portenia, for almost two years, I lived in Buenos Aires for four months last time I traveled through this region, I speak fluent Spanish and I live here now and I still find them complex.

As for the people in the interior of this large country, they are very laid back and remind me much of the typical Vailite. They truly want to share the beauty surrounding them and want to know more about you. They also relish in the fact that they are not portenos and therefore still enjoy the simple things in life.

A common thing to hear from someone in the south is “I escaped from B.A.” signifying the pleasure of leaving the fast paced-city of 20 million behind.

It is with these friendly Argentines that mine and Marisa’s journey truly began. That is, after the debacle of buying a car in this country. Understand that there is not credit so you either have the money to buy one or you are subject to the national, provincial and town transit systems.

Additionally, government departments are attached to their assets. What I mean by this is that you can sell you car to someone but I if you owe the government, your cell phone company, your doctor, etc., your car can and will be taken from the poor sap that bought it. The government will even take your car if you have outstanding traffic tickets.

Consequently buying a car is as much work as buying a home in the states. Making sure the car and or the owner have no debt is a process into itself. Simply put, I would rather stick a fork in my eye, walk over a bed of steaming glass to get to a bare knuckle fist fight with a gorilla than go through that process again. It is such wretched process because the government has its hand in everything to be sure to tax at every possible moment.

The Argentines say that the government is good at one thing and one thing only – taxing. It is so bad that common practice for small- to large-scale international businesses is to have two sets of books. They have a set of white books that represent what they let the government know about and then a black set for the real numbers. They do this because the government will – and has many times before – taxed companies until they are bankrupt.

Argentina has one of the highest national sales tax rates in the world at 21 percent. It’s not even shown on you dinner bill or purchase of an item as mandated by the federal government. It is simply worked into the shopkeepers pricing and they feed the corrupt governmental machine through the gluttonous tax system strongly represented by tax agents that are known for setting up camp in a business for weeks at a time.

As you can see I am already starting to understand the porteno’s disdain for government corruption and have already experienced it firsthand myself.


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